Release Date: April 7th 2023
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- CAREFUL (feat. Cordae)
- GONE (feat. Julia Michaels)
- TURN MY BACK
- LET EM PRAY
Rap music… hasn’t been my cup of tea, probably all throughout my life I think. When I was younger, I only listened to Carman and Delirious?, with me branching out to other CCM music in 2006, and mainstream music in 2018. But throughout everything that I have reviewed on this site (read them here!) and throughout everything that we’ve blogged about; rap music hasn’t been high on our list to cover. It’s not that Jon and I don’t appreciate such music. We do. I’m constantly in awe of Lecrae and his contemporaries, artists like KB, Andy Mineo, Social Club Misfits and Derek Minor, at how they can spit bars and run lines extremely well, and point people to Jesus at the same time. On the flipside, artists like Eminem, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z do nothing for me, and I don’t have an inkling to listen to any type of music that doesn’t draw me closer to Jesus, mainstream rap included. Yet with the release of crossover artist NF’s Hope, his 5th official album and his latest album since 2019’s The Search; I thought that the time was right to voice my thoughts on these 11 tracks. While Jon has blogged about Lecrae, and I about NF (Nate Feuerstein)… there hasn’t been much more coverage of rap over the past few years. Hence I’ve come forth with an open mind into Hope (Nate’s first concerted effort to write more positively and optimistically)… and let me tell you that objectively this project is good, but rap in large doses still gives me a headache, and still reaffirms my assertion that this type of music isn’t really my favourite type of music when I need to listen to some inspiration or even for background music.
There’s nothing objectively wrong with rap music. It takes a certain type of skill to be vulnerable and voice your inner most thoughts and say them all out at a quick pace and still be coherent enough for listeners to understand everything that’s being said and conveyed. But for me, listening to a rap album means I need to concentrate, and to be frank, when we are all busy and fill our day up with lots and lots and lots of things, listening to and reviewing a rap album isn’t a priority. Actually, making it through listening to Hope, to be honest, took a very long time, given that this album isn’t in my preferred genre of what I would normally listen to, and what I would consider to be a safe option. However, as this year is the year that I’ve felt that I have grown the most with regard to music and what I listen to; let me say that there are still some tracks on Hope that are compelling and inspiring. The title track is a phenomenal opener that is a dialogue between Nate and his ‘dark side’ as he consciously decides to be more open, honest and vulnerable, and to sing and rap about things that give him joy. In this track, Nate defines success, and it’s something that is very resonating and resounding, as he outlines that ‘…what’s my definition of success? Creating something no one else can, being brave enough to dream big, grinding when you’re told to just quit, giving more when you got nothing left, it’s a person that’ll take a chance on something they were told could never happen, it’s a person that can see the bright side through the dark times when there ain’t one, it’s when someone who ain’t never had nothin’, ain’t afraid to walk away from more profit ’cause they’d rather do somethin’ that they really love and take the pay cut, it’s a person that would never waver or change who they are just to try and gain some credibility so they could feel accepted by a stranger, it’s a person that can take the failures in their life and turn them into motivation, it’s believing in yourself when no one else does, it’s amazin’ what a little bit of faith can do if you don’t even believe in you…’. The title track is a far cry from the ‘dark’ and ‘depressing’ songs Nate delivered in years gone by, and this new chapter from this brilliant rapper and lyricist has me excited about the future. The music video is epically awesome by the way.
The rest of album delivers hope, and reminds us that we don’t need to be chained to the sins of our past to start and new beginning and to restart again with a different perspective. “Motto” is a somewhat satirical yet ever-true piece, and a brutal and savage takedown of the mainstream and CCM industry for propelling people up to a level of stardom that they themselves can’t handle; and NF outlines how his focused has changed now- from winning awards and having number one songs to instead doing what he loves in spite of the material success he has along the way. “Careful”, with rapper Cordae, speaks about how Nate has gotten to where he is today as an artist because of the risks he has taken, and he encourages us all to do what you love and to always strive to be the best in whatever you do; while NF highlights has strained and complicated relationship with his late mother in “Mama”, where he also hopes that his mother is in heaven, and he hopes that she found peace. It’s a far cry from the angry and twisted “How Could You Leave Us”, but Nate is still thoughtful, honest, and reflective- he has grown as a person, but the lyrics are still typical NF– which is definitely a good thing. “Happy”, by far head and shoulders above anything Nate has ever recorded, has Nate singing almost the entire track, and outlining how he as a person feels comfortable in his self-loathing and self-deprecation. Nate knows he should be happy, and he wants to break out from that cycle, but he doesn’t know how he would be if he was happy- and Nate prays to God in this song to ask Him for His help in becoming a better person. It’s a real sign of maturity when you can acknowledge the things you need to deal with and to ask for help, and so “Happy” encourages us all to not settle for the status quo and to change things if we need to, and to ask for help if we need to.
