Pharrell Discovered His Synesthesia Listening to A Tribe Called Quest

zo Zo is a staff writer at Okayplayer where he covers…
Pharrell at Roots Picnic 2016
Photo Credit: Vickey Ford (Sneakshot) for Okayplayer

The producer joined Rick Rubin on a new episode of Broken Record for a career-spanning interview.

Pharrell is the latest guest on Rick Rubin‘s consistently insightful Broken Record podcast.

Dialing in over a Zoom line, the pair of hitmakers discussed Pharrell’s Virginia roots, the origins of The Neptunes, the producer’s biggest hits (and perceived misfires.) Towards the end of their chat, Pharrell digs into some of the tracks that left him fundamentally altered. The producer lists off a number of his personal gamechangers, both classic and more contemporary, including Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me,” Thundercat’s “Them Changes,” Michael Jackson’s “The Lady in My Life, and more.

But once he got to A Tribe Called Quest‘s People’s Instinctive Travels and The Paths of Rhythm, it was clear he’d landed on what was arguably his most formative listening experience, describing a synesthetic reaction to two songs in particular. “When I heard ‘Footprints,’ it felt like 11 o’clock at night. Full moon, concord blue, there’s some purple in there, and like, the beigeness of the moon. That’s what I heard. And I heard that on loop. And that was like alchemy to me,” Pharrell tells Rubin with an almost childish fascination. “Those chords are nocturnal. I don’t see sunshine when I hear that,” he adds.

“And then when I heard ‘Bonita Applebum,’ that was like daytime to me, it was kind of blue with pinks in it. And I’d start, like wow, OK, this is crazy. This is rap music that’s making me think of colors the way that Stevie Wonder’s music makes me think of colors. I’d never experienced that before,” the producer says.

Elsewhere in the interview, Pharrell recounts the recording of Snoop Dogg‘s career-reviving sixth studio album, The Chuuuch to da Palace, as well as sessions with Daft Punk and Beck.

Hear Rick Rubin’s full interview with Pharrell on the latest episode of Broken Record below. Jump to the 37:00 mark to hear the discussion of Tribe’s debut album.

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