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celebrities put a book out, it’s usually a narcissistic manifesto or a more glorifying extension of their Wikipedia page. Hell, Jersey Shore’s resident party midget Snooki is considered an award-winning author after the success – and it hurts to say this – of her book ‘A Shore Thing’ which, along with Paris Hilton’s ‘Confessions of an Heiress’, were both tragically named New York Times Bestsellers.
The 250-page book includes contributions from internationally recognised luminaries from an array of industries and backgrounds, including Jay-Z, American Vogue’s EditorIn-Chief Anna Wintour, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, artist Takashi Murakami and A Bathing Ape creator Nigo, “As soon as I met Nigo, I knew I wanted to be family.” writes Williams of his Japanese counterpart and long-time collaborator. “I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t met him and worked with him.”
When famed New York publisher Rizzoli approached the equally famed rapper, record producer, composer and fashion designer to produce a book; “The one thing I said to Rizzoli was that I couldn’t do a book about me,” Williams recalls, his face straining as he emphasises the word can’t. “The only way I wanted to do a book was to make it about the people who have influenced me along the way, which afforded me the opportunity to speak passionately about something other than myself.”
Of course, Williams’ two oldest friends and N.E.R.D bandmates Chad Hugo and Shae Hayley also make an appearance in ‘Places and Spaces I’ve Been’. The pair takes a trip down memory lane from as far back as when the boys met in high school and bonded over music, “We were the local troubadours, with our socks pulled up to knees,” recalls Hugo. The rest, as they say, is history.
Williams’ book, ‘Places and Spaces I’ve Been’, is a dissection – a truthful and passionate insight into all of the people, places and things that have shaped and influenced a man who is arguably one of this generation’s greatest influencers. “So many people focus on the surface of things. They forget about the importance of the silhouette, the DNA and the structure, what makes something what it is,“ states the multi-talented artist who can now add “author” to his already expansive CV.
“It’s been a journey,” says Williams when asked about how he chose which voices were to be heard – or read - in his book. “Honestly I don’t know how we ended up choosing the ones we did, there are so many people who have influenced me. This book is about the people who have been incredible mentors.” Artists such as Snoop Dogg, Frank Ocean, Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani and The Roots barely make up a fraction of his constantly growing list of collaborators.
“Our lives are mosaics and each tile is a moment. How can we say which one has the most importance? We are all a work in progress.” In the end, he managed to slice it down to a clean 15 for ‘Places and Spaces I’ve Been’. We’re standing in an alleyway next to the restaurant where Williams and his posse have just had dinner. He is dressed casually in jeans, an ‘I Am Other’ t-shirt and a leather bomber jacket with a plaid shirt wrapped low around his hips. The conversation shifts from his mentors to music to philosophy to how to stay inspired. Unsurprisingly, he has a lot to say and much of it is mind-blowingly profound. He speaks with passion, knowledge, and always with respect. It’s been a long night – prior to dinner was the ‘Places and Spaces I‘ve Been’ book signing-come-meet and greet with his Hong Kong fans. As the book signing carries on, it becomes clear that the admiration Williams’ fans have for him is reciprocated, mutual. He takes the time to learn everyone’s names, answers their questions and takes photos. He keeps just one security guard, “Big Ben”, hanging around. “Seriously, Pharrell has to be the least protected and least pretentious celebrity I’ve ever met,” one of the event organisers whispers to me “especially considering who he is.” Amongst his fans was a local girl who had hand-made a doll of her hero, presenting it to him as he signed her copy of his book. Elated, this prompted Williams to call out to a member of his team - “Yo, can we put this on Twitter? This shit is what it’s all about, man!” Throughout the night, he invited her to pose with him and her creation for photo opportunities. When I asked about the girl and why the doll meant so much, Williams responded saying, “More than anything else, it was the integrity that she put into the work. I was inspired by the inspiration behind it.” An avid advocate for the young and talented, Williams revealed his plans to potentially expand his ‘I Am Other’ brand to Hong Kong. “What we represent is individuality; we celebrate people not being separated from the masses but who go out looking,” Williams explains, his voice gradually flooding with enthusiasm. ‘I Am Other’ is a movement, a
platform founded by Williams for people who feel they don’t necessarily fit into any ‘box’. He encourages them to come together, celebrate their differences, and share ideas. “Experience is the new wealth. That’s what you can take with you. You can’t take all the things that are tangible. If you listen to science, the sages of old, matter is an illusion. Under a microscope, all these things are wispy fluff. Not to get all philosophical on you.” It’s phenomenal what Williams has achieved in the span of his career and, with his 40th birthday less than a few months away, he continues to face forward with an unyielding curiosity and an infectious energy. As we move onto the topic of his mentors, I ask if there is anyone he would want to speak with, dead or alive, that he hasn’t yet had a chance to. His answer comes out like a reflex – like a bullet I had just pulled the trigger to and rather unexpected – God. “The closest thing to God in its purest form is electricity. That’s what activates everything in the universe. We are units made up of 85 percent water and everything else is flesh. We are conduits of electricity,” he states philosophically. “The closest representation to what God is like is a collective consciousness, like the Internet; the billions of people out there are a massive unit of awareness. I equate God to that massive unit of awareness, to electricity, to the Universe, and I also equate it to love.” At this point, I’m pinching myself. I’ve blasted this man’s music through my headphones since high school. N.E.R.D.’s first album ‘In Search Of…’ - described by Rolling Stone as “part Timbaland, part Afrika Bambaataa and part Star Trek on Ecstasy” - was on repeat for months; even during class I kept one earphone tucked under my hair. ‘Grindin’ which The Neptunes produced for Clipse was part of my set when I took a stint at DJing and I can’t count the number of times I’ve drunkenly screamed out “all the girls standing in the line for the bathroom” with equally inebriated girlfriends. And on a rainy night in Sheung Wan, here he was openly sharing his deeper thoughts and beliefs. “I could be on a corner begging,” states Williams. “But instead, here I am standing in an alleyway, in a state of delirium, answering questions about things you don’t need to care about.” I’m taken aback as he closes his sentence. “But you do. And for that, I’m thankful.”