“Pandemonium”, a subtle dig at his most vicious fans for spreading rumours about Nate’s demise from the music industry after an extended hiatus, is a high-octane and energetic refrain about Nate knowing who he is as a person. The song also delves deep into the notion of how Nate has indeed progressed as an artist, and about how he still considers himself a stronger player in the ‘rap’ genre. It’s a clapback at those who don’t believe he’s relevant anymore, and Nate argues that he still is. “Suffice”, a powerful melody about how Nate won’t let his music be mediocre (not my favourite track but still an inspiring song nonetheless), also delves into the notion of where he would be if he didn’t make music. Nate outlines that he’s grateful for his start, and that he is extremely transparent and honest, even citing an example of a woman falsely claiming to be pregnant by him, and Nate offering her a DNA to prove a paternity test (which never eventuated). “Gone”, an earnest and haunting duet with Julia Michaels, speaks about lament and regret over a failed relationship, but then wishing them well in the end and hoping that they find another person and peace in their lives- this song showcases Nate’s genuine hope of wanting the best for the other person. “Bullet”, conversely, highlights Nate’s endearing love for his wife, and his dedication and devotion to their relationship and their future together (and it’s no coincidence that both “Gone” and “Bullet” are next to each other in the track list, reminding us that even after a breakup, there’s still hope and there is still the promise of a new relationship on the horizon; while “Turn My Back” resembles the old Nate, as he lists off his rap influences, and reminds the audience and his critics that he’s doing fine without anyone’s help and that he has risen to the top of his rap game with no help whatsoever.
“Mistake”, a heartfelt piano ballad, delves deep into the mind of Nate, and his insecurities and thoughts that he is a mistake- he asks God to remind him that he is not a mistake; while “Let Em Pray” has Nate encouraging haters to keep praying for his demise and downfall: Nate isn’t worried because he knows that God has got his back. Hope then ends with the aptly titled “Running”, as Nate declares with confidence that he is running from the hurt and pain and fear that has weighed him down for so long- he is saying goodbye to every doubt and every lie he’s ever believed. Nate is saying goodbye to the devil- and the fact that this is the last song on the project signifies the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new one.
I think when you start, you really don’t know anything you think you know. To me, being a successful artist is touring. Like, if you can sell out tours, you’ve made it whether you’re doing 500, 5000 or 50000 people. In the music industry one of the biggest things I learned was there’s perception of how big an artist is, and then how big they actually are. I think there’s a lot of artists that, if you put me and them in a room, the average person might say, ‘Oh, that person is bigger than me but they’re not. They can’t do as big shows or have as big numbers as me. And it’s not like I’m saying I’m better. The huge thing I learned was that I’m okay with being a behind the scenes artist. Like I’m in the industry, my numbers kind of speak for themselves. I’ll probably never get a Grammy, it is what it is. I’d much rather sell out an arena tour then get a Grammy.
I think I’m still trying to grow as a person. I think after having a kid I’m the most self aware I’ve ever been. But I still am on a journey of change. I really do struggle with change, it makes me uncomfortable. I’ve been this way for so long. That’s why I got a song on the album called “HAPPY”. It’s kind of an interesting song because the music feels upbeat and it doesn’t feel depressing, but then you actually listen to the words and it is kind of depressing, because it’s like, I don’t know who I’d be if I was happy. Would I even be myself anymore? I feel stressed all the time. I feel depressed. Sometimes I want to be in a dark place or I want to just be alone. It’s like that becomes so natural. Everybody would say they want to be happy and yeah I want to be happy. When you actually sit down and think about that, it’s like, is that going to change? It is difficult for me because my music has always been so emotional. So I’m just like, what am I gonna write about? Being content? But that’s overthinking. Just because you become a happy person doesn’t mean you don’t have any bad days.
It’s the start of a new chapter of me trying to figure things out. I think all my albums have kind of been a journey. I think there’s some growth on the record, but I think there’s still a lot of areas I can grow in. After every record I do, I’m always thinking about the next record. I just want to improve and get better. The more growth I feel in my real life, the more I think you’ll see that music. Sometimes it takes a while for that to catch up. Sometimes a song I might release a song having written it a year and a half ago. I might have already grown or come out of that place.
And with that, I’ll leave this review of sorts by saying- it’s true that I do appreciate NF for what a talented rapper he is. But let me say that I’m not a fanatical fan of his like other listeners… and that’s ok. I still don’t think I can sit through an album of full-on rap (I think it took me over 2 hours to write this review and listen to these tracks!), and that’s ok. Hope is a compelling and moving album- but I wouldn’t listen to it in one sitting again. And that’s ok. Can’t we appreciate something as great art without fully resonating with it? So let me spin some Phil Wickham now, get back into my preferred genre… So NF, what about a Christmas album?
It’s not that I didn’t want to be with a mainstream label, but that’s all I knew. In the Christian world everyone wants to pretend everything is OK. It feels sometimes like the end of songs have to have this great, positive ending. I wasn’t there. My music didn’t fit, because I didn’t feel that way. There are tons of details I could give you about things that didn’t make sense. People used God as an excuse for why they didn’t do their jobs well … If you’re playing a show at a church, it’s not really your show. You’re an entertainer. At church shows, people turn up, but it’s not for you. I’m not a worship artist. That’s not my music’s purpose. I don’t think I’m a preacher. I want anyone to listen to my music, believe in God or not.
Everything in the world works together. Like, animals taking a dump and using it to grow more food? It’s crazy bro. Babies being born. God had to create that … I’m sure every artist says this, but I really need music. I believe in God. I think we all have a purpose: as human beings we need one; a reason to exist. I think my purpose on this planet is to make music. So that’s what I’ll do.
3 songs to listen to: Hope, Happy, Running
RIYL: Lecrae, KB, Derek Minor, Andy Mineo, Wande