N.E.R.D is arguably one of the most influential groups of the 21st century. They flourished in the 2000s, and birthed many artists for the decade to come. Their music is as ambitious as it is innovative — not to everyone’s liking though. It could even be described as flawed genius, because so many artists took elements from their craft to make theirs.
N.E.R.D was not created for hit songs. It was an experiment for producers Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo, and Shay Haley to release music not fit for marketability. After their last album, Nothing arrived in 2010, it appeared as if Pharrell’s vanity project would be over. Ever since their absence, experimental music has become more profound and relevant. N.E.R.D has now returned from hiatus with No One Ever Really Dies. Did they find a way to break normalities again?
This album is completely under the influence of Pharrell, who has production credits on every song. Chad Hugo only has production credits on one song, so this is basically a Pharrell album. What makes this album so different from prior releases is its reliance on star power. The album contains features from Future, Rihanna, Gucci Mane, Kendrick Lamar, and Andre 3000. It seems this album was obviously made for the pop appeal. “Lemon,” the first single released, is by far one of the most enjoyable. The infectious grooves and Rihanna’s A+ rapping do the song wonders. Thanks to the Barbadian, its own track to be a hit and to be scored on movie trailers and used as background music for corporate commercials for the coming months.
N.E.R.D is very meticulous at times with how they incorporate guests on the album. The politically charged anthem “Don’t Don’t Do It!” has a feature from the ever-opinionated Kendrick Lamar. Lamar offers a solid voice, but a knowledgeable listener cannot help but think he sounds an awful lot like Vince Staples over the fast electronic percussion that was provided.
N.E.R.D’s main testament is making music sound good sonically. The switch up on certain songs are amazing. On “Voila,” the instrumental emphasizes the big personality and swagger of Gucci Mane. The vocal performance is incredible and makes him sound like ethereal on an otherworldly level. For the last minute of the song, the song switches from guitar riffs to steel drums for Wale’s verse. The fitting instruments aid his flow and cadence flawlessly.
As much as there is good material on here: the group definitely likes to beat you up with sounds. There is an experimental aspect of this album. It is difficult to take a liking to, especially at first listen. Songs like “1000,” Lightning Fire Magic Prayer,” and Rollinem 7’s ruin the consistency of enjoyability. A lot of the harsh or even boring instrumentals seem kind of unnecessary. Overall No One Ever Really Dies is one big party record that may take some warming up to.