N.E.R.D are back and their new album is a rampant and expansive adrenaline rush
And we’re all the way here for it. There’s nothing more fulfilling than pushing play on a new project from N.E.R.D, one of new wave culture's most admired collectives, especially as it’s been seven years since their last outing.
NO ONE EVER REALLY DIES hears Pharrell, Chad and Shay step away from the rock-tinged Hip Hop that made their critically-acclaimed debut album In Search Of… a huge success. Choosing instead to embrace an array of experimental electro sonics that dip in and out of the various incarnations of today’s popular sound, it’s both exciting and energetic.
There’s a reason Pharrell is considered a visionary. Not just a title thrown about because it sounds prestigious, the former protege of Teddy Riley really can see what’s coming around the corner. Lead single “Lemon” is the perfect example of this. The varying bass drops that form a heavy undercoat for some simplistic electronic pops and trap hi-hats not only makes it sound futuristic but makes it feel futuristic.
“But Pharrell has always done that,” I hear you say. And while this might have been true in the late 90s/early 00s when he and Chad were producing hits for Noreaga, Mystikal and Nelly, as of late he’s been more interested in stripping his sound back - take “Happy” for example. So, coming full circle again with everything that was once in style returning to the forefront of the culture, Pharrell and N.E.R.D are already embracing the oncoming wave of throwback creations repackaged for a new generation.
Not only that, “Lemon” also hears Rihanna rap. And it’s not a half-assed if-I-have-to kind of rap, she really goes for it. Which goes back to Pharrell’s visionary talents. He who dares wins, and with that said Rihanna’s next album is probably going to be a rap album, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Pharrell is executive producer.
Jumping straight into fifth gear on so many tracks, NO ONE EVER REALLY DIES doesn’t conform to a singular structure or a particular framework. This is what we love about N.E.R.D. They inspire originality. They encourage you to get moving and act a fool. That ‘get up and go’ mentality is alive and well on this album. There are so many moments that are literally an excuse for you to fling your arms in all different directions while jumping around like you’ve just won the lottery.
“Rollinem 7’s” is one of those moments. Sounding like some robotic jazz that wouldn’t sound out of place on the soundtrack for a casino heist movie, the energy is special - think K-Os’ “Superstarr Pt. Zero”. Then it’s made even more special when Andre 3000 appears. Spitting his only guest verse of 2017, his unpredictable delivery, that still manages to sit in pocket, sinks into the beat like melted butter into a hot crumpet.
Things slow down for a brief moment on the opening bars of “Don’t Don’t Do It!”, but it doesn’t last long. The introduction of some Nile Rodgers-esque guitar licks and rapid-fire drum taps injects an urgency into a track that shines a light on police brutality and was inspired by the unlawful shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in North Carolina in 2016.
Instrumentally building itself to a boiling point that then hears Kendrick Lamar enter the frame, he lays down a series of lyrics that encourages caution at a time when there shouldn’t be a need to watch your back as a minority - “N***as, same rules, same chalk/ Different decade, same law.”
Apart from a wasted Ed Sheeran feature on “Lifting You”, and an unnecessary Future feature on “1000”, there are very few hiccups on NO ONE EVER REALLY DIES. “Esp” seems a little lost in the middle of the album but upon further inspection you realise it acts as a bridge between the first and second half of the album - it’s essentially a chance to catch your breath.
NO ONE EVER REALLY DIES is a pleasant reminder that we do still have expansive minds in music. There is still a burning desire to grow artistically while keeping integrity in tact. As long as Pharrell, Chad and Shay are still creating then all will continue to be well with the world. They’re magicians. Just listen to “Voilá” and you’ll understand exactly what I mean by that.
This album builds upon what we’ve come to expect from Pharrell specifically, and it’s a shot of adrenaline that has the potential to inspire the next great mind to go somewhere new with their artistic talents.
N.E.R.D's NO ONE EVER REALLY DIES is out now on Columbia Records.