Your favorite rapper’s favorite band is set to drop a new album any day now. N.E.R.D. recently debuted their forthcoming project No_One Ever Really Dies, which includes their explosive new single “Lemon” notably featuring a rapping Rihanna. Their first new music in 7 years has anyone even remotely interested in listening to music freaking out. But if you’re new to the sounds of Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and Shay Haley, fear not! We’ve compiled a list of the group’s 10 essential songs.
Get acquainted with the expansive sounds of the trio, who incorporate decades of musical influences into their unique sound they’ve been tweaking since 1999. They are of course outstanding on their own, but guest appearances from Kanye West, Pusha T, Kelis, Nelly Furtado certainly don’t hurt. Dig into N.E.R.D’s 10 essential tracks below.
“Everyone Nose” Remix ft. Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, Pusha T
If you were already out of diapers in the late aughts, you may recall this song’s iconic hook. In case the drug reference wasn’t obvious enough in the original, Kanye West hops on the remix to make things crystal clear – shouting out classic one-name party girls of the era like Paris, Lindsay, and Britney. Pusha T and Lupe Fiasco also generously donate bars to this track that is peak 2008 – from the blog house-influenced production to the accompanying 8-bit video game-inspired music video.
“Hot-n-Fun” ft. Nelly Furtado
While N.E.R.D.’s fourth studio album was a bit of a commercial flop compared to the band’s earlier full-lengths, “Hot-n-Fun” is a highlight, thanks in part to Canadian crooner Nelly Furtado’s guest appearance. Not only is the song a banger with that a bassline that simply slaps, “Hot-n-Fun” is a pretty good life motto, if we do say so ourselves.
Remember rap rock? “Lapdance” might remind you. While at first listen the song seems to be about a sensual strip club encounter, upon further examination, Pharrell is dropping some major George W. Bush-era political commentary. Likening strippers offering “free” lapdances to politicians and their empty promises, N.E.R.D. get deep while still keeping it lit – the production is of course slammin’, as per usual.
“Lemon” ft. Rihanna
Everything about “Lemon” is pretty astonishing. Like how the sonic template is far more in the vein of Neptunes-high-level production work than most tracks under the N.E.R.D moniker. Or how the track goes on for well over a minute in a fake-out before the real beat suddenly slides into focus. Or how some of the lines feel instantly iconic (“Bath salt, bitin’ speakers in the face”). Or how Rihanna has definitively proved that yes, she can rap, and yes, she utterly dominates to the point of stealing the whole show for herself.
This song, especially with the music video, could not possibly be more 2001. You’ve got Blink-182’s Travis Barker on drums, American Beauty-esque suburban surreality, and legendary pro skater Tony Hawk making a cameo in the visuals as a gas station clerk. But while the song is from 16 years ago, it remains a timeless classic in N.E.R.D.’s discography.
Before Post Malone and 21 Savage, N.E.R.D. brought rock and roll to join the sex and drugs of the rap world. Once again, we’ve got some killer guitar riffs with bars to match – except for the poorly-executed metaphor “I guess you ain’t heard that we swallow guys.”
“Run to the Sun”
Opening up the latter half of N.E.R.D.’s debut In Search Of…. this sensual jam is not one to be glossed over. With classic funk percussion and ASMR-inducing piano lines, “Run to the Sun” is Shay, Chad, and Pharrell at their finest – giving us a first glimpse into the singer’s adorable, new agey – but ultimately, sincere – vibeyness. Ideally, we’d be blasting this on a secluded private beach alongside our lover of choice, but daydreaming alone in our bedroom is acceptable too.
“She Wants to Move”
From the bark of the dog, you know it’s about to be lit. “She Wants to Move” sounds like a rejected Justin Timberlake song in the best way possible – you’re half-expecting a signature JT shriek, but instead you’re served with some Latin-inspired shredding. While going on about a hot girl dancing is not the most riveting things to hear, we can’t deny this is an essential N.E.R.D. cut.
A cut from the middle of N.E.R.D.’s 2008 album Seeing Sounds, “Spaz” is one of the trio’s most sonically expansive tracks. Taking cues from metal, jazz and drum and bass, all the while managing to reference that nursery rhyme about an anthropomorphic teapot, being a spaz never sounded so cool.
“You Know What”
It seems Pharrell always has between-the-sheets action on the brain, and “You Know What” is no exception. Even though he’s not waxing poetic about spaceship-like asses, with a sublimely simple 4/4 kick drum, wavy synths, and wah-wah guitar, Skateboard P leads us into his profuse apologies to a gal who he can’t stop thinking about, ultimately deciding their friendship is more important.
For more essential tracks, check out Cardi B’s 10 best songs beyond her smash-hit “Bodak Yellow” right here.
- Text: Jake Boyer & Bianca Giulione