Pharell Covers GQ Magazine: Dishes Feelings On Trucker Hat, Being Black, And Not Knowing What Happiness Was

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Gotta love this man!

Oscar nominated Pharell Williams is covering the April issue of GQ Magazine. Pharell spices up the cover by pairing his blue suit and polka dot shirt with a pair of vintage Chuck Taylor’s.

Inside, Pharell chats with Zach Baron about the controversy surrounding his album cover, his “Arby” hat and about how he felt after he didn’t receive the Oscar for “Best Song”.

The music mogul has a lot to be happy for at this point in his career but it wasn’t always that way. Pharell reflects on the time when he didn’t know what happy was.

Get into the excerpts below.

You were nominated for an Oscar that night, but didn’t win. How badly did you want it? 

Well, trust me: when they read the results, my face was…frozen. But then I thought about it, and I just decided just to…let it go.

When you say that it makes me reconsider your whole catalog before G I R L. It makes me wonder if all that music is itself unhappy. 

Yeah, but I didn’t know what happiness was. My definition of happiness was based on what my peers quantified as happiness: boats—you know, material stuff. But then I realized I had a platform; I would meet kids, and meet girls and women who would always point out the inspirational stuff. They would always talk about those songs. I’ll never forget: There was this girl that told me her brother had died, and he was a huge N.E.R.D. fan, and he got in a car crash. When they looked in the car, the song that was playing was “Run to the Sun.” That scarred me—in a healing way. Because “Run to the Sun” was huge for me with my grandmother. You know, you hear the intention in that.

But that’s what people would come up and talk about, those inspirational things more than anything else. Sure, sometimes it’d be like, “Yo, man, that beat on ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’!” or “That ‘Grindin” beat!” or “I Just Wanna Love U!”—whatever. But mostly, people would emote about those records that had substance and purpose and intention: I could feel that. Like you just said: After you’ve heard this body of work, you go back and listen to the other one: It feels naked and cold and empty. So I didn’t know. I didn’t know what happiness was.

In retrospect, were you unhappy back then?

Of course. Because I felt like I had amassed this big body of work, most—not all—but most of which was just about self-aggrandizement, and I wasn’t proud of it. So I couldn’t be proud of the money that I had; I couldn’t be proud of all the stuff that I had. I was thankful, but what did it mean? What did I do? And at this point, where I came from, I’m just throwing it in that kid’s face, instead of saying, “Look at all the fish I have, and look how much we’re going to eat.” It should’ve been—at least a part of it—teaching them how to fish. That’s why you gotta give it to Jay, because he’s been talking to—you know, he’s been telling everybody: “If I did it, you could do it, too.” So I did a little bit of that, but I was so occupied with, like, the competitive spirit—and not in the right way. 

Competitive with whom? 

For real? Nobody. But in my mind, you couldn’t tell me that I wasn’t competing, you know? You only can compete with yourself.

What do you feel like then, when you hear, say, “Grindin’” now, or when you hear “I Just Wanna Love U”? All those tremendous old songs that had a different or less inspirational kind of message. 

Just a phase.

Do you regret the trucker hat?

No. Uh-uh. I always did the same thing. I’ve dressed like I make my music. “No one’s doing that: I’m gonna go do that.” With the trucker hat, it was just a different time. And it was just N.E.R.D. time for me, you know? And that’s what we represented—like, the anti-media image. We represented the real: black kids that skated.

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The last time I saw you was the week before the Grammys, and you were wearing the original buffalo hat, and it didn’t seem so outrageous. Then you wear it on the Grammy red carpet, and it becomes this enormous thing. Was that surprising to you? 

Totally. It’s not my doing. A, I didn’t create the hat. B, I didn’t produce the Grammys show, and C, I’m not the one purchasing the hat. None of it’s my doing.

The Arby’s jokes or the park ranger jokes or whatever—are they funny to you? 

They said the same things to me fifteen years ago about trucker hats. Remember: trucker hats at a moment in time when people were wearing throwback jerseys. I was aware of it.

