N*E*R*D | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

N*E*R*D 

As the Neptunes, Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo have been the hottest producers in hip-hop, pop, and R & B for several years now: Jay-Z, Mystikal, Mary J. Blige, Janet Jackson, Busta Rhymes, No Doubt, and Britney Spears are among the dozens of artists that have hired the Virginia Beach duo to craft them a hit. Their stuttery, dry rhythms and minimal beeps, rings, and liquid tones put them in league with Timbaland, but their trademark is the combo of that hardness and smooth vocal hooks--Williams himself sang the catchy falsetto bit on Jay-Z's "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)." Both Williams and Hugo came from a performance background: Williams was in a hip-hop group with Timbaland called Surrounded by Idiots, and he and Hugo also had a vocal act that was discovered by new jack swing innovator Teddy Riley at a talent show. They became Riley's proteges, cutting their teeth in the studio with groups like SWV and Riley's own Blackstreet. After everything they touched started turning to gold, they formed N*E*R*D (which stands for "no-one ever really dies") with Shay, an old friend. The group's debut, In Search of... (Virgin), was initially a synthetic production, juggling hip-hop, soul, hard rock, reggae, and even a touch of bossa nova; it was released last year in Europe, but before it hit the streets in the U.S. Williams and Hugo decided to recut it using live musicians--specifically a Minneapolis funk-rock band called Spymob--to augment their digital creations. The rock orientation gives the music some extra heft, but at the expense of the original recording's loose soulfulness. It's nonetheless funny stuff: the pummeling "Lapdance" compares pandering politicians to strippers; in "Tape You" the hapless narrator implores his bisexual girlfriend to get busy with another woman on camera, but in "Brain" it's smarts that spur the come-ons. The live band will perform here too; it remains to be seen whether they've figured out how to transcend the record's stiffness. Friday, June 7, 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203.

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