Today marks the inaugural community festival created by Pharrell Williams called Something In The Water in Virginia Beach, VA.
There was something in the sky today in Virginia Beach — the torrential downpour that cast down on the event today — put a pause on the musical acts slated to perform on Friday. However, SITW offered more than just musical performances, the festival comes with panels, pop-up events, movie screenings and more.
I had the opportunity to attend one of the many panels taking place at the Virginia Beach Convention Center today called OTHERtone. Pharrell Williams and moderator Scott Vener led a discussion on the revolving roster of music cultural heavyweights on OTHERtone. The bi-weekly radio show from Pharrell Williams and Scott Vener — came to Virginia Beach with a panel featuring Chad Hugo, Teddy Riley, Timbaland, and Pusha-T.
Pharrell Williams opened the discussion about the importance of bringing the Something In The Water Festival (SITW) to Virginia Beach. He stated, “Black students did not come here to cause trouble, and we still want the HBCUs to come here.” This was in reference to Beach Week, which was an event that took place at the Oceanfront inviting tens of thousands of college students to enjoy their spring break at the beach. Sadly, Beach Week built a negative reputation in the community with its history of violence and arrests.
Pharrell wanted to create something to give students to do and make it about Virginia and invite even more people. “It’s not just music, it’s business, the community, the religious leaders, and it’s an inspiration. Music is the thread that connects it all.”
Pharrell also wanted to make it clear that SITW is not only a music festival but a community festival. His effort is to make this an event that offers the best of itself. He adds, “How long does a horse looks at itself in the water and sees itself and sees its strengths? This is VA and it’s time. The world is gonna see VA for the first time.”
Teddy Riley was an inspiration for Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo who both attended Princess Anne High School just a few blocks away from Teddy Riley’s recording studio. Pharrell says, “Teddy Riley was the guy that brought Micheal Jackson to Virginia”.
Teddy Riley helped shape groups like Blackstreet and has seen how the music industry has evolved over the past few decades. Riley says, “the biggest change in the industry is independence. Today any person can go online and express themselves. I enjoy the independence of putting stuff online and it goes to the masses.”
Riley also mentioned that his first foray into music was through hip-hop, and he didn’t know anything about R&B until Keith Sweat came to him. “It just took a toll on me and I forgot about hip hop”, says Riley.
Riley inevitably began to work with Pharrell and Chad wanting to reach out and do something for the community. Riley says, “I knew The Neptunes were so far ahead of their time it’s like they were on Mars.”
The panelists also shared about carving your own identity in music and being unique in your approach. “You have a sound, you have to name it. After you create a sound give it a name so you can have a genre to self. If you don’t look like your music, it won’t connect.” says Riley.
Pusha-T and Teddy Riley spoke on creating music respectively in their neighborhoods. Riley chose to live in Virginia because his mom was in South Carolina and he would work in New York — so it was a nice go-between.
When each of the artists was asked by moderator Scott Vener, about new Virginia-based artists that impress them, Timbaland adds “Young Crazy has some good music out there”. Timbaland also added that when it comes to visual art in music, he doesn’t see the design, he only sees colors.
Michael Chad and Pretty Boy are VA-based artists that Teddy Riley likes.
Chad Hugo replied he wasn’t certain, and instead asked the crowd directly if there was anyone present worth listening to — allowing the crowd to shoot their shot and audition in front of the panel.
The experience became an incredibly engaging moment for attendees who had the opportunity to sing and rap in front of these incredibly successful musical tastemakers. One audience member had a demo reel of her work as a producer on a USB and offered it up for a listen and Timbaland took the USB and placed it in his pocket.
There is a real and tangible authenticity that Pharrell Williams is bringing to SITW, and he walks the walk. It certainly does appear that the multi-hyphenate musical powerhouse is interested in local talent and giving the 757 the love and shine it deserves as an area that has put so many hip-hop and R&B artists on the map.
Teddy Riley says, “Pharrell is the new chapter” when it comes to the evolution of how the music industry is changing. That certainly rings true to what Pharrell has done with SITW. Independent artists don’t have to travel to New York or Los Angeles to “make it big”, instead they can be inspired by the stories shared by these local powerhouses to make it on their own right in their backyard.
Something In The Water festival runs from April 26- April 28 in Virginia Beach, VA.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online community for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She's the primary film critic for BGN and is a member of the Critics Choice Association.