Title: NO_ONE EVER REALLY DIES
Release: December 15, 2017
Picture that it is the year 2001 and the album In Search of… puts the world onto the futuristic sound that had been unheard of up to that point. The visceral, in your face sound that N.E.R.D introduced turned the music world on its ear. The group brought a sound that was far ahead of its time with the combination of funk, rock, and electro elements to create an alternative hip-hop/R&B sound that was wildly popular in the early 2000s.
Fast forward to late 2017, where the trio made their highly awaited return back to the music scene after a seven year hiatus with “Lemon”, the first single from No_One Ever Really Dies powered by a dynamite verse by Rihanna, marking the first of many superstar singles strewn throughout the album. The track served as a reminder that the group hadn’t lost a step in their break, with energetic production and politically charged lyrics serving to criticize the current administration. It was no shock that the group would bring its rock influences to the forefront to bring a fast paced and visceral hip hop sound on multiple records on the album, such as “Don’t Don’t Do It!” and “1000”, featuring rap heavyweights Kendrick Lamar and Future, respectively.
N.E.R.D’s most put together songs of the album were when Pharrell, Chad Hugo, and Shay Haley called upon the powers of talented artists. On the track “Voilà”, which for the first two and a half minutes called upon Gucci Mane to deliver a smooth chorus over quick, guitar chord powered beat, and then switches to a reggae beat on which Wale brings a laid back verse to bring the song to an end. It was effective in utilizing the ability of Gucci Mane to bring some attitude to the song via the chorus without turning it into a prototypical Gucci Mane song. On “1000”, one of the albums main “protest” anthems, the group utilized a palatable amount of Future for an electric chorus and verse without letting the song become a sprawling mess of lyrics too unrelated to the song’s message concerning the abuse that Native Americans have taken in this country. On the arguably best song on the album, “Don’t Don’t Do It!”, a track inspired by the North Carolina police shooting of 43 year-old black man by the name of Keith Scott, the almost haunting chorus inspired by an actual recording of the shooting ingrains itself into your mind. The pace of the track picks up after Pharrell’s second verse calling out all of the recently famous cities in the US for the mistreatment of minorities by police brutality and culminates with a Kendrick verse that shows out with strong lyricism and raw emotion that captures the mood of the track.
It serves as a partition of sorts between two halves of the album, one half well-grounded in concrete song structure, and another more sprawling and free form. The second half of the album is weaker than the first half, with “ESP” coming in as the worst song of the album with bumbling lyrics that fail at its attempt at being a protest record. This track showed the weak points of the album, with hit or miss lyrics that tried too hard to be meaningful and sprawling production that loses its way. On “Rollinem 7’s”, the song flails around in repetitiveness until the production switches and Andre 3000 hops on to save the track. The quality of the production picks up with with the rhythmic chanting and pounding drums of “Kites” that showcased the trio’s ability to deliver high quality beat. The song got even better when Kendrick Lamar made another appearance to bring a verse that was easily one of the best three verses on the album. The album teetered out with two below average songs, “Secret Life of Tigers” and “Lifting you”, the latter of which was accompanied by a less than stellar, underwhelming Ed Sheeran feature.
N.E.R.D’s first full length work in close to eight years was a strong but inconsistent album. Its strong suits were rooted in the production and the employment of features by musical heavyweights Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, and Andre 3000. No_One Ever Really Dies was sometimes over complicated by the Pharrell’s tendency to over create and make a tangled mess of lyrics and beats. It was apparent that the group was inspired lyrically by the political landscape and attempted to create a protest record to speak up against the 45th president. It was only successful on some occasions, like “Don’t Don’t Do It!” and “1000”, but it was unsuccessful at times. Largely fueled by some catchy hits, the album is strong, yet far from flawless. It serves as reintroduction back into the music world.
Bottom Line: The album is a concentrated effort to make commentary on the political landscape of the United States through direct lyrics and abrasive and visceral production. The producing talents of Pharrell are shown throughout this album, as its the project’s strongest trait. It strategically called upon features from other superstars to strengthen half of the album. The concepts missed at times due to over complication, but overall this effort was strong.