The first time I saw Pharrell’s “Frontin'” video it literally blew—then expanded—my mind. Let me set the scene. It’s late summer 2003, I’m 13 going on 14, and it’s right before my freshman year in high school. I’m spending a ton of time at my cousin’s apartment complex (instead of my own), my uncle is working and not around, so we’re hanging out with a bunch of her friends my age, most of them girls (including one I may have been promiscuous with, sorry mom). Kazaa is how we get and download our music, but MTV, or even terrestrial radio, is still very much the place that we hear it first.
We teens are spending most of our time vibing out watching videos on MTV—yes, they actually played videos back then—on a big screen TV that was fairly flat for 2003 standards. Then, it happens, Lauren London walks up to the door, she’s followed by a flurry of short synthetic guitar stabs and hard patterned drums, her friend says the password, “Neptunes Presents The Clones,” and we enter the party. Star Trak was right, because the video might as well have come from outer space, placed in an MTV Jams video rotation next to 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P. (Remix)” and Chingy’s “Right Thurr.” Continue after the jump to read the ways Pharrell and Director Paul Hunter changed my life.
7 Ways “Frontin'” Blew My Mind…
The debut of Lauren London… This was the first time a lot of us ever saw Lauren London aka “New New” aka she’s sweated to the point Overdoz named a song after her. But she wasn’t even the hottest girl in the video. The dark-skinned chick with the trucker hat, Lanisha Cole, steals the show.1 There’s nothing but dimes all across the video, and they were just chillin’, not making it clap in skimpy outfits, instead they’re sexy fully-clothed in their trucker hats (which were everywhere at the time). Other notable cameos include Lenny Kravitz (3:07), Bape creator Nigo (3:11), and Star Trak family like Pusha T, Chad Hugo and Shae.
Established Pharrell in my mind… (see what I did there?) “Frontin'” is Pharrell’s debut single as a solo artist. Prior to the video I knew who he was, and had a faint idea of what N.E.R.D. sounded like. He was that guy behind Clipse’s “Grindin’ and a lot of other hits with The Neptunes, and he was in the videos for big singles like “Pass The Courvoisier, Part II.” It took until this video for me to recognize him as a musical force, style icon, and all around cool guy that a young Jordan Martins could look up to.2 Speaking of style…
Showed off BBC and Bape… BBC was still in its infancy, but was all up in the video. Nigo is shown twice rocking Bape.3 Sure there’s oversized gear, but it’s mostly skate-sized type clothing. Evidenced by the juxtaposition between the extra baggy 2000s hip-hop fit of DJ Cipha Sound’s Fam Lay tee (2:29/2:36) and Pharrell’s BBC tee/polo. At the time, my wardrobe was filled with clothes my mom chose, and she was buying me the clean cut but inexpensive stuff you’d find at the GAP, as opposed to the athletic gear that was hot in the hood. I wasn’t ready to dress like Pharrell in ’03—I was fighting moms to wear oversized athletic gear—but this was a sign of things to come, and closer to how I dress today.
Debuting BBC in this fashion was the ultimate flex. When the video dropped, the brand wasn’t even available to the public yet, and the line was made by Nigo, and produced entirely in Japan. It was a shrewd marketing move, considering we were living in a pre-Instagram and Twitter era. Pharrell, in Complex’s “Oral History of Billionaire Boys Club” says, “It was calculated in the sense that I knew what I wanted to see in my video, but not in the sense of ‘Oh we’re about to sell this many T-shirts…’ Not because, we were going to launch the brand, but because I just wanted to see that. I wanted to present everybody with my world, because at that time, I was making Billionaire Boys Club stuff for myself.”
Showed a blend of rap/skate culture… A few years prior to “Frontin'” I was hyped off Rocket Power, so my cousin and I skated down the slopes of the hilly projects until we both busted our asses and decided it wasn’t worth it. I knew a couple white friends from school that skated, and knew one black punk skate kid, but to see it in a rap video—especially with skaters of all ethnicities—was a very moving image. Keep in mind this video pre-dates Lupe Fiasco’s “Kick Push” by about three years, and, at that time, most black kids’ interaction with skating came from maybe playing Tony Hawk games.
Set a benchmark… to which I compare all parties in my
adult life early 20s to.4 Every time I go to an event I subconsciously compare it to this video—as far as: crowd, aesthetics, vibe. In “Frontin” there’s beautiful people, a good time, red cups everywhere. They even had digital cameras before they were even really poppin’. The closest I’ve ever been to the level of trillness displayed in the video is the Do Over in L.A., and my local friends’ monthly function, Sabado Gigante.
Made me aspire… to own an ill penthouse. When I first saw this, I instantly wanted to age a few years, gain a few million in the bank and cop a luxurious flat. And I’d make sure that I’d have a room with a flat bed and white sheets, a huge flat screen TV that displays zen-like images, and a model chick to watch and smile at me as I dance in an open dress-shirt.5 Til then, small shared apartments and Ikea Malm series will have to do.
Set the scene… for the scene I would eventually find comfort in. “Frontin'” was a breath of fresh air when it dropped. It wasn’t explicitly gangsta, or flashy, just relaxed and subtle cool. Freshman year of high school, a girl told me I reminded her of Pharrell (and was on the low saying I should go that route). At the time I took it as a slight. It took me a while not to care about what other people thought about me, until maybe even college—where I had my first opportunity to have a long extended stay away the hood—because my direct environment, just like the rap Billboard charts at the time, were about keeping it gangsta.
I wasn’t ready to admit I liked “different” things, and was caught up in projecting a tough image of where I was from, being one of the only black kids in honors classes, and probably the only one there who was on Section 8. But openness to cultures, hanging where rap and skate meets, an affinity for free-flowing vibes and music, caring about design… all turned out to be me. I just didn’t know it at the time. In essence, I was frontin’ with who I was. I didn’t understand myself enough to be me.
In the end… I loved the song, definitely downloaded it on Kazaa, and threw it on a “favorite songs of 2003” mix CD. Nearly ten years later, do I still love the record? Yessir.6 Clearly it had an impact on more than just me, the single reached #5 on the Billboard Top 100, #6 in the UK, and #1 on the U.S. Rap Charts. Thanks, Skateboard P. You changed my life, bruh.
- She’s even on the single artwork and in the continuation follow-up video, N.E.R.D.’s “Maybe.” Too bad she kind of disappeared after this, she was on the Price Is Right for a bit, and dated Questlove for a few years. The third main model featured—donning shoulder length black hair and an olive brown top—is Mimi Faust, of Love and Hip Hop Atlanta infamy… at least Lanisha bowed out in a graceful fashion. [↩]
- For the sake of this video, Skateboard P might even be cooler than Jay-Z. Hov drops maybe 8 bars before he’s in-then-out. [↩]
- In 2K3 I wasn’t aware of A Bathing Ape, but was very infatuated with Japanese cultural (otaku) exports like JRPGs and anime—staying up every night to watch re-airs of FLCL on Adult Swim. Fast forward to 2013, and I have some Bape gear (I copped from the Harajuku shop in 2012), but no BBC in the collection. [↩]
- This and the “Get Blown” video with Snoop. And shout out to “Beautiful,” just because. #BaesGalore [↩]
- The huge half-pipe and white Ferrari Maranello featured throughout weren’t too shabby either. The aforementioned Complex piece also hints at the fact that the video may take place in Miami, maybe it’s on the market. Further evidence it took place in Miami: on Lanisha Cole’s personal Tumblr, she included a #Miami hashtag on a photo from the set. [↩]
- And it’s a part of a special, private Spotify playlist entitled “Cut List II.” [↩]