With a career in music that spans nearly two decades, Brooklyn rapper Jay Z has likely faced numerous comparisons. But during a recent Life + Times interview, producer Pharrell Williams may have given the New York City emcee his most unique comparison yet.
While speaking on Jay’s process in the studio, Pharrell compared the rapper to the Oracle at Delphi. The prophetess was said to have delivered cryptic prophecies to those who visited her at the Temple of Apollo.
“There’s no pen and paper anywhere in sight,” said the producer. “You gotta see this guy listening to the music, mumbling to himself, and then he goes into the booth. It sounds a lot like the Oracle at Delphi’s process. You know, she’s leaning over cracks of—in the cave that have like methane hydrate coming out. Just high as an eagle’s ass. She’s mumbling shit and the next thing you know she has a prophecy. It’s a little crazy. And by the way, I mean, it would seem that I was being artful by stating in that way. And showing you that super-close parallel, but if it weren’t true I wouldn’t be able to say that. That’s the super crazy thing about this dude.”
Pharrell Williams Speaks On Jay Z’s Emotional Records
Pharrell later gave credit to Jay Z for his ability to create bangers in the studio, but commended the rapper for being able to craft emotional records that are equally as impressive.
The Virginia beatsmith also offered a breakdown of his work on the Frank Ocean-assisted “Oceans,” a record featured on Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail. According to Pharrell, while producing the song he focused on creating a musical palette with darker colors reminiscent of the night sky.
“When he goes emotional, it’s unbelievable,” said Pharrell. “It’s like he connects to a couple of past lives. I mean, when he said about his boy Bob that died, about Bobalob. When he said ‘reverse the crash like that.’ That whole paragraph, that was like another level. You can never get enough story songs that gives the ears and the heart a texture that can’t be matched. So, whenever the person is saying something that’s good and real and rings real to you .The ultimate goal as a musician is to touch people like that. And that’s why my process with him is always the same. It’s always like ‘Okay. Banger, banger, but okay let’s just make something—you know.’
“And for this last album…that’s where ‘Oceans’ came from,” he added. “I just wanted to see him do that, but this time I chose darker color with the music. Usually, when I do the story stuff it’s always like major seventh chords in there and these slightly sophisticated jazz extensions. You know, to give you like these brighter colors and these tertiary colors that feel very jazzy. But with ‘Oceans’ I chose like darker colors…I wanted that night sky, so when he rhymed the shit was just vivid and it’s just like his voice would come through like lightning.”
Pharrell Williams Recalls Meeting Jay Z, Connecting Creatively
Pharrell also reminisced on his first time meeting Jay Z and the mutual respect the two artists had for each others creativity.
“I remember ‘Can I Live’ being my favorite record on that album,” said Pharrell. “I just thought that he rhymed so vividly. So, I just never thought I’d get a chance to work with him. We wouldn’t take on a project just to take it on and the couple of times we did do that it always just backfired terribly…And working with Jay was kinda just like—he takes the craft seriously. And so, when you find other people that see the same values as you do in your music, you guys tend to be cool. Once we met, we just creatively admired the different aspects and the ways that we worked and I think we’re artists’ artists. We admire other people’s processes.”
In addition to producing a handful of records on Magna Carta Holy Grail, Pharrell has worked extensively with Jay Z on a number of albums and songs from the rapper. He’s lent his production talent on “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me),” “Excuse Me Miss,” “Change Clothes,” and a number of other records from Jay as a member of the production duo, The Neptunes.