N.E.R.D. has mostly existed as an offshoot for the ideas too out there for the Neptunes brand. Pharrell and Chad Hugo’s side-project emerged as an outfit of funk rock weirdos invading rap (before that was cool), and despite some half-baked songs they cultivated an unlikely cult following, inspiring a few future weirdos to make better music with their blueprints. After a seven year recording hiatus—excluding a brief return soundtracking The Spongebob Movie—N.E.R.D. have a new Rihanna-featuring song called “Lemon.”
Rihanna has always been a convincing rapper, as displayed on songs like “Bitch Better Have My Money” and more recently her feature on Kendrick Lamar’s “LOYALTY.” There’s a finesse with which she handles MCing, and she spits Pharrell’s hook better than he does, bringing her usual swagger. The production is more Neptunes than N.E.R.D., trading live instrumentation for glitchy samples, beady synths, and drum machine kicks. Pharrell’s writing mixes the material with the political; bars about deportation and gun rights are rapped as casually as the ones about supercars and ripping beats. He’s improved quite a bit as a rapper over the years, even if there are gaps. His “Lemon” performance would be more memorable if it wasn’t for Rihanna. This may be N.E.R.D.’s comeback, but it’s her show.
By Sheldon Pearce | Source: pitchfork.com