pharrell williams’ impact on the world of music, fashion and culture


illustration by katelyn niester

Most recognized for his song “Happy” featured in the movie “Despicable Me,” Pharrell Williams is far more than the voice behind our childhoods. From producing to singing, writing to designing, inspiring to volunteering, it seems like there is not a single thing that he cannot do, especially when it comes to protecting his community. 


Growing up in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Williams was heavily involved in music in high school from playing in the school band to starting his career in music production. He began his career working for other artists and joining forces with fellow producers. All members of his cohort of artists and duo The Neptunes began to build careers off of their work, but Williams had an extra spark that made him one of the most talented music producers in history. Williams pushed his success in his own career with his involvement in streetwear labels Billionaire Boys Club and ICECREAM. Becoming an icon in the world of hip-hop and pop was one thing, but his influence extends far beyond music and into philanthropy, fashion and film. 


Williams and his songwriting partner Chad Hugo were discovered in their hometown of Virginia Beach by Teddy Riley, who quickly took them under his wing and taught them everything he knew about production. Williams earned his first production credit for Wreckx-N-Effect’s hit song “Rump Shaker” in 1992. By the time the 2000s rolled around, The Neptunes were expanding their reach by collaborating with musicians like Britney Spears, Scarface and a young Tyler, the Creator. Quickly they fell into the hands of music legends such as Jay-Z, who featured Williams’s vocals on his famous track “Change Clothes” on his album, “The Black Album” 


The Neptunes quickly became the most sought-after production team after they produced Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” starting a new movement of southern hip-hop. In 2004, Williams got the chance to collaborate with Gwen Stefani on her debut solo album after leaving No Doubt. The master collaborator behind her hit “Hollaback Girl” was none other than Williams. His future brought collaborators such as Snoop Dogg, Beyoncé, Kings of Leon and Gorillaz. He remained behind the scenes for most of the early 2000s, but his influence was more visible than anyone else. Tyler, The Creator  has even stated that Williams is the number one influencer of everything he has made for himself in music, fashion and art. 


In 2013, Williams’s clout in the music industry changed drastically with three hit songs, not only as the man pushing the buttons but as a recognizable frontman. First came Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” which spawned a revolution for electropop music. Next, he produced and vocalized on T.I. and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” a song that Discover Music calls a nostalgic wave in music. Then, in 2014 Williams finally made a hit with his solo career with the megahit “Happy,” which gave way to his first Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. 


Since 2014, he hasn’t slowed down a bit. Without Williams, there would be no “Sweetener” by Ariana Grande or “Hyperspace”  by Beck. He continues to spread his influence in all aspects of the music industry by training new artists on The Voice, producing award-winning albums and leaving his trademark four-count interlude wherever he touches.


In 2019, Williams brought the Something in the Water music festival to his hometown of Virginia Beach, a city often overlooked by most of the music industry. Bringing his community along with his journey has been what makes him so authentic. 


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Williams began influencing the world of fashion with his personal style. From bold prints, fabrics and silhouettes, he was not dressing in the usual manner of the hip-hop community. His style would soon make a big splash in the streetwear industry by launching his first brand Billionaire Boys Club, and its sister brand ICECREAM, after visiting Tokyo, Japan, and making friends with designer NIGO. Williams already had plans for Billionaire Boys Club, but making connections in Tokyo changed its trajectory for the better. Everything from the astronaut logo to the creative advisory to the designs was created over one dinner. 


After returning from his trip to Japan, Williams began wearing more and more BAPE, making its reach more international and becoming the face of the brand in America. This was around the time that hip-hop clothing started to show up on red carpets and high fashion events, paving the way for the new sector of fashion: streetwear. 


Always staying true to his vision, Williams saw streetwear taking off in countries like Japan, and he was successful in using Billionaire Boys Club to bring it to America. His creative hand began to reach vastly across the fashion industry. He eventually collaborated with Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, Moncler, Adidas and Louis Vuitton. In 2015, he was granted the Fashion Icon Award by the CFDA for his substantial influence in the world of design, style and authenticity. 



Williams has stretched his influence between music and fashion, but one of the most important facets of his career has been his philanthropy work. Bettering the world around him for the future generation has been one of his greatest accomplishments. He launched the nonprofit From One Hand to AnOTHER inc. to promote a positive education for underprivileged students. He then went on to launch his nonprofit organization YELLOW to create a better learning environment for young students in his home base of Norfolk, Virginia. The school features small classrooms and intuitive technology that allow underprivileged children to get an education in STEM and the arts. He also poured $35 million into the Pharrell Williams Resource Center in Virginia Beach for low-income students to stay after school. 


His efforts to end generational poverty are endless and forever changing lives. No matter how successful he became, he never forgot his roots in Virginia Beach and is always looking for more ways to better the community for little kids who are just like himself 30 years ago. He spoke in front of thousands for the International Day of Happiness for the United Nations. “You should know that happiness is your birthright,” Williams said. 


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Few artists can simultaneously appeal to hip-hop founders and 3-year-olds dressing up as minions for Halloween. He is a jack of all trades, and what makes him so wildly successful is that he always uses his best assets to help better the world around him. 

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Hi, I’m Catie Pusateri, the Editor-in-Chief of A Magazine. My staff and I are committed to bringing you the most important and entertaining news from the realms of fashion, beauty and culture. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we receive support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate to A Magazine.