Virgin Records – 2001 - 62 minutes

Virginia Beach appears to be the latest hotbed of hip-hop talent. First it gave us the digital wizardry of Timbaland and rapping collaborator Magoo. Then came NERD AKA The Neptunes AKA Pharrel Williams and Chad Hugo, the studio team who made their mark with unique productions for luminaries like Foxy Brown, ODB, Usher and Kelis.

'In Search Of...' is their eagerly awaited debut, produced in collaboration with vocalist Shay Thorton. While most R'n'B is depressingly samey, 'In Search Of...' shoots off in a million directions at once, at the same time managing to maintain its cohesiveness.

At its worst, 'In Search Of...' is a little flat and obvious – tracks like 'Brain' plod along without ever catching fire. But when NERD hit the right notes, the result is a deranged trip into celebratory funk – imagine Sly Stone equipped with mixing desk and sampler, with Bootsy Collins on decks.

The lush instrumentation recalls the experimentation of seventies soul and the slick, understated digital processing applies a perfect sheen to the vocals. Beneath, the beats bang like machine-gun fire.

The album only enters genius territory on its more retro tracks: 'Run to the Sun', 'Stay Together' and 'Bobby James' are in the upbeat, musically complex tradition of Stevie Wonder and George Clinton.

'In Search Of…' is not quite the great album that the hype has suggested, but in a hip-hop scene that is increasingly moribund and desperate, NERD look close to being the next big thing.

Luke McManus

Tracklisting: Lapdance – Intro - Things Are Getting Better – Brain – Provider - Truth Or Dare - Run To The Sun - Stay Together - Baby Doll - Tape You - Am I High - Rock Star-Poser - Bobby James