The Best Pharrell Songs of 2013

Whether behind the boards or on the mic, Skateboard P had an amazing year.

Not Available Lead
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Not Available Lead

Pharrell Williams has been a hip-hop heavyweight for 20 years. He got his foot in the door in 1992 writing and producing on Wreckx-N-Effect's 1992 booty appreciation anthem "Rump Shaker," which hit No. 2 on Billboard's Hot 100. During the late '90s and early 2000s, he and his partner Chad Hugo rose to prominence as The Neptunes, producing hits for everyone from N.O.R.E. and Kelis to Jay Z and Mystikal. After that, he was on his way to achieving total pop, rap, rock, and reggae ubiquity in the 2000s before cultivating a successful label and a solo career a few years later.

In the wake of all of of these successes, with a catalog of hits and underrated deep cuts more vast than some artists ever get to create in a lifetime, Pharrell still managed to have one of his best years ever in 2013.

His work on some of the year's most anticipated projects and his crooning on some of its most beloved hits are proof that even at 40, Pharrell is constantly finding new ways to harness and express his creativity. As Pharrell Week continues, we're looking back at P's amazing year in music, from inescapable hits to under-the-radar gems, from reunions with artists he first worked with over a decade ago to guest spots with hip-hop's new radicals. These are The Best Pharrell Songs of 2013.

Written by Craig Jenkins (@CraigSJ)

RELATED: All Pharrell Week Posts

RELATED: The 50 Best Neptunes Beats
RELATED: Pharrell Williams: "Gravitational Pull" (2013 Cover Story)
Marketing 101: Lyrical References To Billionaire Boys Club/Icecream Through The Years 

15. Nelly f/ T.I. "IDGAF"

Not Available Interstitial


Album: M.O. (2013)
Producer: Pharrell Williams
Label: Republic

Nelly's comeback didn't jump off quite like we wanted this year. After his pop-leaning lead single "Hey Porsche" resulted in a triumphant return to the Billboard singles chart, the accompanying album M.O. struggled to follow through on that success. It wasn't for lack of trying, though. M.O. called in the big guns, tapping everyone from Nicki Minaj and 2 Chainz to Nelly Furtado and country stars Florida Georgia Line.

Pharrell produced a third of the cuts on M.O., from follow-up single "Get Like Me" to shoulda-been-a-single "IDGAF." The latter of the two floats on uptempo drums and snaking, intertwining keys like a successor to the fleet dance pop P gifted Justin Timberlake for his debut, Justified. Between the jazzy production, Nelly and Pharrell's smooth hooks, and a clutch guest spot from T.I., "IDGAF" is a winner. It's a shame it didn't see release as a single in time to boost M.O.'s profile.

14. John Legend "Aim High"

Not Available Interstitial

Album: Love In The Future (2013)
Producer: The Neptunes
Label: GOOD, Columbia

Love in the Future is John Legend's first solo album in five years (not counting his and the Roots' excellent soul covers collection Wake Up!), and on it, the singer reasserts his skills with his best set of songs since the career opening one-two punch of Get Lifted and Once Again. Bonus track "Aim High" finds Legend in full torch-song mode, crooning words of encouragement for a woman who undervalues her worth.

Legend's emotive vocals and keys are flanked by a chamber jazz ensemble here: faint drums, a couple of horns, and a double bass plunk out a sparse groove for the singer to sink into. The end result is refreshingly sedate. If Pharrell's name hadn't shown up as a co-writer and producer here you probably wouldn't think this kind of late-night jazz club quietude even existed in his repertoire. In a year where P showed up on a lot of assertively uptempo productions, "Aim High" is an illuminating look at what he can do with less.

13. Busta Rhymes f/ Nicki Minaj "Twerk It"

Not Available Interstitial

12. Azealia Banks f/ Pharrell "ATM Jam"

Not Available Interstitial

11. Miley Cyrus "#GETITRIGHT"

Not Available Interstitial

Album: Bangerz (2013)
Producer: Pharrell Williams
Label: RCA

Say what you will about Miley Cyrus' 2013, but she killed her teenage Hannah Montana persona dead and dropped one the most talked-about pop album of the year in the process. Radio-ready tracks off Bangerz, like the Mike WiLL Made It produced lead single "We Can't Stop" and the Dr. Luke power ballad "Wrecking Ball," garnered the most attention during the album's promo campaign, but those who dug deeper into the tracklist were rewarded by finding "#GETITRIGHT," a gem written and produced by Pharrell. "#GETITRIGHT" outfits Cyrus' country-fried vocals with a breezy, uptempo guitar vamp and a whistled hook that gestures to the gee-whiz innocence of her Nashville past even as the lyrics impart a tale of lust.

10. N.O.R.E. f/ Pharrell "The Problem (Lawwwddd)"

Not Available Interstitial

Album: Student of the Game (2013)
Producer: Pharrell Williams
Label: Militainment Business, Conglomerate, E1

The Neptunes scored one of their first breakthrough singles back in 1998 with N.O.R.E.'s jagged club-killer "Superthug." The hip-hop landscape has shifted radically since then, especially for N.O.R.E., who edged away from hip-hop to cash in on the popularity of reggaeton on 2006's N.O.R.E. y la Familia...Ya Tú Sabe and has done less performing lately in order to focus on running his Militainment Business label.

He bounced back this year with Student of the Game (supposedly the second-to-last album he plans to release before retiring) anchored by the Pharrell reunion "The Problem (Lawwwddd)." The single matched frenetic trance synths to a plodding drum track and a stir-fry of diced vocal samples strewn throughout the rest of the mix. P jumped on the hook too, with a pleading Auto-Tuned shout that took the intensity of the beat and N.O.R.E.'s tough guy bars to the next level.

