Pharrell Reflects on His Work on Jay Z’s ‘The Black Album’
To coincide with the nearing 10th anniversary (Nov. 14) of the album, Pharrell sat down for Life + Times‘ ‘DECODED’ series to look back on his work on Jay Z‘s ‘The Black Album,’ which is still to this day one of the finest items in his extensive catalog.
At first, after hearing ‘Can I Live’ on 1996’s ‘Reasonable Doubt,’ Skateboard P saw the prospect of working with Hov out of his reach. Pharrell, alongside his Neptunes partner Chad Hugo, eventually picked up two credits on ‘The Black Album’ (after previously producing on the 2000 Roc-A-Fella compilation, ‘The Dynasty: Roc La Familia’), and it was a match made in heaven.
“Once [me and Jay] met, we just creatively admired the different aspects in the ways that we work,” he said. “And I think that we’re artists’ artists; we admire other peoples’ processes, and take interest in the things that inspire each other. It wasn’t just what he was saying, it was what he was inspired by. Or it wasn’t just how the way our music sounded, he wanted to know where it was coming from. That’s where our friendship developed.”
In addition to the top 10 single, ‘Change Clothes,’ The Neptunes also produced the album’s penultimate track, ‘Allure’ (which, in an unrelated studio video, Pharrell compared to the ending of ‘Carlito’s Way’). Here, he explained how he wanted to give Jay an “emotional” record in the same vein as ‘Dead Presidents’ (one and two).
“With ‘Allure,’ I just wanted to hear him rhyme over something emotional, because he killed ‘Dead Presidents’… one and two,” he said. “He’s crazy with a crazy sick night club record, but when he goes emotional, it’s unbelievable. It’s like he connects with a couple past lives.”
When comparing ‘Allure’ to ‘Oceans,’ a cut he co-produced with Timbaland on Hov’s most recent LP, ‘Magna Carta… Holy Grail,’ Pharrell broke down how he consciously used “darker colors” to enable the Brooklyn MC’s rhymes to “come through like lightning.”
As far Jay’s storied writing technique, in which he apparently constructs whole verses in his head, without the use of pen and paper, Skateboard compares it to the Oracle of Delphi.