I have a confession to make. When I started this blog series, when I deemed it necessary, needed, essential and non-negotiable, for me to write about up and coming artists, and speaking in depth about their brimming influence and budding potential as songwriters, entertainers, performers, singers, instrumentalists and just general people who undoubtedly will have a mark in their industry today, tomorrow and into the future; I had a list of 10 or 20 (which has now blown out to 50!), and most of the preliminary artists I wrote about were first. Artists like Maren Morris, Lauren Daigle, Tori Kelly, Alessia Cara, Rachel Platten and Jess Glynne were all artists I wrote down on my list straight away back in April 2019 (in fact I reckon that these were the only artists that were both in my original list and my latest list!)- and these were artists I’d written about within my first 10 blogs. As my list kept refining and I kept adding and deleting new-ish artists, there was one such artist that I kept on prolonging talking about- even when I knew they were essential on my list, and an artist that we’d all be talking about for a long time yet.
And while I’m not sure if you know this, I will say that it’s definitely not like me to procrastinate on something. Sure I might prolong starting something, but I’ve always felt that 9 times out of 10 when I set my mind to a task, and have it in my head that ‘oh, I’m doing this today!’, then I can actually be productive, effective and efficient and maybe undertake that ‘thing’, no matter what it is, in one sitting. Not so with this particular artist, whom I have been prolonging since, well since the beginning of this blog series. He’s the first artist I actually wrote down on my own preliminary list, and he’s the artist I’ve always pushed down for one reason or another. Long before I found a love of country music and wrote about 9 country artists to date; long before I in my infinite wisdom decided that Matthew West would be a ‘perfect’ fit for my own list instead of giving the CCM legend over to Jon on his own list- and now I’ve written such a good blog about Matthew, that that blog is one of my favourites to read as an outside observer; long before I felt I needed to write about both Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato, when maybe in hindsight only one of them would have sufficed; and long before I stretched my musical tastes and boundaries, when I embarked on writing about deaf jazz singer Mandy Harvey… I wrote two letters down on a page in a word document underneath a title called “50 up and coming influential artists”. The first letter was ‘N’. And the last letter was ‘F’.
NF. Short for Nate Feuerstein. Rapper. Christian. The ‘popular’ rapper you’ve most likely never heard of. The man who hardly ever does any press interviews. The guy who’s written songs about his father abandoning him, his mother’s death from a drug overdose, and everything in between. The guy who raps and spits lines in comparison to Lecrae, and the guy who’s touted as the next Eminem. There are probably more adjectives to call NF– and if I wanted to, I could talk about these songs and the guy all day. But here’s one thing that I know, if there’s one takeaway from these songs. It’s that there’s true honesty and emotion in these ‘songs’. I call them ‘songs’ but these tracks are really Nate just pouring out his heart and his thoughts in rhyme, in a 3 minute or 4 minute or 5 minute sometimes verse-less, chorus-less mish-mash of ideas and concepts. And with Nate unveiling 4 albums (12 songs in Mansion, 14 in Therapy Session, 16 in Perception and a whopping 20 in The Search), as well as a number of hard-hitting and pulsating singles… there was that sense of ‘am I biting off more than I can chew here, or is NF truly deserving of his place in my list? Or should he be firmly in Jon’s list of most influential artists of all time?’
All throughout the last couple of years, I had been second guessing myself, worried about finally writing about a rap artist, and worried about whether NF would fit the ‘malleable criteria’ for this blog series. Hence the pushing down of this artist to the point where I couldn’t push anymore. I have heard of Nate’s music for a long while now- his songs like “All I Have”, “Real”, “The Search”, “Time”, “Let You Down”, “How Could You Leave Us”, “Wake Up”, “10 Feet Down”, “When I Grow Up”, “Leave Me Alone”, “Only”, “No Name” and “Warm Up”, not to mention his ‘intros’ in each album; have all been compelling and powerful in my own opinion. In all that time though, I knew he was special, I knew that many lives were, and are, and are going to be changed through these tracks. Yet for me to instinctively and subconsciously write ‘NF’ as the first artist on my list of future music influencers… well that’s saying something isn’t it? I guess Nate is one of those ‘in-between’ artists like Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Little Mix and Thomas Rhett– artists whom do not fit on Jon’s list but quite possibly don’t fit on mine (until I make them fit!), however I have always deemed him ‘essential’ for people to listen to and for the world to know about. Even though I’m not an expert at rap music (and for all intensive purposes NF is an ‘angry rapper’ if you want to classify him into that category!), and even though I more often than not have a headache after I listen to a few rap songs in a row (meaning even now as I write this blog I’m not listening to any music!); that doesn’t mean that I still can’t recommend NF as an artist. Objectively, Nate is one of the most honest, vulnerable, emotional, real artists currently, there’s no doubt about it; and I believe that you don’t have to love rap to resonate with Nate’s music.