9. Tyler, the Creator "IFHY"

Not Available Interstitial

Album: Wolf (2013)
Producer: Tyler The Creator
Label: Odd Future, RED, Sony

Tyler, the Creator has long been an avowed Neptunes fan, so even if it was a something of a shock to see Pharrell on a song with the Odd Future general, it made perfect sense they'd work together. "IFHY" off Tyler's Wolf played out like a distorted mutation of the wonky synth sounds Pharrell and Chad trademarked in the '90s-down to the zooming, histrionic keyboards around the chorus, which are nothing if not a nod to Neptunes classics like Kelis' "Caught Out There" and Luda's "Southern Hospitality."

Pharrell himself turns up on the bridge belting out slick, jazzy apologies after Tyler's barrage of degradation, transforming what at first pass seemed like a kiss-off into a warped love song.

8. Jay Z f/ Frank Ocean "Oceans"

Not Available Interstitial

Album: Magna Carta Holy Grail (2013)
Producer: Pharrell Williams, Timbaland
Label: Roc Nation, Roc-A-Fella, Universal

Jay Z's Magna Carta...Holy Grail was a mammoth production, from the Samsung distribution deal that won Jay a platinum plaque before the album even went to retail down to the star-studded guest list replete with industry titans. Jay called in everyone from trap impresario Mike WiLL Made it to Kanye sidemen Mike Dean and Travi$ Scott to longtime cohorts Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, and Pharrell. As per usual, the Hova and P collab is one of the album's best.

"Oceans" complements boom-bap drums with a stadium-sized trumpet fanfare as Frank Ocean ponders how the lavish boat ride he's taking wouldn't have been so enjoyable for his ancestors hundreds of years ago. Jay picks up on the race consciousness of Frank's chorus with bars slyly drawing parallels between consumerism and slavery, Yeezus style ("Black card go hard when I'm shopping/Boat dock in front of Hermes picking cotton"). It wasn't officially released as a single, but the song still popped up on the Hot 100 not long after release.

7. Earl Sweatshirt f/ Vince Staples "Burgundy"

Not Available Interstitial

Album: Doris (2013)
Producer: The Neptunes
Label: Tan Cressida, Columbia Records

Earl Sweatshirt's return to rap was supposed to be triumphant, but he came at it with a level of humility that was downright unnerving. The purest example of Earl's trepidation rendering a joyous occasion somber is the Doris album cut "Burgundy." The song opens with the Neptunes in full marching-band mode, splaying gorgeous keys over cavernous drums as Earl's boy Vince Staples goads him back to the game. "Don't nobody care about how you feel," says Vince. "We want raps, nigga!"

Sweatshirt complies, but the verses that follow are a laundry list of newfound struggles ("I'm stressing over payment, so don't tell me that I made it/Only relatively famous") instead of the smarmy antics he doled out earlier in his career. But the more he gets off his chest the more his mood seems to lift until by verse two, he actually sounds amused as he wrestles the beat to the ground over haughty trash talk.

6. 2 Chainz f/ Pharrell "Feds Watching"

Not Available Interstitial

5. Pusha T f/ Pharrell "S.N.I.T.C.H."

Not Available Interstitial

Album: My Name Is My Name (2013)
Producer: Pharrell Williams
Label: GOOD Music, Def Jam

Nothing if not loyal, Pharrell always looks out for a friend. When it came time for Pusha T to release his solo debut, P was there. My Name Is My Name arrived with two Pharrell productions: the skittering "Suicide," which reunited Pusha with his Re-Up Gang brother-in-arms Ab Liva, and the album closer "S.N.I.T.C.H." The latter is a powerful blues-influenced cut about a friend who gets incarcerated and resolves to give up the rest of the crew in order to buy himself an early ticket home.

Pusha recounts the point where conversations with the friend get weird, and he begins to suspect his boy is recording their calls. Pharrell portrays the friend on the hook, repeating an unnervingly business-as-usual response, "Sorry, nigga, I tryna come home." It's all the more poignant when you consider the story of Clipse's real-life brushes with the law.

4. Daft Punk f/ Pharrell "Lose Yourself to Dance"

Not Available Interstitial

3. Pharrell "Happy"

Not Available Interstitial

Album: Despicable Me 2: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2013)
Producer: Pharrell Williams
Label: Back Lot Music

Pharrell's talents as a producer and songwriter have often led him beyond the confines of hip-hop. Recently, he's been getting lucrative work on scores and soundtracks. Universal's 2010 animated feature film Despicable Me arrived with a glut of original Pharrell songs and the Academy Awards tapped P (along with famed film composer Hans Zimmer) to score the 2012 Oscar broadcast.

This year's sequel Despicable Me 2 called P back in for the soundtrack, which features "Happy," a fleet-footed soul song about—what else?—happiness. "Happy" is P's first solo single since his 2006 solo debut In My Mind, and it's bound to take off thanks to the Cee-Lo-esque pairing of throwback '60s soul swagger and subtle hip-hop flourishes.

The song's only two weeks old, and it's already topping charts around Europe. If you have a couple thousand minutes free you can also peep the ambitious 24 hour cinéma vérité clip for the song that showed up Bob Dylan's just-released interactive "Like a Rolling Stone" video for sheer ambition.

2. Robin Thicke f/ Pharrell & T.I. "Blurred Lines"

Not Available Interstitial

1. Daft Punk f/ Pharrell "Get Lucky"

Not Available Interstitial

Latest in Music