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Trio blends music genres to good effect

Julie Bender | Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Lieber/Stoller, Lennon/McCartney, Goffin/King – these are just a few famous names of songwriting duos since the advent of popular music in the 1950s. To make the songs that fill the airwaves takes a special talent. There needs to be an appealing melody, accessible lyrics and catchy hooks that leave people humming these songs all day long. These days, the pop song production duo that is making news is the Neptunes. Made of Pharrel Williams and Chad Hugo, the Neptunes have worked with most of the MTV pop, rap, rock and R&B stars of the day, including Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Jay-Z, Gwen Stefani, Nelly, Snoop, Mystikal, Kelis, Busta Rhymes … the list goes on. Just looking at these artists in line to work with The Neptunes, obviously the talent of this duo is something that has taken the music industry by storm.So, what happens when these song producers take their production talents to their own music? N.E.R.D. is what happens. An acronym for No One Ever Really Dies, N.E.R.D. includes the talents of the Neptunes in addition to their friend and fellow musician, Shay Haley. Despite the close relation, N.E.R.D. is not the Neptunes. Describing themselves on their Web site, the trio says, “N.E.R.D is the offspring of the Neptunes id, a fly-or-die, thrash-around, do-as-you-will, set-your-soul-on-fire alter-ego that subscribes to no rules, adheres to no agenda… a trio whose chemistry allows the uninhibited exploration of the sounds, emotions and impulses of self and society, of identity and belonging. Of life.””Uninhibited exploration of sounds” is the perfect way to describe N.E.R.D.’s second album “Fly or Die” released in March. A follow up to their debut “In Search Of …,” “Fly or Die” has the initial feel of hip-hop, but each song has layers of influences extending into nearly every musical genre. Funk, R&B, soul, new wave and classic rock all make momentary and repeating appearances on the album. With “Fly or Die,” guitar, whistling, beats and rhyme all find a home together. Starting things off is the track “Don’t Worry About It,” with the sexual innuendos bouncing off the driving guitar background – a sort of Led Zeppelin meets hip-hop. Williams sings, “Baby, don’t fool with me / If you don’t want to give it up / Don’t worry about it,” sounding strikingly like Robert Plant. Making things even more interesting, Beatle-esque background vocals are added to the song, which closes with a smooth yet forceful guitar solo. “She Wants to Move” is the first single released from the album. Hand claps, raunchy guitar and piano loops fill this song, but the opening drum rhythm is what carries the song to its end. Explicit lyrics and the energy of this track make it a good song for the dance floor. One of the key tracks on the album is the song “Maybe.” Keyboards are the dominant instrument, with short guitar wails that fly occasionally in the background. The song sounds as though it could be in the repertoire of Lenny Kravitz, which is made closer to the truth by his guest appearance on background vocals, along with ?uestlove from the Roots. The melodic chorus, “I know you thought your life was gonna be easy / you thought you had it all / but you found that you were wrong,” has an appealing smoothness that blends nicely with the piano line.”Fly or Die” is an album that could be used as an example of the transformation and melding of music genres throughout the decades. Its “feel good” sound makes it an album accessible to lovers of all kinds of music, be it rock, metal, hip-hop, pop or soul. True to their roots, N.E.R.D.’s second album continues to show the trio’s ability at their songwriting craft.