Usually before I start on a blog like I have many times in the past, I write down a list of songs I plan to talk about- some of them I write about in depth (like Matthew West’s “Forgiveness”) and others I write about in a sentence or two. With this particular blog instalment, I jotted down about 50 ‘key’ songs from NF. And then I stopped myself. Then I sat. and I thought. If I as a casual rap listener were to be honest, I’d have to say that listening and re-listening to 50-odd rap songs with high intensity and energy would break me. Mentally, emotionally, and almost every other way. Dare I say, psychologically? I mean rap is alright, but I can’t even handle 5 rap songs in a row, let alone 50. When Jon was writing about Lecrae in April last year- he said it was the hardest blog he’s ever done- so I’ve always avoided writing about NF despite me wanting to write about him for over a year already… because I knew that it was not my strength. So here’s how I’m going to structure this ‘blog’. It’ll be different, it’ll be short, it’ll be punchy, it’ll be from left field. And that’s because it’s virtually ending now. ‘What?’ I hear you saying. Is this right? Yep, it is. Simply because you can search on google or youtube ‘NF review’ or ‘NF reaction’, or ‘NF ____’ and read about articles with more professionalism than my own. Or you could search ‘NF’ on genius, and read the lyrics verbatim as the songs are playing in the background. I for one chose NF simply because he needed to be ‘talked’ about, rather than I was an expert in rap music. And herein lies my point. An artist’s influence can stretch beyond your likes and dislikes- and no matter your view on rap, the fact of the matter is that NF is a future music influencer, if his isn’t already. Simple. No amount of slicing or looking at things from another angle or perspective, will make me change my mind or my stance. NF is important, even though I’m not qualified to write about him. End of story.
In the past I’ve usually tried to find compelling and inspiring quotes from artists about a certain song, album or theme when I’m writing these blogs- but for NF I struck out empty. And that’s because NF doesn’t do a lot of press. He’s a very private person, and since a couple of years ago with his smash hit single “Let You Down”, he’s been reduced to the ‘Let You Down’ guy just like how ‘Call Me Maybe’ has made Carly Rae Jepsen famous (or infamous depending on which way you look at it!). But Nate’s songs are so much more than that. Lead single of Mansion, “All I Have” speaks about the current conundrum Nate was in- being signed to a Christian label yet still wanting to write songs for the mainstream market; while latest hit “The Search” delved head on into the topic of depression and suicidal tendencies. I wanted to write about NF during Mental Health Week last year (10th October), around the same time Demi Lovato’s “Ok Not To Be Ok” released; but then I thought that while appropriate, it’d be a tad depressing. Because… that’s the truth of the matter. “Let You Down” was inspired by Nate’s dad’s abandonment, while “How Could You Leave Us” was written in response to his mother’s death via drug overdose. Nate’s songs on the whole are super depressing, emo, angsty, with seemingly no hope, yet lots of people connect with his songs and lots of people have said that they’ve been changed by his music. There’s also a dichotomy in his music- with his songs being extremely popular even though NF never swears, unlike contemporaries like Logic and Chance The Rapper. NF also has received a lot of negative press and flak for many listeners believe that he’s not a Christian because he doesn’t advertise it- because there’s no ‘Jesus’ or ‘God’ in his songs; yet we as believers mustn’t judge though.