So not that funny?

I mean, it just goes with the territory. Anything different, people are going to look at and go, “Ha ha ha ha, what is that??” Then, after a while, they do a little bit of research; they realize it’s Vivienne Westwood, an ode to her boyfriend at the time; they had a store together called World’s End. The guy who went on to sign the Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren.

Kanye West has spent so much time in the last two years talking about how frustrating it was to go into the corporate world, only to find all those doors were closed to him. What’s been your experience with that?

I’ve been lucky enough to be received with open arms. And I think Kanye has too, to a certain extent, and he’ll tell you that. I think he was just voicing his opinions of, like, the cons of his experiences. And he’s since then tried and been making a very serious effort to show people his appreciation. So it’s different.

But he’s been like, “They want me to work for them. They don’t want to work with me. They won’t give me the keys.”

Yeah, right. That might be true, to a certain degree. But, at the same time, I think that he’s worked really hard to sort of speak of the pros of his experience as well.

There were people who criticized you for not including more black women on the cover of G I R L. How did you feel about that? 

Do you want me to be honest with you?

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Yeah.

It’s insecurity. If you love who you are—and I’m not saying that there’s not a plight out there for people who have different skin colors, because Mexicans go through just as much discrimination, if not more discrimination, than black people do in this country. Right? That’s why I wrote “Marilyn Monroe,” man: That which makes you different is what makes you special. You don’t gotta be waif, white, and thin to be beautiful. You can be anything that you want to be, and what I chose to do is put my friends on the cover. The girl that was closest next to me is black, but they didn’t know that, so they jumped the gun. And it wasn’t all black women. There were a lot of black women that were really angry at some of those girls, but some of those girls are the ones that instantly get mad when they don’t see somebody that’s dark. And it’s like: “Yo, you don’t need nobody to represent you. You represent you. Yourepresent the best version of who you could be. You go out there and change the world.” Because I’m black, and I wouldn’t trade my skin color for nothing. But I don’t need to keep wearing a badge that tells you that I’m black every time I do something! I’m black! In fact, the media will tell you I’m the first black person that’s had a number-one record in America in a year since Rihanna’s “Diamonds” in 2012—the first black person! The media tells you that. So why do I need to roll around with a scarlet letter on my forehead that says “Black”? My mother’s black, who’s a big part of my business; a black woman runs my business; and I’m married to a black woman. What more do you want? And why are we talking about this? And if we’re going to talk about degrees of black—what is it in this country? I still believe that if you are at least 1/32nd of black blood in your body, even if you look like you, you are deemed black. Right?

Right.

 I’m a black man. I’m happy to be black, and anybody that is not happy to be black will point around and ask for that kind of sympathy. But the thing is, let’s not ask nobody for no more sympathy. Let’s get together ourselves and support ourselves. It doesn’t make sense to me. That kind of divisiveness is not necessary at a time when we’re supposed to be unifying. That’s what happiness is all about, and if you look at my “Happy” video, I had everybody in there: fat, skinny, gay, straight, purple, polka-dot, plaid, gingham print, houndstooth, alien. I fuckin’ had dogs in there! I had children in there! I had kids in there! I’m the most indiscriminate person that there is! I believe in equality.

So which is it? Is President Obama black or not? Since you’re so mad: Is he black or not? Come on, man! We ain’t got time for that. We are black people. This is the new black. Oprah Winfrey: That’s the new black. She’s a black billionaire. President Obama: He is a black American president. Regardless of what you think about him, this is his second term. That’s the new black. LeBron James: the first black man ever shot on a Vogue cover, a black man. Me: a guy that’s written a song at 40! Nominated for an Oscar, four Grammy awards—at 40! That’s the new black! And by the way: a song that has transcended my lyrics, my own intention, and has become a movement and helped cancer patients. That’s the new black! Black ain’t a color: Black is a spirit, and it is ubiquitous. In fact, there’s more black out in space than there is stars. We have nothing to be insecure about.

Deep!

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