JANUARY – N.E.R.D. – No One Ever Really Dies

 

Ok, so some disclosure here first off: I was always a fan of N.E.R.D. back in the day, but honestly, never a die-hard. I loved In Search Of… and Fly Or Die but it feels like a long, long time ago that I listened to much beyond the hits. And I think it’s fair to say it was a different time. Back in 2001 and 2004 (when those came out) they seemed pretty much like something totally new: they were hip-hop, but they had guitars, they were cool, good looking, ridiculously talented, and of course, alongside this, they were The Neptunes. For all the brash, boisterous records they released as N.E.R.D., they were also one of the production outfits of the decade. Their Clones album had everyone on it, all produced with their slick, gossamer-like studio skills, and brought some of the best hip-hop of those years. Kelis, Snoop, N.O.R.E., Nelly, Busta, Ludacris… they sprinkled their gold dust on everyone. And so, well, I gravitated away from N.E.R.D. to the Neptunes.

So, fast-forward to 2017, and it’s been 7 years since their last long-player and the world’s changed. Have N.E.R.D.? I’ve certainly changed, and this was an album of the month that I’ve come to pretty much totally cold.  Given Pharell’s polymathic skills, its’ a question that will it work or will it prove an ill-fated comeback. This is enough to give me the cold sweats, especially where it’s a genre I’m less than enamoured with than the rest of you gents. So, is No One Ever Really Dies (yes, that’s what the initials mean) really a step forward? Looking at the (inevitable) guests it certainly feels very 2017: Kendrick, Gucci Mane, Rhianna, Future, and Ed Sheeran. Yes. Him. Then there’s Andre 3000, an interesting nod to the past.

I’m three listens in, and I have to say, my first reaction is that I FEEL OLD. I know I am old, but really, for a man that’s pretty mired in the old school sound of samples, turntablism, and classic hip-hop, this feels so alien. It’s not like I don’t like new stuff – Kendrick is brilliant, Frank Ocean likewise, and there’s new records that still shake me (A Tribe Called Quest’s new record is one of my favourite albums of the last ten years, already) – but the new production style that sits somewhere less grinding than trap, but still with percussive, nervous tics and few melodies that open Lemon is way out of my comfort zone. In fact, the first listen almost makes me feel like I’ve tried to watch the news in a foreign language. Or use Snapchat.

But…. but…. it’s not all dad jokes and cliches. As I revisit, things start to gel. Lemon is a ballsy opening track, with Rhianna’s words and voice suiting its bombast well. Andre 3000’s golden skills on Rollinem 7s makes you wish he’d actually make a new album of his own. The brash melodies of Deep Down Body Thurst are bright and bouncy. It starts to emerge out of the mist, and I feel less like the new dad I am, trying to listen to Radio 1. Kendrick makes reading the phone book interesting, so he’s always listenable on Kites, and on Don’t Don’t Do It (though do they have to really overdo it on everything, rather than just make a perfectly-pitched record?). The overriding feeling so far is that there’s an album waiting to get out, if I just give it more time. It’s a much more coherent beast than some of their patchwork earlier albums, and much better for it.  But it’s also an obvious truth that the modern style of hip-hop they’re swiping just isn’t my bag, so either I’ll end up liking it in spite of that, or going off it because of it. Pharrell didn’t need to make this album, and he certainly didn’t need the money, so while only time will tell, it’s good to have them back.

8 comments

  1. David Allison

    So I loved those first N.E.R.D. and Neptunes albums back in the day – didn’t we all? – and obvs Pharrell has been a big part of many a musical project I’ve enjoyed. But I wasn’t expecting much from this. I don’t know why. Like you say, it’s not something he needs to do. So I’m only first listens, so this is just an immediate response.

    First few tracks…OK, so I’m really liking this. That first tune with Rihanna is a belter.
    And then…mmm, the beats are all really similar. In fact, there’s one song that they all remind me of. Oh wait, I remember which one…

    …a track that of course has Pharrell’s fingerprints all over it. So yeah, feel like it loses its way a great deal in the second half after a bright start. Finally, Ed Sheeran, WTF? NO, NO, NO.

    Anyway, more soon….

  2. misterstory

    Hey. I was so scared of this. I decided not to listen to this album ahead of Guy choosing it which obviously sets me at a huge disadvantage. I was a huge fan of Neptunes production for a chunk of time before ‘In search of …’ not trying to be cool or whatever but that’s just how it was. I love pretty much every track they did, loved all the really old NORE tracks they produced all the early Kelis etc etc. I totally overlooked the playbook they repeated because it was a damn good playbook. There was a week, not sure of the year but probably 2003/4 where there was 5 or 6 Neptunes produced tracks in the top 20. Between them and Timberland they had that time pretty much sewn up. In search of was great. Really great. Both versions. I had the non-live instrument version first and I recall (though he won’t admit it) extolling its virtues to David when I first got it. I loved every track, instantly. And I still do. Lapdance, Provider. Rockstar. etc. Damn there’s some good tunes. Flye Or Die – meh. Whatever. And then I Iost touch really.

    I’ve really struggled to get into this if I am honest. Its pretty sweary so no chance of playing when kids are around … and they’re always around. Plus I’ve had manflu so no exercise which is when I listen to my sweary stuff. Therefore I’ve not had the opportunity to listen much which is the main reason for not being able to get into it. 2nd reason is I’ve not felt what I’ve heard yet but that’s probably more me than NERD. More to follow …

  3. whyohwhyohwhy

    This is starting to grow on my much more. Lemon is a real banger, and when they declutter a bit and just go for tunes (that don’t have ridiculous percussion, stuttered melodies, vocoders and distortion) their skills leap out. But it’s pretty in your face and the second half does start to lag a bit, as if they didn’t want to include everything, but the big names were on them so they had to shoehorn it in. But, it’s not as terrifying as it was when I first listened.

  4. David Allison

    I’m really enjoying this. It’s pretty throwaway, so no idea if I’ll be sticking with it, but it’s good background party or upbeat music. The second half definitely loses its way, but the first half is a cracker.

  5. nolankane706

    I think we can all agreed that NERD were the shizzle. Infact when I think about NERD I think about brother joey. I think at one point we actually tried to hunt down trucker hats so we could be cool like NERD. Ah, just thinking about it. There were three of them right. The nuptunes adn some other guy, wat did he do anyway?

    No One Ever Really Dies….. not if you’re talking about the legancy that NERD made in the early 2000’s. So why come back, why leave and come back? Or why use the NERD name, this perplexes me. Sometimes it’s best to just leave things.

    There are some highlights with this album, mainly that Kendrick rips a new asshole to two of the tracks. The track with RiRi is pretty good as well.

    Over all I feel really old when I listen to this album. I really want to like it but I’m not sure if I get it? If I was in my early 20’s again would this translate to me better? To be honest I’m not sure if it would. It sounds like they’re trying to rip off allot of other producers that in my opinion do it better.

  6. nolankane706

    I think we can all agreed that NERD were the shizzle. Infact when I think about NERD I think about brother joey. I think at one point we actually tried to hunt down trucker hats so we could be cool like NERD. Ah, just thinking about it. There were three of them right. The nuptunes adn some other guy, wat did he do anyway?

    No One Ever Really Dies….. not if you’re talking about the legancy that NERD made in the early 2000’s. So why come back, why leave and come back? Or why use the NERD name, this perplexes me. Sometimes it’s best to just leave things.

    There are some highlights with this album, mainly that Kendrick rips a new asshole to two of the tracks. Andre 3000 does something similar. The track with RiRi is pretty good as well. I’m with David, the first half is much stronger than the second half.

    Over all I feel really old when I listen to this album. I really want to like it but I’m not sure if I get it? If I was in my early 20’s again would this translate with me better? To be honest I’m not sure if it would. It sounds like they’re trying to rip off allot of other producers that in my opinion do it better.

  7. whyohwhyohwhy

    I’m two months in there and I’d echo much of the comment from the brothers here. There are standouts – Riri’s track, Andre, Kendrick – but I don’t find myself going back to it. Mainly because while there’s some good hooks and flow, it’s so alien to what I consider ‘hip hop’ from my background that I find it doesn’t draw me back, certainly not as an album.

    ‘Why come back?’ I guess it feels like a struggle to remain relevant, when your lead singer has become famous for Disney records (that made a mountain of money) but it doesn’t feel nearly as fresh or relevant as it did in 2000s. Though perhaps that’s because I’m not either. But hey, it’s aimed at people 15 years younger than me, so I think NERD will be ok with this.

    After seeing Black Panther and buying the album, that’s something I’ve enjoyed much more at first listen, even if I still feel about 60 listening to it.

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