N.E.R.D. is everything.
They were the bridge that made our generation go beyond the rap music that we were into. Hip-hop had begun to get a little insular again, and they blasted the doors off.
N.E.R.D fans were exposed to a school of thought in which skateboarding, Japanese streetwear, contemporary art, punk and rap were all part of the same thing. There was no need to try and fit into any stereotypes, in fact, the stereotypes weren't even cool. Pharrell, Chad and Shay celebrated being ‘other’: to this day there isn’t a term to describe the sound that they established across four game-changing albums.
With a new self-titled album on the way, we gave some of our favourite artists and creatives the impossible task of choosing their favourite song from N.E.R.D’s incredible back catalogue…
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'Fly Or Die' (As picked by Saba)
I have no recollection of my life without Pharrell, so I was already a fan of N.E.R.D the first time I heard ‘Fly Or Die.’ I was really pissed off that I had to go to this scholarship thing at the time, and that was a song that I used to listen to and it used to make me feel less pissed off about it. The lyrics had a very literal impact on what I was going through at the time. I was listening to N.E.R.D every day at this extracurricular shit that I had to do for high school - I used to hate that shit. I hated everybody in it, and I think the song helped me not hate everybody.
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'Run To The Sun' (As picked by Denzel Himself)
The chord progression kills me every time I hear it. The UK electronic version in particular. It literally sounds like gradually ascending your eye-line towards a bright sun and squinting subsequently. Either that or my synesthesia is worsening.
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'Yeah You' (As picked by Kari Faux)
I honestly can’t remember the first time I heard ‘Yeah You’, but I just loved how he told the story of a crazy stalker with sweet melodies. I love and appreciate N.E.R.D for the musical risks they always take. Combining so many genres and inspiring artists like myself to not be pigeonholed by one sound.
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'Everyone Nose' (As picked by Mahalia & Kirk Knight)
My all time favourite N.E.R.D tune is ‘Everyone Nose’. I used to literally SCREAM in the shower "ALL THE GIRLS STANDING IN THE LINE FOR THE BATHROOM" hahaha! It's such a jam. It's one of those tunes that has just never gotten old for me! - Mahalia
N.E.R.D. was the first time I heard a fusion of hip hop and punk rock sounds and it was all over the place. So fast paced. On ‘Everyone Nose’, I loved how it had that dads playing with like the DJ scratches in it and pace of the song sounds like a orchestra on a drum pad and then in the middle of the song it breaks into ballad. It just blew my mind the first time I heard it, and going back now it’s even more crazy. - Kirk
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'Everyone Nose (Remix)' (As picked by Ciesay of PLACES+FACES)
When I first heard ‘Everyone Nose’ I never knew it was a song about coke, I legit thought it was just song about girls lining up for the bathroom. But as a grew older I understood the context. The song was amazing because the original was just live instruments, but then the remix had this crazy futuristic beat and had all my favourite rappers on the same song: Pharell, Kanye, Lupe and Pusha T. EPIC! Lupe had the best verse in my opinion.
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'Brain' (As picked by MadeinTYO)
I love the songs lyrics and its message. It’s a great double entendre.
“Do your really even love me
If you do there is no pain
Do I really even love you
Or do I really love your brain
I just love your brains”
It should always be about the Brains.
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'Maybe' (As picked by Joseph Chilliams)
Pharrell and Chad are two of the most brilliant minds in music ever. N.E.R.D is interesting because in a time where there was no representation for a lot of kids out there, N.E.R.D spoke to that skater that liked all kinds of music. N.E.R.D was rap, pop, punk. It was music for outcasts to feel powerful because Pharrell never obeyed any rules. They showed us that we can be whatever we want and that we aren't alone. ‘Maybe’ is one of my favourite songs of theirs because the switch up at the end blows my mind literally every time I hear it. I wasn't ready then and I'm still not now.
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'She Wants To Move' (As picked by Ralph Hardy & Powers Pleasant)
For sake of sanity, my favourite N.E.R.D tune is ‘She Wants To Move’. Not only is it elegantly saucy with the expected punk edge to it, but it came a time in life where I was digesting music as it came rather than catching up. ‘Chicken-N-Beer’ dropped, ‘College Dropout’ changed my adolescence. It was all mad for Bearshare and Limewire. Music TV channels were outchea. Definitely a time in life.
