The acronym N.E.R.D stands for “No One Ever Really Dies,” but childhood friends Chad Hugo, Pharrell Williams, and Shay Haley have certainly used their band to proudly emphasize a range of inspirations, from Burt Bacharach to Bad Brains, that is scholarly in scope (if gleefully irreverent in execution). Before this intermittent side project took shape, Hugo and Williams had established themselves as the Neptunes, giants in the field of pop production with hits for hardcore rappers, smooth R&B crooners, and teen pop groups. N.E.R.D allowed the duo to take center stage while following creative impulses that have included rough-housing funk rock, introspective bossa nova, and nutty quasi-orchestral pop, all filtered through a hybrid hip-hop/skate-punk aesthetic.
Signed to Virgin, the trio recorded their first album, In Search Of…, and issued it in Europe in August 2001. Fly or Die followed in March 2004. Lenny Kravitz and Questlove played on the single “Maybe,” but Hugo and Williams were otherwise responsible for the live-band attack this time. A lengthy break, and a move from Virgin to Interscope, preceded third N.E.R.D. album Seeing Sounds, another Top Ten entry upon its June 2008 arrival. Led with the Nelly Furtado collaboration “Hot-N-Fun,” and also featuring appearances from Daft Punk and T.I., the album Nothing appeared in November 2010. The band reconvened a few years later to contribute a handful of goofy songs to the soundtrack for The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. A proper return was made in November 2017 with the release of the rowdy “Lemon,” featuring Rihanna, which led to the fifth N.E.R.D. album, and first for Columbia, No_One Ever Really Dies.