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N.E.R.D. loses its identity on ‘No One Ever Really Dies’

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Ian Caramanzana

Two and a half stars

No One Ever Really Dies N.E.R.D.

The rollout of N.E.R.D.’s fifth album was odd, to say the least. The hip-hop trio announced its comeback last month, with its first proper performance in three years at ComplexCon in Long Beach, California. Instead of playing its chart-topping hits, the group played its new album—the first in seven years—in full, billing the event as a “live listening party.” That spirit of ambition carries over to the music on No One Ever Really Dies. N.E.R.D. recruited some of hip-hop’s A-list for its return: Rihanna adds syncopated, staccato raps over rattling drums on first single “Lemon,” André 3000’s hovers over an experimental 808 passage in “Rollinem 7’s” and Kendrick Lamar provides two doses of politically charged fury on “Don’t Do It” and “Kites.” Speaking of politics, Pharrell proudly displays his newfound “woke” side this time around, singing anti-Trump sentiments over smooth piano (“Deep Down Body Thurst”) or dance-y art punk a la Talking Heads (“ESP”). The overall result? An incoherent project that finds the band losing its identity as it strives to expand its sound.

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