Revenge of the Nerds

As N.E.R.D. reemerges, Pharell Williams is happy to be one of the gang again

"No, no, it hasn't," he insists. "Because those are my boys, one. And two, Chad and I still do a lot of stuff together."

As producers, though Pharell and Hugo have kept the Neptunes brand name intact, they've tended to work apart more in recent years. Pharell, for example, recently finished some songs for Madonna's upcoming album, Hard Candy, an assignment that put his material head-to-head with another Virginia Beach native who has reached the innermost circle of pop importance: Timbaland. If Pharell seemed less than enamored of the spotlight during his solo career, he clearly relishes the chance to compete with his old friend (prefame, he and Timba were briefly in a band together) and perceived rival.

"His tracks [for Hard Candy] are crazy," Pharell says with a laugh. "I couldn't fuck around. I had to come with it."

It's hard not to wonder, given how special N.E.R.D. seems to Pharell right now, whether he's tempted to keep his best material in reserve for the band.

"It's more a gut feeling I have of what belongs where," he explains. "It's just like what you do — writing freelance. If you write something, not necessarily something you were given as an assignment, then based on the feel and the style and the energy of it, you'd know what publication it fits the best. And it's the same thing with music. Sometimes I do a lot of sitting at the keyboard waiting for ideas, but when they come, I usually know where they belong."

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