You probably missed N.E.R.D.’s most electrifying album yet

James Wyatt

A new N.E.R.D. album came out in 2017, proving once again that it was a year where anything could happen.

For the uninitiated, N.E.R.D. consists of legendary producer Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo, the other half of Pharell’s producing team, The Neptunes, and Shay Haley. Their last album, “Nothing,” came out in 2010.

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N.E.R.D. performing at the Pori Jazz Festival in 2010.

The year is now 2018 and I’m writing about this album because there’s a good chance that you probably didn’t listen to it. In fact, I’m not sure who N.E.R.D. fans really consist of. Aging hipsters? People who know about them because of Tyler, the Creator?

There’s no question that Pharrell and company have been a major influence in the landscape of modern hip-hop and pop music. I mean, if you’re making songs for Britney Spears then you know you’ve made it.

Jokes aside, Pharrell has been tremendous forces in the direction younger artists have taken. As mentioned above, Tyler, the Creator has been particularly outspoken about Skateboard P being his “musical father.”

I have to admit as a Pharrell fan that I sometimes worry if the artist is out-of-touch. You know, the brand of out-of-touch that people become when they accrue an insane amount of wealth and live in Hollywood.

This album has more or less alleviated some of my concerns when it comes to how “tapped in” Pharrell is. “No One Really Dies,” has some truly “woke” moment, despite having a song with Ed Sheeran.

Pharrell is more versatile than ever as he raps, sings and croons his way through 11 tracks and takes aim at big business, the CIA and Mall of America.

The album starts with the song, “Lemon,” with its infectious bleep-blop beat and a fantastic, albeit brief Rihanna feature. You may have heard this one on the radio, but more importantly is that Serena Williams danced to it on a private jet for a Vogue video. Incredible.

“Deep Down Body Thurst” is the second track and I don’t know how to feel about it. I was perplexed by its crazy, `80s jazzercise-esque tempo but the song kind of goes. It’s catchy, I can say that, but very different if you’re a traditional N.E.R.D. fan.

But that’s also the irony of this group because for their entire career, N.E.R.D. has made music outside the traditional boundaries of the genres they paste together. In this way, much of the album upholds the creative spirit of Pharrell and team. Like any other N.E.R.D. album, it constantly makes you question if what you’re listening to actually works.

“Voíla,” is another highlight featuring Gucci Mane and Wale accompanying with a pulsing, blasting beat and jelly-filled baseline lying in the undercurrent. It’s funky and fun. In the refrain, Pharrell tells the listener, “You have the power to change the course of the night,” and to “take this time to recharge.”

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It’s a statement that fits nicely in the album’s theme of action and activism in perilous times. If you’re feeling tired, you’re not alone and this album sounds like the recharge some of us really need.

The rest of the album is frenetic, wild and off the rails in a way that urges you to just go along with it. In a year when you could listen to an infinite amount of sleepy, slacker indie bedroom producers, N.E.R.D.’s new album is refreshing in the best sense of the word.

“Lightning Fire Magic Prayer” and “Kites” stood out as immediate favorites to me. The former addresses spiritual, mythical connections as a sound clip utters the words, “mad ethnic right now.” The latter features Kendrick Lamar and M.I.A. on a beat that can only be described as “Super Mario” on coke. Listen to it and you’ll understand what I’m saying.

Oh, and the song “Rollinem 7’s,” has an André 3000 feature. That’s all you need to know to give this album a listen.

Should you listen? Yes!

Come on, try to have a little fun here folks. “No One Really Dies,” is wild, brave and just a damn good time. If you’re willing to just go with it, the album is incredibly rewarding and you will hear things you would have never imagined.

N.E.R.D: 

  • The band name is an acronym for No-one Ever Really Dies.
  • The band formed in Virginia Beach, Virginia in 1999
  • The band incorporates rockfunk, hip hopR&B and pop.

Collegian reporter James Wyatt can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @jameswill_I_am.