There’s a story I’ve heard and read in the Bible about the parable of the lost sheep. In it, a sheep wanders off from their 99 siblings, and then the shepherd, once realising that the sheep is lost, goes to the end of the earth to find it and bring it back to the flock. There’s also a story in the Bible about a woman who committed adultery, and numerous Pharisees and religious leaders and demanding for her to be stoned. Jesus then draws a line in the sand in front of the woman, and then tells the religious leaders to step over the line and stone the woman if they haven’t sinned at all. The word for word verbatim is ‘let he who has no sin cast the first stone’. And that’s a very telling and pivotal phrase in the Bible. Obviously the religious leaders sulk away and Jesus tells the woman that since there’s no one around to condemn her, that He doesn’t either, and that she should go and sin no more. But as I dwell upon the words of Jesus, reminding ourselves that we cannot judge others when we’ve done things equally as wrong in God’s eyes, and that God is a God of love and that He will always lead us back to Himself even when we’ve strayed so far we think we’re unlovable or unfixable, and relating that back to NF and Christian listeners’ unfair judgement of his ‘worldly’ songs; I am reminded that even if Nate is mixing with the wrong crowd (which we do not know at all!), God’s got him. God’s got him in the palm of His hands. And once we realise that we can’t be the saviour for everyone’s seemingly lost salvation, and only God can; then and only then can we truly live with freedom. With specificity to music though, then and only then can we listen to music (Christian and secular!) with no preconceived ideas. Can God use broken people, even people who do not believe, as conduits to spread the good news of His kingdom? Of course He can. Of course He does. Which is why that even if NF strays… God still uses Him. Even if we stray, God still uses us.
There were many points during my blog series that I felt that a certain artist that I was undertaking for that particular week was the most gruelling, taxing, and ‘genre’-stretching- way back in March last year, I assumed that the listening of Josh Groban was as hard as you were going to get, because, well…Josh Groban, pop-opera, you get the picture, right? Then I couple of weeks later, I quickly changed my mind, and thought that Owl City and the shift in genre there, to a more electronic vibe, was indeed the hardest artist I’d ever listen to and undertake my writing upon. Little did I know that at various other points throughout the blog series, I’d think that whatever I was doing that that moment was the hardest- The McClymonts because they were Australian country, Michael Buble because his genre was similar to Frank Sinatra’s- swing/jazz/blues; Evanescence between they were metal/hard rock, The Corrs because they were Irish, Rascal Flatts because they were country but with a southern edge, Backstreet Boys, because they were boy-band material, and even as late as Mandy Moore, because she was teen-pop, alternative and folk/singer-songwriter, all in one. Looking back, none of them were as ‘hard’ as I initially thought they were, and if you will, compared to my upcoming artist I’m about to delve into, definitely not as hard. Out of all my 40-something artists I’ve decided to immerse myself into for a given amount of time for preparation to write about said artist in any given week; never have I anticipated what was going to be presented with me during the week I am in right now. During my tenure of 42 artists I’ve delved into, there’s been representatives from a wide array of genres…all except one- rap. That is, until now of course…
To write and discuss about rap music can be difficult to even fathom or even comprehend, because in essence, rap is not your traditional music and how anyone would be used to hearing music- its rhymes and spoken word, it’s spitting out a lot of bars and its speaking out lines that often don’t rhyme or even make sense, but all in all, out of all the things that we know that rap really is, we know that there’s one thing we know that rap isn’t- it’s not singing. For me, I’ve had a hard time with rap music from the past to now. Regardless of the artist, to listen to one song from start to finish as a rap can be a feat in and of itself. And so, to delve deep into a rapper’s discography, on the surface, to myself, can seem like folly and madness. Yet for me during this week, this is exactly what I did. I opened the discography of Lecrae, and I just listened. And boy was I in the ride of my life, but in a very, very good way.
You may wonder, through looking at my top 100 list on the ‘contents’ page of my blog series that I posted in February 2019, that within the artist names, there is definitely a lack of rappers represented within the 100, and you’d be right, yes there is a shortage. And I’m sure in any other arbitrary list, there’d be more artists represented from the rapper/hip-hop culture- from Eminem, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Snoop Dog, 50 Cent and Drake, to Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Post Malone, Logic and Chance the Rapper, to name a few. But lo and behold on my own list, none of these artists are present. And so people can often wonder if my top 100 list is even accurate, and I can say right off the bat, that no, my list isn’t even miles accurate, just purely on the fact that I am a committed Christian, and making a stand for Christ means for me to surround myself with music that edifies my soul and speaks to the stirring parts of myself, meaning that a lot of rappers that deem to be deserving on such a list as mine, aren’t there for the simple fact that a lot of their music in the mainstream has a lot of swearing, and not a lot of edifying goes on during the music of these rappers I’ve just aforementioned. Also the fact that on my top 100 list there’s a lot of Christian artists, because I firmly believe that a lot of people within the Christian music industry have impacted not only Christian music in general but music as a whole (again, my opinion)- artists like Switchfoot, Skillet, For KING AND COUNTRY, Delirious?, needtobreathe and Carman, all have been instrumental in shaping music for myself and I’m sure others, and all are present here on this list. On any other list on the internet, they’d be gone, and a lot of rappers would take their place. Nevertheless, these are the decisions I have made, and like I’ve said in blogs before- there’s the top 30 artists of all time (that you can view here) that I’m sure no one can argue with, and then there’s the 100, that I’m sure anyone who’s everyone can argue, and a lot of their points would be valid, regardless of the POV.
