N.E.R.D achieved its goal with the new album “Nothing,” if its goal was to further stagnate the waters of hip-hop.
The album is the group’s fourth and the group still hasn’t quite figured out what it’s going for. The obvious choice would be for the group to aim for the most poppy of popular hip-hop niches. Frontman Pharrell Williams and fellow vocalist Chad Hugo have proven themselves worthy pop producers, as Billboard Magazine named their collaborative project The Neptunes “producers of the decade” in 2009.
Alas, the production skill does not translate into songwriting skill. The album’s first single, the steamy “Hot-n-Fun,” does not live up to either of its title’s adjectives. Guest Nelly Furtado must have been tricked into singing a hook for the song before the rest of the misogynistic video was shot. Even T.I. can’t make a dent in the underwhelming “Party People.”
A song that’s less boring yet still unsatisfying is the second track, “Hypnotize U.” 50 Cent nearly maxed out the levels of sexual innuendo that could fit into one song with 2005’s “Candy Shop” but N.E.R.D. is still trying to one-up him. On this track, Williams uses a multitude of prepositions to describe his raunchy proximity to a girl.
On the next track, “Help Me,” the band changes directions and plays the hardcore card. However, the group will only go as far as to say, “I won’t kill you but I will watch you die.” Awkwardly placed among the party songs, it’s tough to take N.E.R.D’s threats seriously. This is why Williams and Hugo do production work for Jay-Z: their beats are great and the audience believes Jay-Z is sincere.
The group falls flat on this album, as it has done in the past. But Williams and Hugo didn’t win “producers of the decade” for no reason. It might be time to hang up the microphones and stick to the soundboards.