Today in Hip Hop History: N.E.R.D.’s Seeing Sounds

Today in Hip Hop History: June 10, 2008

When talking about production and the sound of hip hop, it’s impossible to not bring up N.E.R.D., the group made up of Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo, and Shay Haley. This group includes some of the most innovative and important figures to the sound of hip hop. Nine years ago N.E.R.D. dropped their third album, Seeing Sounds and did what they do best: making listeners feel.

The album title can be taken literally. The album was actually made with the idea of Synesthesia in mind. What is that, you ask? Wikipedia defines it as “a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.” One form of this includes associating sounds with colors. Also known as, Seeing Sounds. This concept is introduced on the intro as Pharrell tells his story of Synesthesia. The album was made with the live show being one of the main priorities. They wanted their fans to experience the music.

The energy on Seeing Sounds is off of the charts. From “Everyone Nose” to “Spaz” we get hit hard outright while tracks like “Sooner or Later” and “Love Bomb” we are blown away by the subtlety and beauty of Pharrell’s voice. N.E.R.D. is one of, if not the most important rock-rap group of our time. They were never afraid to blur the lines of sound. They went for it all and should be an inspiration to many musicians out there. There’s no trick or gimmicks when it comes to N.E.R.D. It’s always been about the music for them.

Rolling Stone interviewed N.E.R.D around the time Seeing Sounds was going to come out, and when asked about their inspirations to write new records, Pharrell responded with this: “It’s motivated by a lack thereof. That’s what we really get the most of our inspiration from. When we feel like something’s missin’.’Cause then it makes it easy for us. You just have a blank sheet of paper to just go in and conjure all kinds of crazy shapes and colors, because no one else is using them. We like that.”

N.E.R.D. has always been one step ahead, and now we can really appreciate their greatness. Here’s hoping they will create something new again soon. Until then, there’s no problem with looking back at past masterpieces.

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