Some Christian artists uplift the soul. Others, in contrast, force us to grapple with our demons. The latter is the case with NF, a rapper whose deeply personal narratives stare down the struggles and insecurities that affect all humans. Adversity is something with which the Michigander is intimately familiar. Born Nathan John Feuerstein in 1991, he grew up in a broken home besieged by abuse, drug addiction, and death. The young Eminem fan embraced hip-hop not just as an escape from a turbulent youth but also as a means of expressing the angst boiling inside of him. It makes for harrowing music. “How Could You Leave Us,” a fan favorite from his third album, 2016’s Therapy Session, captures the grief of a young man grappling with the loss of his mother (who died from an overdose). As with so many of his songs, NF’s relationship with God hovers in the background, serving as a moral compass and a source of resilience. With the 2017 release of Perception, the artist developed a way to balance his raw emotion with music that is thoughtful and darkly beautiful. The album spawned a string of hits (“Let You Down” and “Lie” included) that raced up the Christian charts and broke into the pop ones as well. Exceptional songcraft and rich melodicism help to explain their crossover appeal, but what ultimately pushed them over the top is the universality embedded in NF’s real-life tales. It’s as if the rapper is saying yes, life can be excruciatingly hard, but we’re in this together. For listeners, devout and non-religious alike, there is an authentic sense of redemption in such an acknowledgement.
BORNMarch 30, 1991