Wednesday, June 19, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

  • N.E.R.D.
After one listen to N.E.R.D.'s debut, we immediately thought of something Mos Def told Spin a while back. Something along the lines of "Fred Durst so wants to count in the ghetto, and he just can't." The same could be said for all the white kids who grew up with Beastie Boys posters on their walls and N.W.A. in their tape decks. Lyrics spit out by white rhymers almost always sound about as cool as Torah readings at a bar mitzvah. And adding bad metal riffs to the mix doesn't help polish the turd.

Fact is, white boys like Durst want to count in the ghetto and can't, but even 10-year-old white kids could probably sing Mystikal's "Shake Ya Ass" if you asked them to. That tune, along with about a dozen other hip-hop hits in the past year or so, was produced by the Neptunes, the team of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo who, when recording with their hometown pal Shay, call themselves N.E.R.D.

On the band's debut, In Search of, N.E.R.D crosses the same borders OutKast did on 2000's Stankonia (hip-hop, rock, soul, funk, and pretty much everything else you'd find in a record store), yet it doesn't use the same checkpoints. Stankonia, after all, was a hip-hop album first and foremost. N.E.R.D. doesn't bring white music into a black world, nor does it necessarily put hip-hop into a rock club. It makes music without worrying about what portion of the Venn diagram it will fit into.

"Rock Star" -- with its opening taunt, "Fucking posers!" -- may be the closest thing to a mission statement here. "You think that you don't have to ever quit/You think that you can get away with it," Williams sings, seething behind clenched teeth, as the guitar line attempts to kick the door in behind him. It's not clear if Williams is boasting or poking holes in bloated egos, and we suppose it works either way. Whatever the case, Williams and N.E.R.D. prove that mingling rap with rock wasn't a bad idea; it just hasn't been done right. Until now.

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