When Robin Thicke first stepped onto the scene with his 2003 debut, A Beautiful World, people weren’t quite sure how to perceive him. With long brown locks, a rugged exterior and edgy, pitch-perfect vocals, Robin was a diamond in the rough. The product of parents who were both actors and songwriters, Thicke, as he was called at the time, was unclassifiable. Unfortunately, despite critical acclaim for his artistry, the ambiguity of his image worked against the sales of the album.
The years following the release of A Beautiful World were spent writing for some of the most revered pop artists in the industry, including Usher, Christina Aguilera and Michael Jackson. Finally, as deserving luck would have it, Pharrell Williams added Robin to his Star Trak roster, and they dropped the hot collaborative single “Wanna Love U Girl” in late 2005.
As Robin Thicke re-emerged in October 2006 with The Evolution of Robin Thicke, so did a clean-cut “new” artist. Robin sat with us to recount his days out of the spotlight, thoughts on writing the perfect song and, with the respect of Hip-Hop in his heart, his connection to the music.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Rumor has it that you signed to Interscope at a pretty young age. Why did it take so long for your talent to be recognized on a mainstream level?
Robin Thicke: I think it was just out of fear. I waited a long time to put music out. I had a few different record deals at a few different places, and I just never really turned in much music. I think that I was afraid that people wouldn’t think it was as good as I did, and that fear caused me to…I ended up working on other artists and producing other bands, and wasting my time doing things that I should have never been doing. Then I woke up one day, and I was like 22, and I was like, “What are you doing man? You’ve got all this good music in you and you’re not putting it out there.” So I think for me it was the right time when it was the right time.
AHHA: Did you encounter any obstacles in the three years following your first release until now?
Robin: Oh yeah; all kinds of obstacles. You know, after the first album came out, it did well critically, but commercially didn’t quite hit. So at the time I felt like a failure. I felt like all my fears had come true. All this time that I’d spent being afraid of it not succeeding – I had to deal with that. But then it turns out Mary J. Blige is calling me, Usher’s calling me, Pharrell, Lil’ Wayne, and I’m seeing myself as a failure. So I think it’s all relative, you know – you have to be willing to realize I’m doing what I love to do. I’d be doing it no matter what, and I’m really on top of the game just being able to work with the type of people that I get to work with. Once I settled into that, I realized how blessed I was, and now I’m really just all about appreciation.
AHHA: You have a lot of Hip-Hop artists coming to work with you, like Busta Rhymes and Lil’ Wayne. How does it feel to have that level of respect from MC’s?
Robin: I think Hip-Hop music and even R&B/Soul music is based on feeling, you know. Either you feel it or you don’t. I’m not gonna talk about it, I don’t want you to explain it to me. If you gotta explain it, it ain’t hot. [laughs] Music is about feeling, and I think Hip-Hop understands that I ain’t got no time for no bullsh*t – you better impress me right off the bat. With me, I found that my way was to just dig deeper and convene more with my Lord and to sing with more passion and with more heart. And I think that people like Busta Rhymes and Lil’ Wayne, when they hear a guy coming from his heart and making something hot, you know, they just jump on it.
AHHA: Being that your wife [Paula Patton] was in Idlewild, will there be an Outkast collaboration in the future?
Robin: I’ve always loved and respected Andre3000 and Big Boi for what they do, and because I like to move to the left with my music and so do they, I don’t see why someday we wouldn’t be able to come together on something.
AHHA: You have tons of influences that we can tell, from this new album especially. Growing up, what kind of music surrounded you?
Robin: My dad [Alan Thicke] was a rocker. He liked Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger and John Lennon. And my mom [Gloria Loring] was into Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin and Luther Vandross and Stevie Wonder. So I think I got that real genuine balance of two different personalities that came to be who I really am. I love singing with soul and passion, but I love the rock n’ roll lifestyle. The freedom of rock n’ roll to do whatever you want at any time – blend any kind of music together – take chances, you know?
AHHA: Being that your mother and father are singer/songwriters and actors, was there any pressure for you to enter the business?
Robin: Never any pressure. I think they didn’t want to just force me into a business that they know can be very tough on the heart; and tough on the security issues [laughs] – self-esteem especially. They were always very supportive. My dad always told me, “If you wanna be in music, you’ve gotta learn to play an instrument. You’ve gotta write your own songs. You should try to produce. You should learn the craft; just don’t want it for celebrity.” That was always a real good lesson to me.
AHHA: Who are some of the artists that you’ve written and/or produced for?
Robin: I’ve had the pleasure and honor to write for Usher, Christina Aguilera, Marc Anthony, Michael Jackson, Brandy, so yeah it’s been a good run.
AHHA: What would you say is the difference between what you write for other artists versus what you write for yourself?
Robin: Well, obviously when you’re writing for other artists, you’re writing for their mentality; their beliefs. Certain things they might not wanna say that you would say; certain things they wanna say that you wouldn’t say. So when I write a song for Usher, I want to make sure that it’s Usher-friendly. [laughs] That it’s everything he believes in, he stands for, and the way he wants his music to be. But when it’s my music, it’s no holds barred, no compromising. I get to do what I want to do.
AHHA: How did you go about signing with Star Trak?
Robin: Well I was very lucky. I was just working on my new album with Interscope, and Star Trak was moving to Interscope Records, and Pharrell was going up there and he asked Jimmy Iovine, “Yo you got this guy named Robin Thicke who’s crazy talented. Whatcha doin’ with him?” And Jimmy said, “He’s working on his new album. You guys should hook up.” I just came to Interscope, I met with Pharrell – I had already known him from the past – and we were friends and had a mutual respect. Come on, if Pharrell calls you and wants to be involved in your project, you know you’d be pretty silly not to listen.
AHHA: Being that you’re so musical and a lot of the other artists who work with Chad and Pharrell, kind of work with his schedule in terms of creativity in their music, did you feel it was easier for you to get your work out faster?
Robin: Well, it wasn’t about speed; it’s always about quality. We all want everyone to love us today and throw panties at us, [laughs] but that won’t happen unless you make something special that lasts. For me, it was all about, if they told me we were gonna wait another month, because we want the video to bubble a little longer, I could either sit home and complain, or I could just make better music. It’s easy to blame things on record companies and radio and video and all this bullsh*t, but the reality is that if you make something special people need it. They don’t want it. They need it. And when people need something, you know, you’re Biggie Smalls. [laughs]
AHHA: What is it like to work creatively with the Neptunes?
Robin: Well really, you just don’t want to be the one to mess it up. [laughs] They seem to make a hit with everybody and make great records. I just kind of went in there and I wanted to – luckily, the great thing about Pharrell is he doesn’t try to shove anything down your throat. He wants you to love it, he wants it to be about you, he wants it to be tailor-made for you as an artist, so it’s special to your needs.
So I went in there and he was real patient and listened to me and threw a couple of ideas at me, and then I went and got a Subway sandwich, came back and he had the “Wanna Love U Girl” track laid out. We wrote the whole song and did the vocals and the rap in three hours, and it was just done. It doesn’t always happen like that, but when it does you know it. We were both dancing around the studio listening to it 30 times in a row, having a blast, gettin’ drunk. It was a special night.
AHHA: How do you feel about the constant association to Justin Timberlake?
Robin: Well, I don’t get that association from people who really listen to the music. I feel that is a visual association, and not a musical one.
AHHA: If you could have come out in any era or decade from the past and released your music, when would it have been?
Robin: Right now. Today. The landscape of America and the world is ever-changing, and we’re still dealing with racism and sexism and all these different religions fighting over things. I think now we need music to bridge the gap more than ever.