The Ultimate Question (N.E.R.D., No_One Ever Really Dies review)

I love it when music gets you questioning the core of things.

If an album can instantaneously shift my thoughts elsewhere, I know that it is moving, effective, and worth my attention. But yet, when it comes from a source that isn’t expected.



N.E.R.D. – No_One Ever Really Dies

released December 15, 2017
******** 8/10

Pharell Williams, Chad Hugo, and Shae Haley are lifelong friends and the members of the rock. funk and hip hop group N.E.R.D.. They formed back in 1999 as a side project for Williams and Hugo’s production team, The Neptunes; which had been producing songs for several artists throughout the late nineties and early 2000s, including another childhood friend, Timbaland. Their first album In Search Of… debuted at number 61 on the Billboard 200 in 2002, and sold 600K copies in the US, giving it gold status by the RIAA.

The second single, Rock Star, was what first drew my attention to the group.

Since that time N.E.R.D. have released four more studio albums with No_One Ever Really Dies showing up after a seven year absence from the public eye. Pharrell is probably the best known of the three members, having created two solo albums of his own (remember that single Happy that was part of the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack?), and also branching out into various media including film and clothing retail.

2017 will likely be remembered as the year of minority rights, especially as it relates to the first year of President Trump in the minds of American musicians. There were some great albums out there that reflected this from LCD Soundsystem, Sampha, Tyler, the Creator, Jay Z, Vince Staples, Common (technically over a year ago BUT STILL RELEVANT), and not surprisingly, Kendrick Lamar.

So why does this album work? Well believe it or not, conscious hip hop seems to be here to stay and N.E.R.D. were already diverse enough to take on the mantle without it hurting their street cred. Whereas someone like Eminem did make similar tone choices and even collaborated with similar artists on his own responsive album Revival, but his album just doesn’t stand up. And yea, Eminem was arguably the King of Hip Hop between 1995 and 2005, be he hasn’t really evolved in a constructive way in the past ten years, and the fact that he was a big deal with a distinct sound may be what hurt him this year.

I realize I’m almost four hundred words into this post and I still haven’t spoken about the songs on it. But the reason why I haven’t decided to focus on the songs themselves is because N.E.R.D. has always been a backburner to the genius of The Neptunes. All of their ideas and talent and creativity channelled into other artists, and the energy we got on In Search Of… and other albums was realistically a rougher and more exploratory sampling of what Williams and co. had left in their tanks at the end of a long journey. But that’s a good thing here.

It seems like no one really knows what to do about all of the problems going on in the world and America is so desperate to address all of it’s problems that music activism is in demand right now. N.E.R.D. have taken all of that energy and channeled it into a mix of feelings yet again. And that’s why this album is so appropriate for it’s time. We need rock, funk, R&B, soul, disco, pop, and hip hop all to work together for once, because if we don’t try to get along it’s only going to get worse out there.

Now is it innovative? No, because the musical themes are all ones that N.E.R.D. have been exploring for a decade, which is why it doesn’t get an A+. But improvement is still improvement folks.


Pros: Lemon and Don’t Don’t Do it are just amazing to listen to. Courtesy of Rihanna’s jaw-dropping rap and Kendrick Lamar’s choice verses, respectively. But the nervous energy and urgency of the whole record are cathartic to listen to, knowing that N.E.R.D. like to force weird shapes like prog-rock and soul together.

Cons: Some of these artist collaborations are a little too serious for the sweet mixture of silly and subversive that N.E.R.D. are tapping into. Ahem, Future.

Runtime: 51 minutes

Points of Interest: Don’t Don’t Do It!” features K. Dot and Frank Ocean, and is inspired by the police shooting death of North Carolina’s Keith Lamont Scott. Ed Sheeran features on the reggae closer Lifting You.

What I find most interesting about this album is that the quality of the music has greatly improved over the span of five studio length records. And whether the woke tone of this music sits well with you or not, N.E.R.D. have managed a way to weave it all together and get you questioning whether they are serious about the subject matter or simply exploiting it to move us forward another decade ahead of schedule, as per usual.

theories Summarized

Optimism is important in this day and age. Should you buy this album. Yes, I think you should. And my theory is that it was designed to elevate your mood, but also get you thinking about the reality of these atrocities we are all witness to on a daily basis. It’s almost impossible to have a full understanding of every angle, but N.E.R.D. have managed once again to provide us with yet another perspective on police brutality, transgender issues, black and minority rights, and the harshness of anti-immigration without ham-fisting everything. It’s a theory I’ll happily pack into explosive force of love.


