Grammy-winning rap and pop star Pharrell Williams has joined UK music startup ROLI as chief creative officer, the company announced on Wednesday. ROLI creates a collection of high-tech musical instruments, the most intriguing being its modular BLOCKS system. ROLI also makes a keyboard-inspired instrument it calls a Seaboard, and synthesizer software to complement the devices.
"Pharrell will be involved in product conception and design, collaborating with ROLI to develop new musical instruments," a company spokesperson said. It's not clear exactly how hands-on the process will be: "Pharrell's role as chief creative officer is not about meeting in person every day -- it's about collaborating on a regular basis and riffing on a wide range of subjects."
According to ROLI, when founder Roland Lamb and Williams first met, they discovered that they both had a similar product in mind, and that connection eventually led to the partnership announced today. Williams is also investing an undisclosed amount in ROLI. He will not be paid for his chief creative officer role.
Williams' choice to join a hardware startup diverges from his peers in the music industry, many of whom have focused on the new streaming services that are changing the nature of music distribution. Jay-Z's dubiously successful product Tidal is a prime example, and both Apple Music and Spotify have courted exclusives from big artists.
"Pharrell has such a strong creative vision and the collaborative dialogue will really help guide the development of ROLI's products." No doubt his star power will be a compelling asset also.