What Avril has indeed done throughout her career is to never shy away from not using expletive words, all in the name of keeping it clean. If the word can be used to portray a message and theme to the listener, then I guess it has served its purpose, regardless of whether the word is expletive or not. I mean, God knows people’s hearts when they create music, and to Him, I’m sure He’d want a truthful song from the heart with a lot of choice words, than to have a song fit and primed for radio without any expletives, and the artist doesn’t mean a thing. But let me just say that from the outset- I’m not necessarily against songs containing ‘explicit’ or perverse language, provided that that’s the most effective and poignant way to convey that particular message to listeners. I guess that as long as the song doesn’t champion or glorify murder, abusive relationships, or even any other thing that is morally questionable or even illegal, and builds up and inspires the listener on their own quest for hope and discovering purpose and meaning in their own lives; then swear words in songs might be necessary if the emotion conveyed with the word is more evident (to the listener) than without. Yet as a Christian, jumping into Avril’s earlier music straight after I listened to and thoroughly enjoyed Head Above Water (for blog series purposes!), presented a bit of a challenge to myself, as a preconception I long held for the majority of my own life was actively examined throughout the listening period of these songs.
Now for a bit of context. Growing up in a Christian home, we only listened to Christian music- our parents were Christians and so by default, so did we listen to Christian music at a young age. Later on during my own teenage years, I made an active and conscious decision to continue to listen to Christian music, on the basis that that ‘style’ of music was edifying and encouraging, drawing me closer to God. At the time, I didn’t think of any rational reason as to why anyone would include swearing in a song, unless it was done for shock value, or to intentionally mock or undermine someone else (not the listener, but whomever the song was written for or about). Then as I listened to Avril’s music this past week, I was at odds a little. Because, on the whole, Avril’s music is very much inspiring, yet, a few songs have choice words throughout. And thus, it was something that I had not even thought about, songs that could uplift and inspire could still be the same songs that used language that on the surface as considered taboo. It was an enigma, that went against everything I thought could’ve been possible. A puzzle that even now I still haven’t sorted out yet, but well on the way. And though I am still in the process of trying to grapple with the fact that inspiring music can coexist with swear words; what I will say is this- in by no way has my faith been shaken, in fact, I am more certain than ever, that God can still speak through music that isn’t necessarily my first choosing (i.e.- Avril’s music). God is God, and through listening to Avril’s music this last week, I am able to come to a well cemented conclusion- do not judge!
You might think that my ‘blog’ is a cop out. Apart from listing a few hit singles in a really vague way, I haven’t really been writing about much. But I still believe that this blog will help someone struggling. For I reckon there’s power in listening to songs rather than reading someone’s opinion about them. So how about you listen to the entire discography of NF here, and then let me know how these songs are. Let me know if they hit home for you, or maybe not- you could speak about the themes with a family member or a close friend or a mentor. Nate’s lyrical content is as wide as the fishing net the disciples used to catch fish (as in very broad!), and so there’s enough in his discography to resonate with many, if not all. And as you all also read above the excerpts of blogs from Jon (about Lecrae and Avril Lavigne), and about Jon’s views on rap music (Lecrae) and on the usage of expletives in music (Avril Lavigne), let us realise this. That no matter how music looks like- there’s always someone in the world that will be touched, impacted, comforted, healed and reassured. In that way, and if you think about the starfish story… every song is needed. Yes. I firmly believe that. I may not have about a year ago or even 6 months ago, but listening to Nate’s music this past few weeks, and me consciously making my head hurt because of the intensity of his raps, but trying very hard to listen to these lyrics; the penny dropped that even if I do not like a song or it doesn’t line up with my world view, what right to I have to say that it’s a horrible song? Others may be blessed, and I may not understand how God moves, but like the parable of the lost sheep in which the shepherd didn’t judge his lost sheep and not saved him, or like how Jesus never judged the woman who committed adultery and not forgiven her; I know that I don’t have a right to judge anyone or anything. That’s God’s role, and once I let go of these preconceptions, and instead loving and appreciating everything around me including songs from left field- well it’s then where I reckon you and I can truly hear God speak.
