Before Pharrell Williams was Pharrell Williams. Before he was, as one half of The Neptunes, one of the greatest hip hop producers of all time, before he won 13 Grammy Awards, he was coming up under legendary new jack swing musician, Teddy Riley.
After meeting his future musical partner, Chad Hugo, at a summer camp in Virginia Beach, Virginia, the two young talented linked up to form The Neptunes. They entered a local talent content and was subsequently discovered by Teddy Riley, who had built a studio close to Pharrell’s school.
“We had a talent show at his school and [Pharrell] was a part of it, performing with his crew, The Neptunes,” Riley recalled in an interview with HipHopDX. “I took a liking to them all: Chad, Pharrell, Mike Etheridge, Shay [Haley] and the rest of the crew. I overrode the judges in the contest and said ‘This is what I’m looking for,’ and wound up signing them. At the time, I was in the midst of working on Blackstreet as well as Wreckx-n-Effect, so I was working on the song ‘Rump Shaker.”
Pharrell contributed writing credits to Wreckx-N-Effect’s “Rump Shaker,” which was released in August 1992 as the lead single from their second album, Hard or Smooth. The single, which featured a rap verse written by Pharrell for Teddy Riley, became an enormous hit, peaking at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 (behind Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”) and topping the Hot Rap Singles.
While over the years there have been rumours that Pharrell also contributed production work to the song, they were cleared up by Ty Fyffe (who work on the song), as well as The Neptunes producer himself.
“Me and [Teddy Riley] are the only producers that did that song,” Ty Fyffe explained to Rolling Stone. “A lot of people got credit, shouts out to Pharrell; he was down with the camp back in the day. But he really didn’t produce ‘Rumpshaker.’ No disrespect; Pharrell’s a genius, but he only wrote Ted’s rap.”
In a 2020 interview with Drink Champs, Pharrell confirmed that he didn’t produce on “Rump Shaker”. “It was like 11 o’clock at night. They had everything,” he told N.O.R.E. “And Teddy was like, ‘Yo, I heard you rap?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He was like, ‘Can you write my verse for me?’ I was like, ‘All right, cool.’ So, I went in and I don’t know, 30, 40 minutes. But no, I could’ve never made that beat. That beat transcended genres to me.”
It wasn’t long after “Rump Shaker” that The Neptunes would begin producing some of the biggest hits of the late ’90s and ’00s. Starting with Mase’s “Lookin’ at Me” and Noreaga’s “Superthug”, which were both released in 1998, the Virginia production duo churned out a seemingly never-ending string of hip hop and R&B smashes, that included: Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Got Your Money”, Mystikal’s “Shake Ya Ass”, Jay-Z’s “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)”, Busta Rhymes’ “Pass the Courvoisier, Part II”, Nelly’s “Hot in Herre”, Clipse’s “Grindin'”, Justin Timberlake’s “Like I Love You”, and plenty more.