Still, like any kid, he can’t resist a prank. When visitors arrive at the penthouse, they are confronted with a life-size and startlingly lifelike statue of Agent Smith, Keanu Reeves’s relentless nemesis in The Matrix. A gift from film producer Joel Silver, the replica of the grim-faced villain strikes the only menacing note in the place, which Williams purchased from Miami real-estate titan Ugo Colombo in 2007.
In addition to his video-game addiction, Williams is a hard-core fan of cartoons, especially SpongeBob SquarePants, Family Guy, The Simpsons, and The Smurfs. It’s a quirk that’s reflected in the contemporary paintings and sculptures that dominate the apartment. A Takashi Murakami sculpture—a sphere covered in smiley-face plush fabric flowers—sits center stage on a round white platform on the main level. A Keith Haring drawing that depicts his moppets being gunned down by flying saucers hangs in a hallway off the great room. And the stars of the show are the dozen or so works by Brooklyn artist Brian Donnelly, known as KAWS, who made his name on the street devising sly alterations to advertising posters on bus kiosks and telephone booths. His early trademark was a sperm-shaped character with x-ed out eyes, which turns up here in a series of prints that riff on an old Chanel No. 5 image by Andy Warhol. More theatrical still are KAWS’s mural-size odes to SpongeBob characters and banner-size paintings of Stewie and Brian Griffin from Family Guy, which flank the second-floor landing. His seven-foot-tall sculpture of the Michelin Man stands vigil nearby, like a security guard minding the shop. “I just like the pop life,” Williams says. “And I like the way KAWS looks at it. Every time you look at KAWS’s paintings or sculptures, you’re trying on his glasses.”
Williams’s passion for collecting was ignited during his travels through the increasingly intertwined demimondes of art, fashion, and music, where collaborations and mutual admiration have been the order of the day for the past decade. He is a popular presence at Art Basel Miami Beach—the annual orgy of kunst and commerce fueled on cross-promotion—stirring curiosity among the jaded gallery set whenever he appears. It’s a far cry from Virginia Beach (or “Normalville, USA,” as Williams refers to it), where he grew up and kicked off his career, forming an off-tilt house music group called the Neptunes with high school pal Chad Hugo in 1990. During the next few years, the group morphed into a production duo, with a signature sound based on a platform of luscious beats, sparked by tweets, blips, sirens, and a heavy layer of sexy sighs. Soon Williams and Hugo were shaping tunes for the likes of Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Gwen Stefani, and Mary J Blige. An oft-cited survey from August 2003 found that the Neptunes had produced nearly half the songs playing on pop radio stations that month.