I vividly remember dancing to this in my kitchen doing Micheal Jackson-esque moves and singing 'Mister! Look at your girl!' With all my heart. The lyrics were written so well (and don't try think I wasn't G enough to appreciate it then) and the ad libs were infectious. Not to mention Alesha Dixon was a babe, and that being a nod to how forward thinking they were to have a Brit in the video. Anyway, riddim. - Ralph
The Neptunes have always been my favourite producers. Their timeless sound pretty much inspired me to produce. ‘She Wants To Move’ has one of the best bridges of all time. - Powers
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'Am I High' (As picked by Murkage Dave)
This song reminds me of when I first moved to Manchester. The crud level was high! I love the beat so much. It feels like you're getting driven to heaven in a muscle car. All the parts of the arrangement are kind of fighting for space but working in tandem like engine pistons. Pharrell's lyrics are sinisterly ambiguous, and then when Malice comes in it becomes the coolest record ever. Just the sound of his voice over those pianos is everything to me.
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'Rockstar' (As picked by IDK)
‘Rockstar’ is one of those songs I heard as a kid and couldn’t tell what category it was in but I loved it. It was a fusion of rock and rap which at the time was very new to me. I fell in love instantly.
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'Hot-N-Fun' (As picked by Knucks)
It's that bassline in the song. When you actually listen to it it's such a simple and straight forward bass progression, but that's probably why it's so catchy.
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'Love Bomb' (As picked by Pell)
N.E.R.D was really the first band that spoke to me when I was a kid. ‘Fly Or Die’ covered most of what me and my friends experienced and inspired me to use what I learned in band class for music I would make in the future.
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'Provider' (As picked by Shadez The Misfit)
My favourite song from N.E.R.D would be ‘Provider’ the visual felt like a movie to me at a young age, the story and parallels from the streets to even showcasing different walks of life: it felt like liberation and freedom it spoke for me as a young teenager at a time where I felt no one understood me. In addition, I admire just how they showcased Virginia paying homage to their hometown.
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'Tape You' (As picked by Christian Rich)
Our favourite NERD track is ‘Tape You’ (the UK version). This track summed up our love for the guys. Before we ever met Shae, he was always our favourite because of his verses and ad libs on the album. The clavi sound on this track is great. The chords are everything. The kick and snare add that familiar Neptune sound. The outro strings are brilliant and the fake/real sex overdubs were hilarious. ‘Tape You’ got us through a lot of boring days and kept us musically inspired over the years.
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'Nothing On You' (As picked by Ragz Originale)
Groove groove groove heaven. I love the consistent rhythm of this track: It starts dark and optimistic, then bursts into an melodic chorus. Plus I'm a sucker for heavy bass lines!
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'Chariot Of Fire' (As picked by Duckwrth)
My favourite N.E.R.D track is ‘Chariot of Fire’. I will sing that song at the top of my lungs on any occasion. And what’s crazy is if you wait for literally a minute, a hidden track appears out of nowhere. That song made me so emotional the first time I heard it. Oh and can’t forget the first time I heard the guitar solo on ‘Sooner Or Later’, I cried.
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'Sooner Or Later' (As picked by Tiffany Calver)
Considering the fact that I have the N.E.R.D brain tattooed on me, you can imagine that picking a 'favourite' song isn't a simple process. Growing up and being into so many different genres and styles, I felt like they managed to take music and "salt-bae" elements of originality into it. They were the cool outcasts – a bandwagon that anyone could jump on and it was ok. Something my 13-year-old self latched onto and ran away with (in Bape Roadstas, obvi).
‘Seeing Sounds’ was an album that portrayed all of the above. It was rock, it was pop, it was hip-hop, it was something fucking else that nobody could put their finger on. It was different. I could cherry pick so many songs off of that album to be my favourite, but for the sake of not writing an article myself, today I choose ‘Sooner or Later’. It's just such a beautiful song that has stayed with me as an un-skippable shuffle favourite almost a decade later. It has soundtracked so many different situations in my life. The melodies Pharrell layers together, the guitar solo at the end, the drums, all subconsciously evoke so much emotion on the listener. It's a song to make you feel something.
I think this album came out the same year as Kanye's '808s and Heartbreak'. Being vulnerable, and different, and black was becoming more embraced than ever before, and I benefitted from that era so much being a teenager at the time.
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As told to Grant Brydon.
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