Picks and Pans Review: Fly or Die

updated 04/05/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/05/2004 01:00AM

N.E.R.D.
ALT HIP-HOP

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Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, the Grammy-winning production duo known as the Neptunes, blasted into the artistic stratosphere with their own group N.E.R.D. (which stands for No One Ever Really Dies) on 2002's brilliant In Search Of... That album ventured far beyond the hip-hop territory they have covered with everyone from Jay-Z to Justin Timberlake. While the follow-up isn't quite as fresh or fun, it still flies high. N.E.R.D., which also includes Williams and Hugo's high school pal Shay Haley (who doesn't seem to do much—what is he, the beer-runner?), continues to break hip-hop boundaries, deftly fusing new wave, '70s rock and Beatle-esque pop into a quirky punk-funk pastiche. Whereas N.E.R.D. used a backing band on In Search Of..., Williams and Hugo capably handle most of the instruments on Fly or Die (with Lenny Kravitz adding guitar, as well as guest vocals, on the Hendrix-like "Maybe"). And with his "slight but oddly effective delivery on standout tracks such as the utopian "Wonderful Place" and the sexy, jungle-grooving "She Wants to Move," Williams, who had a solo hit last year with "Frontin'," shows that he has become a real star.

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