When rapper/producer/clothing label owner Pharrell Williams appeared on the cover of now defunct style magazine The Face, he was (in my eyes at least) the coolest man on the planet. Responsible for great tracks by Justin Timberlake, Nelly, Snoop and many others, he was starting to become a recording artist in his own right (as opposed to with his band N.E.R.D.). However his first big hit Frontin’, with mega rapper Jay-Z, always left me a bit cold.
British jazz singer Jamie Cullum took this track and gave it soul – pretty impressive for a middle class white kid. Originally broadcast on Jo Whiley’s show on the UK’s BBC Radio 1, it was later released after it generated a huge response. Where the original version of Frontin‘ by Jay-Z and Pharrell was cold, arrogant and ever so slightly off-putting, Jamie Cullum’s cover version (now available at iTunes) by comparrison manages to turn it into something much more human. Suddenly it sounds like its being sung by a human, rather than some sort of robot.
Pharrell obviously didn’t disagree to much, as he was seen spending most of the night at the Brit Awards in 2004 talking to Jamie Cullum, having been played Cullum’s version of Frontin’ a few days before the event and raving about it on air. The sight of Jamie Cullum “tired & emotional” and very obviously star-struck after this meeting, was a great one. Its a little sad that none of the tracks that Jamie Cullum & Pharrell recorded together for Cullum’s 2nd album ever saw the light of day.
I still love Pharrell (although Kayne West took the “coolest man on the planet” award off him about 18 months ago), but this is one of the few times that one of his tracks has been bettered by a cover version. And whilst it is available as a download, I prefer my version on 12″ vinyl which is backed with a lovely remix of Mos Def’s Umi Says by Zero 7…. Have a listen to Jamie’s version now if you still don’t believe me: