By Laura Mckenzie
When I was a kid, one of the albums my mother had in our car for journeys was N.E.R.D’s 2001 debut In Search Of… This meant I knew the lyrics to ‘Lapdance’ before I had notion of the what a lapdance even was. To me they were always a rock band, hence they were cool enough for my Classic Rock-loving mother, who tells everyone she encounters how she saw Led Zeppelin at Knebworth in 1979. They were one of the first bands to embrace the idea that rap artists are the new rock star, so, if it’s not clear already, I think they’re
When I first heard N.E.R.D were back I was obviously excited, and then, when I found out Rihanna featured on the first upcoming track, my excitement was real. The track itself occupies the old-school N.E.R.D sound of hip-hop backed up with by grudge rifts – only now the sound has a borderline trap vibe. As much as I miss old N.E.R.D, mainly because my ears love Pharrell’s vocals over guitars, the new sound is not a step down as much as it is a move across. In 2017, for N.E.R.D to release a track inspired by the early-noughties rock scene would be strange at best, and at worst, the musical equivalent of uncles at wedding who think their dance moves are still what the kids do. Pretty girls aren’t with the band anymore; to quote 2 Chainz (no, I never thought I’d write that either) pretty girls like trap music. N.E.R.D. know this and the love of Funk that inspired the rifts in their earlier work have now stirred these club-ready rhythms.
And then, there’s Rihanna’s bit – everyone online talks about how she kills this verse. Providing us with classic Rihanna—without rapping—her vocals aren’t worlds away from those on tracks like ‘Man Down’ or ‘Rude Boy’; it’s the same dominating lyrics and fierce delivery that have come to make up the textbook definition of Rihanna. The bravado that gives Rihanna her edge has a relative swagger like early N.E.R.D. tracks – both blend so effortlessly on the track that this collaboration feels long overdue.