Pharrell Williams has built up quite the legacy in the music industry. Younger millennials may believe that his super stardom began with his biggest hit to date, “Happy”. However, in the words of LL Cool J, “Don’t call it a comeback”. He’s literally been here for years. I remember my freshman year in college in 2003. “Frontin'” was the song of the summer that carried over into the winter and the next year. He then went on to collaborate with some of the biggest stars in the music industry (Snoop Dogg, Madonna, Mariah Carey, etc).
However, Pharrell is also part of a three man production team, simply called N.E.R.D. The group consists of him, Chad Hugo and Shay Haley. It’s been a while since we have heard a collective project from the group. Now, they are back with a vengeance on No One Ever Really Dies. Their sound can perhaps best be described as Alternative Hip Hop, with a twist of Soul. The album’s lead single, “Lemon”, features Rihanna in rare form. She raps (surprisingly well) on the song, which has an undeniably catchy chorus and thumping bass line.
“Lemon” and the majority of the album sounds like it was meant for summer instead of a fall release. In fact, several of the tracks, like the rock driven “Deep Down Body Thurst” sound a bit jagged and unpolished. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. The group thrives under these conditions. I would be curious to find out when the process started for this album though. The lack of cohesiveness suggests it may have been years in the making. Things slow down a bit with the Kendrick Lamar assisted sure fire smash, “Don’t Don’t Do It”. The vibe here takes you back to an early 2000s sound. It’s delectable instant vintage, with some memorable verses from Kendrick Lamar.
I must give credit and admit that “1000” is now on the short list of songs featuring rapper Future that I actually like. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t have a large part in the song. I have never understood the hype around him and doubt I ever will. Nonetheless, expect this track to be a club banger for the new year. The unlikely pairing of Gucci Mane and Wale on “Voila” actually clicks without a hitch, to offer one of the album’s best tracks. The group even managed to pull Andre 3000 out of hiding on the boastful anthem, “Rollinem 7’s”. Ah, now I just want another Outkast album, with a few tracks produced by NERD.
Ed Sheeran stops by on the video game sounding “Lifting You”. The melody here has a very sing along feel and will likely be a big hit from the album. Does No One Ever Really Dies break new musical ground? Not really. Does it provide nearly an hour of head bobbing, sometimes oft put, eclectic music? Absolutely. As the quirky title (and sound) of one of the album’s songs says, let’s send a “Lightning Fire Magic Prayer” in the sky for more music from NERD for years to come.