When Robin Thicke first stepped onto the scene with his 2003 debut, A Beautiful World, people werent 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 wouldnt 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? Youve got all this good music in you and youre 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 didnt quite hit. So at the time I felt like a failure. I felt like all my fears had come true. All this time that Id spent being afraid of it not succeeding – I had to deal with that. But then it turns out Mary J. Blige is calling me, Ushers calling me, Pharrell, Lil Wayne, and Im seeing myself as a failure. So I think its all relative, you know – you have to be willing to realize Im doing what I love to do. Id be doing it no matter what, and Im 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 Im 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 MCs?
Robin: I think Hip-Hop music and even R&B/Soul music is based on feeling, you know. Either you feel it or you dont. Im not gonna talk about it, I dont want you to explain it to me. If you gotta explain it, it aint hot. [laughs] Music is about feeling, and I think Hip-Hop understands that I aint 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: Ive 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 dont see why someday we wouldnt 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 didnt 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, youve gotta learn to play an instrument. Youve gotta write your own songs. You should try to produce. You should learn the craft; just dont want it for celebrity. That was always a real good lesson to me.
AHHA: Who are some of the artists that youve written and/or produced for?
Robin: Ive had the pleasure and honor to write for Usher, Christina Aguilera, Marc Anthony, Michael Jackson, Brandy, so yeah its 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 youre writing for other artists, youre writing for their mentality; their beliefs. Certain things they might not wanna say that you would say; certain things they wanna say that you wouldnt say. So when I write a song for Usher, I want to make sure that its Usher-friendly. [laughs] That its everything he believes in, he stands for, and the way he wants his music to be. But when its my music, its 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 whos crazy talented. Whatcha doin with him? And Jimmy said, Hes 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 youd be pretty silly not to listen.
AHHA: Being that youre 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 wasnt about speed; its always about quality. We all want everyone to love us today and throw panties at us, [laughs] but that wont 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. Its 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 dont want it. They need it. And when people need something, you know, youre Biggie Smalls. [laughs]
AHHA: What is it like to work creatively with the Neptunes?
Robin: Well really, you just dont 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 doesnt 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 its 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 doesnt 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 dont 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 were 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.