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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"She Wants to Move": Hard for me to define, easy for me to love

Simply put, it's N.E.R.D — that says more than any genre label.


My hip hop slant continues... with a song that's a lot more than just hip hop.


It's compelling to box acts into genre labels. People get what those archetypal sounds are.


The thing is, N.E.R.D are the opposite of archetypal. Pharrell and his childhood friends Chad Hugo and Shay Haley take influence from pretty much every style out there, from various strains of hip hop to funk to pop punk to Latin to... you get the point. I tried writing a one-sentence description of them — something along the lines of them being a rock band with hip hop roots — but that's too narrow a definition. The only way to really understand their vast range of influences is to listen through their catalog.


I'll give you a starting point: "She Wants to Move," the lead single from their second album, Fly or Die (2004). It's far from being lyrically deep, but it's got pretty much everything else. From an infectious bass groove to a wealth of instruments that somehow all come together without the listener batting an eye, "She Wants to Move" is one of the grooviest sonic melting pots of the 2000s.

"She Wants to Move" wastes no time in getting people ready to dance, with an introductory tom-tom beat giving way to that assertive bass line. In prioritizing the note F, the flat second in the key of E minor, it foreshadows some of the quasi-Latin feelings that arise from the acoustic guitar that enters shortly thereafter. Pharrell's opening lyrics are poetic — "She makes me think of lightning in skies / How else is God s'posed to write?" Dang, I wish I wrote those. They're not the flashiest metaphor, but they sure work to communicate the infatuation.


The contrast between Pharrell's lyrical calls and Shay Haley's response adds a level of playfulness of which I wasn't initially a fan, but over time I came to realize it captures the spirit of N.E.R.D. They're unabashedly themselves, and I feel Haley's callouts represent that as the unspoken inner thoughts of the song's narrator. It's a lyrical approach I've otherwise rarely seen, indicating the group's uniqueness and innovation.


As the pre-chorus begins and the piano introduces a new progression with jazzy extended chords, there's the big lyrical twist: the girl for whom Pharrell is pining is someone else's. The title line implies she's ready to take a chance with somebody new, but her current man is "hogging her," "guarding her." As a Santana-esque electric guitar comes in, the danceability is met by tension, before— BANG! the chorus announces its presence. This is when the aforementioned sonic melting pot comes together. The bass, the acoustic and electric guitars, and a pretty heavy drumbeat fuse to create a rhythmically and melodically dense backing, which isn't too much because the lyrics are sparse and largely spoken. N.E.R.D figured out how to fill up space to get the energy and release of a chorus in a mostly non-lyrical way, something on the rarer side in the hip hop and R&B world these days and therefore something worth commending.


"She Wants to Move" is a song that's ultimately about dancing, and it surely induces that reaction with its backing at different levels of intensity throughout. The smoothness of the pre-chorus contrasts with the more dynamic bridge, before the explosive, groove-first chorus does its magic again. It's a little cheesy at times, but in an endearing, truly 2000s way that I tend to enjoy. Now excuse me while I poorly dance to this beat and others in N.E.R.D's discography.

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