Rihanna may not have released an album this year, but she’s never been bigger.
Wild Thoughts, her collaboration with DJ Khaled, was one of the songs of the summer; while her new beauty line was valued at $72m in the space of a month.
Her costume for the Crop Over festival in Barbados almost broke the internet; and she’s taken a starring role in the all-female reboot of Ocean’s Eleven.
Now she’s delivered one of the performances of her career on NERD’s comeback single, Lemon.
It’s the first new music from Pharrell Williams’ band since 2017, and it features a fierce rap from the Bajan star, who boasts: “I get it how I live it / I live it how I get it”.
And, in what could be a reference to Beyonce’s hit album Lemonade, she adds: “I pull up with a lemon… your eyes get acidic”.
Throughout the song, Pharrell’s production is brutally minimalistic – but the sparse electro-hip-hop beat gives Rihanna plenty of space to exploit her “Bad Girl” persona.
“This beat tastes like lunch,” she exclaims, perplexingly, towards the end of her verse.
Not for the first time, Rihanna’s vocal prompts a re-evaluation of her as a performer (See also: Her stunning rendition of Love On The Brain at last year’s Billboard Music Awards).
Although she has toyed with rap in the past – notably on the censor-baiting single Better Have My Money and Kendrick Lamar’s track Loyalty – she’s tended to sing-speak her contributions rather than compete with collaborators like Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and Jay-Z.
On Lemon, though, the tables are turned: Pharrell’s reprise of Rihanna’s lyrics seems unnecessary and half-baked.
Still, the single is a confident return for NERD, who started life as a side project for Pharrell and Chad Hugo’s production outfit The Neptunes in 2001.
The band never quite attained the profile of their most prominent member, who has scored major hits with Happy, Blurred Lines and Get Lucky.
Their sound is more abrasive than Pharrell’s solo work, taking its cues from funk and rock, but they reached the UK Top 10 in 2007 with She Wants To Move.
Over the weekend, the band teased their return with posters reading “No-one Ever Really Dies” at a US music festival (the band’s name is an acronym of the phrase).
Lemon premiered on Beats 1 Radio days before NERD headline the Los Angeles hip-hop festival Complexcon alongside Gucci Mane and Young Thug.
It’s accompanied by a “tutorial video” in which Rihanna is seen shaving the head of a model, who goes on to dance to the track.
According to a Rihanna fan account on Twitter, the star was recently spotted on the set of a music video with Pharrell, raising the prospect of a full music video at a later date.
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