Awkward Turtle (Zoolander 2 review)

Ever heard the expression awkward turtle dear readers? It’s a hand gesture used to either break the tension of an awkward situation or potentially amplify it.

It’s been around since about 2007, so it’s already starting to lose significance as slang, but that doesn’t mean people don’t try to use it when possible.

Today’s movie review features an idea a little dated but which hopes to use it’s awkward turtle to diffuse the room. Let’s find out if it can.




Zoolander 2 (2015)

Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig
Director: Ben Stiller
released on blu-ray May 24, 2016
***** 5/10


IMDB: 4.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 24%, Audience Score 24%
The Guardian: ***/*****


Benjamin Edward Meara Stiller, commonly known as Ben Stiller, is an American actor, comedian, and filmmaker. He is the son of comedian duo Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara.

Ben Stiller has been involved in over 50 movies with 7 directing credits to his name – Elvis Stories, Reality Bites, The Cable Guy, Zoolander, Tropic Thunder, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and Zoolander 2 among them, which had had a part in each as well.

Some of his best roles have included While We’re Young, Tropic Thunder, Dodgeball – A True Underdog Story, The Royal Tenenbaums, Meet the Parents, There’s Something About Mary, and Zoolander.

Zoolander 2 is definitely a passion project, because it follows the format of original by fifteen years and is a successful continuation, but not necessarily in a good way – The story is full of cameos and features the same sort of jokes, but nothing particularly interesting.

The plot sees Interpol follow the deaths of several prominent celebrities all with selfie photos taken at the time of their deaths. Agent Valentina (Penelope Cruz) is convinced this pattern is associated with Blue Steel, and we are re-introduced to Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller).


We learn that shortly after the end of the first movie (15 years ago) Zoolander’s school killed his wife, scarred his frenemy Hansel (Owen Wilson), and resulted in his son being taken away from his resulting ineptitude. Valentina recruits the two former fashion icons to help with the investigation while both have been summoned by the new fashion designer guru Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig) to attend a show.

The movie is full of opportunity and attempts to use the now irrelevant characters to address changing issues and thoughts of our times, but unfortunately we get a half-baked assassination plot that involves an estranged Derek Zoolander Jr., all 11 members of Hansel’s orgy being pregnant (including Kiefer Sutherland), and an awkward interaction with a transgender fashion model called All played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Somehow they manage to fit in even more cameos too. Including Katy Perry, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Skrillex, Billy Zane, and a number of real fashion icons. Will Ferrell easily steals the show once again, but it almost feels a bit late in the game when he finally does get screen time.


Pros: It’s awesome to see the Zoolander and Hansel characters come back at each other again, and the Justin Bieber scene was amazing. And obviously Ferrell as Mugatu cannot be beat.

ConsThe plot feels like a rehashing of the first movie, with minor tweaks and some James Bond themed elements thrown in for fun. In other words a poor man’s Austin Powers. The cameos strain pretty quickly too.

Runtime1 hour 42 minutes

Points of InterestThe mythology developed around ‘the one’ about Adam, Eve, and Steve is a parody of anti-gay marriage campaigners who would chant “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” Jonah Hill was originally part of the cast, but later bowed out.

One of the most interesting moments of the film is the Benedict Cumberbatch cameo for sure, but only because of the amount of controversy it has created.

I personally think that head writer Justin Theroux is correct in his statement that the writing was a satire over the debate of transgender rights and the difficulty which both sides have in discussing the topic, but regardless, that the film doesn’t tackle the overall plot properly to begin with doesn’t help that scene at all. It nullifies it in fact.

The awkward turtle that is Zoolander 2, isn’t going to being turned over any time soon. Hansel is not so hot right now – and while that reptile is cute and funny at times, we mostly feel bad for the creature, hoping that we can turn it upright and move on to the next vine or snapchat in our smart phone. Maybe a selfie will help to forget about that click-bait.