With the release of In Search Of… N*E*R*D offered hip-hop fans something different. It was rap with a bit of substance, with real instruments and great production. It wasn’t like anything else out there at the time, and these guys knew that. They definitely haven’t lost it, but they seem to have misplaced it. Nothing is far from a bad album, but it’s not what I’ve come to expect from Pharrell and co.
I’d love to think that was because, as a genre, hip-hop has gotten wise to this new movement; that a shift in the way rap music is made is why this doesn’t feel as fresh as it used to. It’s not though, is it? For the most part modern hip-hop has become the same cookie cutter bleeps and bloops as new R&B, with a few more rhymes involved. Nothing is definitely not like that, but it’s leaning in that direction.
N*E*R*D were providers of great, well produced, party tunes, that were contrasted with a semi-punk rock take on hip-hop. The latter seems to have taken a backseat and, for me, that’s a problem. Tracks like ‘Help Me’ still keep that part of the band alive, but Nothing is riddled R&B style ‘slow jams’ that can’t be to anyone’s taste. I thought it’d be clear to Mr. Williams by now that he can’t sing. Surely someone must have told him that his whiny falsetto tones just don’t work? I guess not. There’s nothing here that’s on par with the likes of ‘Fly Or Die’ or, breakout hit, ‘Rockstar’ and that’s a shame.
The highlight of the album is definitely the production. Everything Pharell touches turns to gold and he really pulled it out here. Even the more R&B-esque tracks have good beats behind them. Songs like ‘Hot-N-Fun’ and ‘Party People’ (believe it or not) are bound to get you on your feet, and are really catchy. I even liked T.I.’s inclusion on the album’s opener. Don’t get me wrong this is not a bad album, it just relies to heavily on it’s singles. Those are great, but almost everything else pails in comparison to what they’ve done before. There’s a lot of funk-infused stuff here that’s a bit hit or miss. ‘Perfect Defect’ is a great example of this done well, but for the most part it seems like an album filled with ideas that aren’t all well thought out.
When a band have got such a great back catalog, it’s a shame when they release something even the slightest bit sub-par. I think high expectations spoiled this record for me. Whilst the previous albums were far from perfect, they seemed to get the balance right. Here it feels like the guys have made something directed at a more mainstream audience. I can’t fault the production and the singles are great but, as a package, it falls short of the standard N*E*R*D have set.