Unforgettable, Vol. 10: N.E.R.D. – In Search of…


No one ever really dies… You believe that? Well, if not – for you – it’s almost over now.

Where we left off with Justice’s French futuristic opera, we pick up with the album that almost was an electronic eh – but instead became a funk-infused flashback that found more in searching than most others did in attaining. Pharrell “the Imperial Skateboard P” Williams, Chad Hugo, and Shay Haley, better known as N.E.R.D., while on the brink of The Neptunes’ next-level stranglehold on Western radio, retreated to Europe to release their highly anticipated debut album as a trio. Then, as modern lore has it, they recorded the original as an electronic album, decided it was trash (read: American Top 40 Treasure), went back in the studio to record the album with live instruments, and shipped it as a proper international release. In 2010, in the spirit of moving on to the next one: I say we all embark on a similar search.

In search of a senior capstone they took it back to freshman year. In Search Of… is like a high school year book: sex, drugs, rock and roll (where most others had fast-forwarded to the speed, pseudo-synth, and birth control place) – but in a grade nine talent showcase kind of way. From “Provider: “Woke up I had the same clothes on, I had on last night – I must’ve passed out,” to “Baby Doll:” “Roses are red, yellow, and white; where have you been all my life. Violets are blue and I’ll be too, if you leave cuz I just met you,” the album reads like the loose-leaf margins of a Creative Writing class notebook.

In search of Hip-Hop they went Funk-Alt-Rock. “You can’t be me I’m a rockstar, I’m rhyming on the top of a cop car;” lyrically that could be a Hov/Ice T mash-up, rhythmically it sounded like Limp Bizkit with a bit of Korn thrown in, and a splash of step-up-your-cookies reputability. While Kelis “One with the Brightest Hair” and Pusha “One half of Yeuch!” T played truth or dare, Malice kept em “high like Kurt Cobain: listen.” The standout “Lapdance” is one of the more urban-centric tracks on the album. Heavy on the rap flow and content – the track is a collision course of nwas, and public enemies:

It’s so real, how I feel; it’s this society, that makes a nixxa wanna kill. I’m just straight ill, ridin’ my motorcycle down the streets; while the government is soundin’ like strippers to me.

They keep sayin’ but I don’t wanna hear it

and PWT:

When you think of Harvey, think of a Harley; blue denim, spiked wrists and crombie. You can find me drunk, whip it it might crash; or find me chillin with crackers, who like Clash. Find me in court smokin’ that nice grass; burnin’ the flag, all in the name of white trash.

That’s that Benetton-gone-badass kind of harmony you can only find on TruTV, Juvies, high school parking lots – or right here in loud, living, lo-fi sound.

In search of a studio masterpiece they went live. Williams and Hugo met in high school where P was a drummer and Hugo was a composer – when you can play real instruments: why not? What The Neptunes did magnificently on drum machines and samplers, they were also the rare breed of super-producers who could replicate – and manifest – that sound with acoustics and amplifiers. 808s are great, but compared to the beat of a real drum set – anything else is heartbreak. “You were the heart I owned, the beat just like a metronome; now what the fxxk just happened?” “Stay Together,” whether it’s a lady friend or the track you just laid down, if it’s not working: rewind and bring it back.

In search of the future they went backwards. Why rush the inevitable, it’s coming anyway so enjoy the ride there. When you are the future, you don’t have to concede to the assumed perception. The Neptunes signature sound is sci-fi 2001: A Space Odyssey, why try to top your own cool? N.E.R.D. often plays as the production duo’s alter-ego – for better or worse. N.E.R.D. didn’t go completely anti-electronic, they just eased off the dependency a bit. On tracks like “Tape You” and “Run to the Sun” they effortlessly intertwine synth, samples, and strings to reflect a simplistic but satisfying SoCal state of sound – no more, no less.

In search of nothing at all they stumbled across exactly what the album needed to be. Yes, it was flawed but, even still, it was heads and shoulders above the contemporary sound. Like Hype Williams’ videos, the sound here – the atmosphere – is the sentiment – the concept. The lyrics went a bit underwhelming in the metaphorical social commentary place, and a bit too over-the-top in the heartsleeve department.

Lest we forget “Bobby James,” though; because for every track leading up to the close it was just another rap-and-romance piece. From premier to penultimate the album is solid, but the final cut was what sits in the back of your head as a reminder of the future possibilities of a group with said capabilities, “I’m so high… and so tired” – like Mean Girls to Lindsay Lohan. In Search Of… didn’t set out to find anything, and with no end in sight it surpassed the bulk of pseudo-self-awareness-PSAs-touted-as-albums for the decade. At the end of the day, no one ever really dies, and In Search Of… is a freshman living life on re-record; besides, they’re nerds: I just love their brain.

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