Yesterday, iconic hip hop duo N.E.R.D. debuted their first new track in seven years and their acronym came to life again—No-one Ever Really Dies. At least, not without summoning Rihanna to deliver one of the most fiery, unexpected rap verses of the year.
The return of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo as N.E.R.D—not to be confused with The Neptunes, the duo’s production project which helped shape the sound of most late-90s and early-2000s hip hop—is as close to an early Christmas gift as we’re going to get this year.
From the first slap of “Lemon” and Pharrell’s raspy proclamation (“the truth will set you free, but first it’ll piss you off”), it’s clear that N.E.R.D Never Really Died, and conjured up this no-brainer of an earworm as if it were child’s play; a reminder to modern beatsmiths that life outside auto-tune and staccato does exist.
As the wise Parliament once sang, give up the funk (tear the roof off the sucker). In case you forgot, here are all the times N.E.R.D. did just that, with the help of their famous friends.
It’s so reeeeeeal. How I feeeeeel. Straight up, if I was on the dance floor right now, someone would be holding my purse. This song holds up in every single way 16 years after it was released, with its growling rock undertone, Pharrell’s nonchalant confidence and the inexplicable ability to make grinding feel right again.
There’s a good chance you heard this song’s standout lyric frantically repeated as part of a Girl Talk mix, and just as good a chance you realized the single had been remixed by some of hip hop’s (then) hottest new players when you saw the Hype Williams-directed video. Either way, to this day, when ‘Ye kicks it off (“Hey, do you have any black inside you?“) over that pulsing beat, you know some shit’s about to go down.
Top down, chrome spinnin’! Kidding, it’s not that legendary Clipse and Neptunes collab. But, it’s another goodie that appeared on The Neptunes’ larger-than-life 2003 compilation album Clones, which also boasted “Light Your Ass On Fire,” “Frontin'” and so many more classics that I’m now wishing this whole blog was about that album. Anyway, Clipse (Pusha T and blood brother No Malice) and The Neptunes were always a match made in rap heaven, and this rock-laced victory anthem is still a certified banger.
You might get “Promiscuous Girl” vibes from this lead single off N.E.R.D.’s 2010 album Nothing, but its actually not Timbaland behind the boards. Daft Punk actually crafted the midtempo beat for Pharrell to croon over, which becomes evident once that mesmerizing synth coasts in.
One of the last N.E.R.D. offerings before their seven-year hiatus, this alternative-funk jam is probably the most similar to yesterday’s “Lemon,” making it—you guessed it—super hot-n-fun. Assisted by Nelly Furtado on the song’s call-and-repeat chorus (one of Pharrell’s signature moves), the slap-happy bassline and drums still beg for a cool two-step all these years later.