Rihanna shines on N.E.R.D. comeback track

The long dormant side project of The Neptunes, N.E.R.D., has returned with a surprise comeback that is sure to turn into a bop.  

Released Nov. 1, “Lemon” is the first new song from N.E.R.D. since their album, “Nothing,” was released in 2010.  The funk rock/hip hop trio comprised of Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo, and Shay Haley, enlisted the help of Rihanna for this iconic comeback single.

“Lemon” opens with Williams saying, “The truth will set you free, but first it’ll piss you off,” before launching into a menage of synth bleeps, vocal samples and ticking hi-hats.  The sound is unique for a hip-hop song, but the mechanically funky minimalism of the beat is the signature trademark of N.E.R.D.  

After Williams lays down a few verses, Rihanna takes over the track.  With no melody, autotune or monosyllabic flow, Rihanna’s rap resembles the type of rap that was prevalent in the ‘90s and early 2000s, when Williams enjoyed his peak as a producer.  Rihanna navigates the beat easily, pushing the song to new heights.  

She opens with, “I get it how I live it / I live it how I get,” which is an expression that refers to getting money through whatever available means, including methods like stripping or selling drugs. The phrase was first made popular in the late ‘90s but later became mainstream hip-hop by the mid 2000s, which again relates back to Williams’s peak time as a producer.  

Rihanna’s gusty verse continues with, “I pull up with a lemon / Not ‘cause she ain’t livin’ / It’s just your eyes get acidic,” dropping the title for the first time in the song. A lemon can refer to a newly purchased car that has suddenly malfunctioned, but instead of being considered “broken down,” the “lemon” shines so bright that it hurts your eyes; as Rihanna says, “it’s just your eyes get acidic.” Rihanna also describes this lemon as a “she,” alluding to a woman who metaphorically shines brightly.

Although Williams and Rihanna are both considered legends of the industry, when I first heard about this collaboration, I imagined something much different than what “Lemon” turned out to be. Rihanna sheds her “bad girl” image for a lighter, more effortless flow, while Williams seemingly puts a grittier spin on his otherwise mainstream pop sound.  

The electro, funk and hip-hop beat immediately drew me in, but Rihanna’s verse made me stay and repeat the track over and over again.  Needless to say, Rihanna would have my full support if she decided to switch from songstress to MC.

Song: “Lemon”

Artists: N.E.R.D. and Rihanna

Release: Nov. 1

Review: 5/5