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Album review: N.E.R.D.'s 'Nothing'

November 2, 2010 |  7:05 am

Nerd Whether or not you’re a fan of the genre-juggling merits of N.E.R.D., it’s impossible to deny the group's influence on the Knux, Lupe Fiasco, Kid Cudi and dozens of others. During an era when rap reveled in steroids and squat-addled meatheadedness, N.E.R.D. kick-flipped the conversation toward skinny jeans, skateboards, guitars and the funk — providing a rejoinder that hip-hop need not be confined to ominous 808s and gun-clapping.

But as the title of its much-delayed fourth album intimates, there’s “Nothing” left in the record bin for the Virginia Beach-bred trio to plunder, having previously dabbled with rock, pop, rap, funk, R&B and electro. Predictably, the group that once instructed listeners to “jump around like you're ADHD! ADHD!” takes its own advice, and crafts another polyglot mixed bag.

T.I. (“Party People”) and Nelly Furtado (“Hot n’ Fun”) join the antics for a pair of generic club jams. Daft Punk lend Gallic majesty to the mesmerizing “Hypnotize U” but the self-explanatory “Life as a Fish” drowns inside its indulgent, “Waterworld” fable.

At its best, N.E.R.D. fulfill its lofty ambition of fusing disparate strands of sounds into something seamless. The magniloquent suite “I’ve Seen the Light/Inside of Clouds” nails its celestial intentions, pairing hip-hop drums to brass fanfare and Pharrell’s willowy falsetto. One of the group’s finest songs, it serves as both an ideal album centerpiece and a hopefully illuminating guidepost for the group's future.

--Jeff Weiss

Star Trak/Interscope
Two and a half stars