A nerd, as anyone who's watched a rerun of Happy Days will tell you, is the epitome of uncool. However, nothing could be further from the truth with N.E.R.D., a new group that combines the best elements of hip-hop with classic rock (with a healthy dollop of funk and blues thrown in for good measure) and has produced one of the most hotly anticipated releases of the year.
As half of the eclectic production team The Neptunes, Pharrell Williams has made a name for himself as someone who can practically step inside another artist's personality, bringing to life the musical dreams of everyone from Noreaga and Ol' Dirty Bastard to Janet Jackson and Marilyn Manson. Along with partner Chad Hugo, the Neptunes were responsible for two of last year's biggest beat-driven success stories, Mystikal's "Shake Ya Ass" and Jay-Z's "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)."
Now they're stepping out in front as N.E.R.D., with the new Virgin album In Search Of... . The duo, abetted by writer/vocalist Sheldon "Shay" Haley, has characteristically combined elements of pop, blues and funk to turn out a satisfyingly wide-ranging album.
Williams says the diverse nature of N.E.R.D. is in keeping with a lifelong attitude. "We always had a distinct sound and people didn't get it at first, especially when we were producing other people," he says. "I guess the sound we had was mainly for our group, our movement. Eventually people began to realize the sound."
In addition to those acts listed above, Williams and Hugo have worked with an impressive roster of acts, including Mary J. Blige, Babyface, Usher and No Doubt. "When you make records for other people you have to take so many things into consideration," he says. "But when you're making records for yourself, you already know who you are. You can go as . . . deep into the music as you can go."
Underlying the N.E.R.D. project is a life-affirming philosophy, summed up by the fact that the group's name is an acronym for No-one Ever Really Dies.
"The outstanding rule with us is 'Follow your spirit'," Williams says. "If you stick with that, it won't matter when nine times out of ten your work doesn't go to number one. Just follow your spirit. Things go in cycles, and I just hope me and Chad, when the cycles start to turn, we can create something else. That's what our hopes are: to spread the same mentality we have with making music into other situations in life."