N.E.R.D have asserted themselves back onto the popular stage with their comeback chart single ‘Lemon’, which features an ever present Rihanna.  The American funk rock band have been quiet over the last couple of years, with lead member Pharrell William’s solo hits ‘Blurred Lines’, ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘Happy’, largely overshadowing rumours of the collective’s upcoming works. N.E.R.D have certainly come a long way since their acclaimed ‘Fly or Die’ album days. Back in the early 2000’s their sound was a messy fusion of progressive pop, alternative rock and soulful R & B Hooks – courtesy of Pharrell. Whilst their albums were nuanced in tone and production, many of the lyrics were focused on teenage angst and rebellion.

‘Lemon’ is presented as a clear evolution of the band’s musical journeys and incorporates some of the group’s traditional elements into the trap dominated landscape of 2017.  The 808’s are assertive and bass heavy, while there are choppy interludes of sampled vocals and fast high hats which allows Rihanna’s voice to ride smoothly on a relatively instrument absent track. This minimalistic approach to production that Pharrell has cultivated in his career gives Rihanna enough open space to accentuate her mischievous persona.

For the more sentimental among us, the updated sound may be too far from what we used to like about N.E.R.D. However, for listeners whose ears are open to a more modern resonance, ‘Lemon’ provides you with a song that is up-tempo and charged with poignant references which are all too easy to miss the first time. In truth, the 3:08 track is more reminiscent of the glitchy samples, programmed kicks and mottled synths which came to characterise The Neptune’s (Pharrell’s and Chad Hugo’s production duo) distinctive hits. Pharrell has diversified his musical portfolio from both N.E.R.D and The Neptune’s, as he has now added rapping to his already extensive repertoire of talents. The C.I.A, gun rights, racial identity and deportation are all topics mentioned as on ode to Trump’s 2017 America, alongside the more expected allusions to cars and masculine bravado.

It must be said that Rihanna steals the show here.  Her recent collaborations with DJ Khaled on ‘Wild Thoughts’ and Kendrick Lamar on ‘Loyalty’, in combination with her influential authority on social media, made the 29-year-old pop star the perfect luminary to promote this single. Her delivery is punchy, and her skilful cadence on a song which would have had many other veteran rappers trying to say too much is impressive. For better or for worse, ‘Lemon’ may be remembered more for Rihanna’s surprising rapping aptitude, than the strong comeback from a group, which has given more than people realise to a hip-hop culture that has since gone global.

Article by Yohannes Lowe.

George Millington