The acronym N.E.R.D. stands for “No One Ever Really Dies,” but childhood friends Chad Hugo, Pharrell Williams, and Shay most certainly used the group to proudly emphasize the nerdier aspects of their musical personalities. Before this side project took shape, Hugo and Williams — as the Neptunes — had established themselves as giants in the field of pop production, whether they were working with hardcore rappers, smooth crooners, or teen pop groups. Although their faces were known to many due to this prominence, N.E.R.D. allowed the duo to take center stage, as rock stars, even if a new alias was being used.
The trio recorded its first album, In Search Of…, and released it in Europe in late 2001. Not entirely happy with the results, they reshaped the album using live instrumentation — with significant assistance from the funk-rock band Spymob, to further differentiate the material from Neptunes productions — before issuing it in the U.S. in March 2002. Singles “Lapdance” and “Rock Star” made minor indentations on the singles charts; despite this, the album didn’t come close to achieving the kind of commercial success won by the average Neptunes production. In March 2004, after another endless influx of hit making Neptunes work, they resurfaced with Fly or Die. This time out, Hugo and Williams handled more of the instrumentation. Unrelenting in their knack for the absurd, lead single “She Wants to Move” was promoted with a video that depicted the three members performing in the rear “compartment” of a female-shaped space vessel — a very literal interpretation of the line “Her ass is a spaceship I want to ride.”
The trio’s third album, Seeing Sounds, followed in June 2008. Unlike In Search Of… and Fly or Die, the disc failed to reach gold-selling status in the U.S., even though it had a strong first week and reached the Top 10 of the Billboard 200. The group eventually welcomed Rhea into the fold and performed as quartet, but the vocalist was let go several months prior to the release of September 2010’s Nothing. The album was preceded by the single “Hot-N-Fun,” featuring Nelly Furtado.