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N.E.R.D.'s Pharrell Williams gets funky

BY ARIELLE SPECINER
Daily Arts Writer
Published November 3, 2010

It’s time to embrace the revenge of the N.E.R.D.

Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and Shay Haley are shifting the gears of today’s hip-hop world. N.E.R.D’s newest album Nothing brings the funk with ’70s-inspired tracks — a new direction for lead vocalist Williams and his gang. Compared to 2008’s Seeing Sounds, N.E.R.D’s newest venture has a softer feel with swarms of bluesy horns and 808 beats. The album is rich with both party pump-ups and funky jam-outs with an undertone of N.E.R.D’s signature hipster flow.

The most electrifying track on the album is the opener “Party People (feat T.I.).” Pharrell lures listeners in with a pounding bass track. Old-school hip-hop raps and a party-starting chorus entices “party people” to join in because they’re “gonna get down.” T.I.’s barely-there cameo pulls the track together so it’s not just a jumble of noise.

Nothing is book-ended by the other dance track, “Hot-n-Fun (feat. Nelly Furtado).” Pharrell introduces listeners to the track as he explains, “OK, we wrote this for a purpose, to motivate you at this time / With this hypnotizing baseline, please feel free to lose your mind,” while Furtado’s voice chimes in on the chorus. Though songwriting may not be N.E.R.D’s forté, it makes up for it with captivating beats and melodies.

The band takes its sound to a slower, sexier pace on the rest of the album with tracks like “Hypnotize U,” a spacey, sexually charged song backed by soft organ pipes and infused with whispered lyrics. In the same vein is the slow jam “Life As A Fish,” which pulls in oceanic sound effects of wave-like swishes.

Hard raps that take over at rapid speed are not piled onto Nothing. Instead, cool blasts of vocals mixed in with thundering trumpets take over the album. These sounds are sampled liberally on the tracks “God Bless Us All” and “Perfect Defect.” On “God Bless Us All,” the sounds capture an essence of jazzy smoothness and barbershop harmonies. Meanwhile, disco rhythms start “Perfect Defect” off as it trails into a whirlwind of brisk dance beats.

Though the record could use a bit of fine-tuning so it doesn’t get sent into oblivion, it conveys a new kind of sound from a band that has always been pushing the limits. N.E.R.D’s creativity shines through on Nothing. This album proves that nothing can keep the band locked down — in the confines of any particular genre, that is.