"What happens when the beloved unloved schoolkid archetype gets cut from a rockstar’s cloth? For the trio of Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo, and Shay Hayley, this awkward nostalgia lends its beating heart to the essence of what N.E.R.D. wants to be. The premise itself remains awkward: why are Grammy winners playing the role of poindexters past? But after all, doesn’t that embody such cliché perfectly!? After the surprise success of their first effort, Fly or Die finds the trio stumbling further into their destiny as vessels for the uncool and uncouth. It’s after-school special with the Neptunes attitude, finding Williams coasting through the motions of teenage uncertainty with a sweetheart’s aura — and enough underlying raunchiness — to teleport the listener back to the best and worst of times. It’s raucous in the right way, tender in the right spots, and remains a mission statement for a wide swath of dweebs who formed their taste in the mid-2000s. As we all came to realize… growing up doesn’t change much."