Ahead of Camp Flog Gnaw, Tyler, the Creator's annual musical festival, a mysterious set of posters appeared around Exposition Park in Los Angeles. They were white with large black text that read “No-one Ever Really Dies”—a cryptic and perhaps slightly dangerous message that greeted the hordes of teenagers entering the park for the day’s festivities. The phrase also doubles as the name of Shay Haley, Chad Hugo, and Pharrell Williams’s hip-hop/funk/rock trio, better known as N.E.R.D. Fifteen years after their debut album, In Search Of…, and seven relatively quiet years removed from their last project, Nothing, I wouldn’t begrudge you if you felt that the moniker seems tragically ironic. Every hip-hop/funk/rock group has their day in the sun, and N.E.R.D.’s had passed. If they hadn’t quite reached death, they were one children’s movie soundtrack closer to it.
This all seemed true, at least until Rihanna breathed life back into N.E.R.D. with her swaggering verse on “Lemon,” a bouncy tribute to riding in Ferraris, counting money, and sometimes doing both at the same time. Released Wednesday, the song is the first single off of the group’s as-yet-untitled new album. The Pharrell–and–Kuk Harrell–produced track is a thumping, mid-tempo number replete with William’s characteristically extraterrestrial bass synths and bone-brittle keys. Riri’s swaggering verse is the highlight of the whole affair. “Tell the paparazzi get the lens right / Got the window down top blowin’ la,” she says while exhaling a cloud of high-grade. In the accompanying music video, she shaves a woman’s head, seemingly imbuing her with the power to break, pop, and lock her way through the rest of the following three minutes.
N.E.R.D.’s return shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Williams, the group’s leader, appears to be incapable of going through a day of life without making something. In the last two years alone, he has designed a line of tennis apparel for Adidas; discovered a pop star at NYU; and added names like Post Malone, Lil Uzi Vert, and Frank Ocean to what was already a stacked production résumé. It makes sense that he would choose to direct that seemingly endless fount of creative energy back to the source of some of his earliest success. Whether the rest of the album will live up to this strong start is hard to say. This very well may just be a flash in the pan for a group that has long since ceased to sizzle. Regardless, I’m willing to enjoy the moment while it lasts. Everyone dies sometime, but a song with Rihanna might just buy N.E.R.D. a few extra years.