With lots of people coming to Nate’s shows despite him being a private person, I’ve still found Nate to have some press material online- he doesn’t have a bit of a digital footprint, and is not like a dinosaur like I originally thought. There’s a press release about The Search which is an in depth look as to what Nate is all about, as well as an article about all you need to know about NF. They say it better than myself, but I guess what you need to know is that anyone alive today need not sleep on Nate’s music. That’s not to say that you all need to have a rap marathon, but maybe some rap exposure will do everyone some good. With Nate already winning and being nominated for countless awards; his albums have earned several accolades, some of which include: the Gospel Music Association Dove Award for Rap/Hip Hop Album of the Year (Therapy Session); two No. 1 debuts on the Billboard 200 charts (Perception and The Search); and a triple-platinum certified single in the United States which also charted internationally (“Let You Down”). Mansion debuted at no 62 on billboard 200, while Therapy Session at no 12 on billboard 200. Perception and The Search both debuted at no 1 on billboard 200; with the former being certified platinum (riaa), silver (bpi), platinum (mc), and the latter gold (riaa), silver (bpi). That’s some pretty impressive stats there- but can an artist be defined by his stats and stats alone? NF on the whole isn’t that popular nor as successful as other rappers like Kanye, Logic, Drake, Post Malone, Jay-Z, Cardi B, Nicky Minaj, Chance The Rapper and Machine Gun Kelly. But with God at the centre of his life, NF endeavours to create music to make us all think, and to encourage us to look in the mirror and change our lives for the better. That’s more admirable and commendable than sales and numbers, right?
A lot of people have been saying that here’s no hope in NF’s music. Even youtuber Ruslan, who I really respect, lets us know his viewpoints on the rapper in one of his livestreams, reminding us all that Jon Keith raps better than Nate. However despite there being a lack of Jesus in his songs, and despite there being a theme of black and dark album covers (with the covers being significant- him in front of the mansion (Mansion), him on the shrink’s couch (therapy Session), him in the locked cage (Perception) and the trolley in the middle of nowhere (The Search), signifying Nate’s mental state during the recording process!); there’s no denying Nate’s talent and there’s no denying his honesty and there’s no denying his passion to make real music and to invite us into how he thinks and feels. Do many artists go this deep, 4 albums into their career? Maybe, but I reckon NF is on another level. And sure, some songs are depressing, but when is this life not? Sin is here and God is not, and while we’re hear on earth, there are temptations on the left and on the right. Of course life is somewhat depressing. Nate’s market though is for the mainstream market- and though I reckon he could rap about Jesus in a future album… that’s not where God has placed him at the moment. I reckon Nate’s sphere of influence right now is doing what he is doing, and making real, honest music, no matter what it looks and sounds like. And if NF keeps doing what he is doing; well I’d say he’ll be one of the greats and one of the rap legends. And I really mean this with all of my heart.
Belief in the authenticity and the truthfulness of any artist’s discography is paramount, as I have always said, and while there’s not much outside of his rap (and that is reason enough for his inclusion on such a varied list!) that NF has done, Nate has collaborated a few times and released a few stand alone singles to remind us all how versatile he is. “Warm Up”, “Paid My Dues”, “No Name” and “Chasing” are all compelling and powerful in their own right, while “Start Over” (Flame) and “Til The Day I Die” are some of my favourite rap collaborations ever. You could say that NF is super depressing, and you are right. But a world with no NF in it is equally as depressing. If you have no artists around you who won’t sugar coat real life issues, and won’t shy away from real life topics, what are you left with? Sunshine and rainbows and ponies and unicorns? Life isn’t always rosy, and NF reminds us of this fact. And while it’s true that probably Machine Gun Kelly or Logic or Chance The Rapper would have been more ‘popular’ to talk about in this blog series other than NF– let me tell you that popularity isn’t the same as influence. In 10, 20, 50 years time… I believe that NF will be one of the rappers that most people will listen to and resonate with, over his mainstream contemporaries. While you all might disagree with me… and that’s ok; I challenge you as I end this blog. Listen to NF’s singles and watch his videos. Then watch any other rap artist video with tons of swearing and songs about sex. Which video and song is edifying? Which lifts you up? Which speaks about a hope beyond all understanding, even if it is subtle? NF may not be overtly championing Jesus’ name, but He is growing the kingdom. One person at a time. Hands up who agrees with me?
Does NF make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of the next 5-10 years’ list? Is there any song (other than “Let You Down”, “All I Have”, “How Could You Leave Us”, “The Search”, “Leave Me Alone” and “Time”) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far, or even your walk with God? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!