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.