N.E.R.D. - Biography
By Joanna Ricco
N.E.R.D. is a one of those rare side projects that actually exceeded the expectations of its humble beginnings. The project, titled as an acronym for No One Ever Really Dies, started as an offshoot of the The Neptunes – the production and arrangement duo consisting of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo. The Neptunes were signed to Virgin Records by producer/musician Teddy Riley following his introduction to them at a high school talent show in 1992. N.E.R.D. came about when Williams and Hugo decided they wanted to form a performance group in 2001 and recruited Shay Haley, with whom they had gone to high school.
After formation, N.E.R.D. immediately got to work on their debut album, In Search Of... (2002 Virgin), which was, predictably, produced by The Neptunes. The album shared many of the same arrangement elements and techniques that had become The Neptunes’ signature with other artists, but they decided to differentiate In Search Of... by using all live instrumentation courtesy of the band Spymob. The singles “Lapdance” and “Rock Star” both charted and In Search Of... debuted at number 61 on the Billboard 200, peaking at number 56. It made for a solid showing as a debut album, but was a far cry from the successes that Williams and Hugo had known as The Neptunes. Nevertheless, the album received the Shortlist Music Prize and later went on to be certified gold.
In 2003, N.E.R.D. began the recording process for the second album. Instead of relying on Spymob once more, they challenged themselves by learning to play all of the instruments themselves. Hugo only started to learn how to play guitar that very year. The album, titled Fly or Die (Virgin), was released in early 2004 and debuted at number six on the Billboard 200, making for a significant jump in debut slot from the release of In Search Of.... Fly or Die was greatly supported by the single “She Wants to Move,” which charted high worldwide, making it to the top five in the United Kingdom and leading to one more gold certification for N.E.R.D.
Within a year after the release of Fly or Die, the band ended their contract with Virgin Records. N.E.R.D. continued to tour and, despite a complete lack of financial backing, took it upon themselves to record and produce their third studio album, Seeing Sounds (Star Trak/Interscope) in 2008. Seeing Sounds was intended to shake up the N.E.R.D. sound, which the group believed was getting stale. Once more, the album was produced by The Neptunes team and largely written by Williams with musical accompaniment by Spymob. The title of the album is a reference to synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which the brain is “tricked” into experiencing tangential senses by the introduction of an unrelated sensory experience, as in the ability to see sound or hear color. Seeing Sounds debuted at number seven, now having the post-production support of Interscope Records under which Williams and Hugo had formed Star Trak Entertainment. The focus of Seeing Sounds was put largely on recreating the frenetic sense of overload that the group saw their fans experience at live shows. The single “Everyone Nose (All the Girls Standing in Line for the Bathroom)” failed to chart in the United States, but hit number 17 in Japan and number 41 in the United Kingdom. The single was accompanied by a video directed by Diane Martel, with whom they had also worked on the video for “Lapdance” some years earlier. The video for the remix of the song was directed by Hype Williams and featured Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West, and Pusha T. Most critics agreed that N.E.R.D.’s goal to create something daring and innovative was achieved, and the overall reception of the album was positive.
With their renewed visibility in the mainstream music world, the band found themselves on a tour with Kanye West, Rihanna, and Lupe Fiasco in 2008 for the Glow in the Dark Tour, which hit North American, Latin America, Asia, and Europe. They also played Australia and New Zealand during the span of the tour, but not as a part of the Glow in the Dark Tour.
Since the release of Seeing Sounds, N.E.R.D. has taken a backseat to the continued production work of The Neptunes. Williams also continues to gain momentum for his clothing lines, Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream. The urban luxury brands produce t-shirts, footwear, and hoodies as well as denim, suits, and leather goods. Ironically, the clothing, shoes, and accessories are valued for their limited production and high price points – a foil to the seemingly unlimited and highly attainable production that Williams provides musically with both The Neptunes and N.E.R.D.