N.E.R.D. makes it clear that life imitates art. The genre-bending trio is making a comeback with their most politically-charged album, No_One Ever Really Dies. The newly released album is star-studded with pop culture’s best, including Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, Andre 3000 and Ed Sheeran. Pharrell told Zane Lowe from Beats 1 Radio that the album’s subject matter is a shift from albums before.
“It’s just sort of like experimenting with the alchemy of different kinds of music and also with the expressed purpose of making things that felt good, but hiding so much of what’s going on out in the world and it doesn’t feel preachy,” he said.
With the help of net neutrality, Pharrell explains, the internet created an open space for the sharing of ideas and information, bringing people together and changing the way we communicate through social media and emojis. Although it’s a beautiful thing, he said the “collective conscious” understands there has to be a deeper meaning behind the things people do—deeper than just what looks good for the ‘gram and what sounds cool on Twitter.
“We wanted it to have tightened deep symbolism that’s not too deep but just like, ‘man this feels amazing to me. Wow what did I talk about on that song? No more Trail of Tears? The prophecy is here, what are they talking about?’ Then we’re good. We’ve done our job. We’ve made you dance and we’ve made you think,” Pharrell said.
Inspired by the fatal police-involved shooting of Keith Scott, he said the song “Don’t Don’t Do It” features Kendrick Lamar and a Frank Ocean intro. The song is told through the still, small voice inside Scott’s head.
“I’m thinking to myself, ‘All of these unarmed African-American motorists, when you do what the authorities ask you to do, I wonder before you die if your conscience says that to you or asks you or suggests to you, “don’t do it, don’t do it.” When they tell you to pull over, I wonder if Philando Castile, in his mind, was thinking don’t pull over. Any of them, I just wonder if they heard a voice in their mind after they were instructed to do something, if they heard a voice saying don’t do it. Don’t don’t do it,” he told Lowe.
No_One Ever Really Dies drops Friday (Dec. 15). Check out the Zane Lowe and Pharrell interview below.