Music Review: NF – “The Search”

The Search can be summed up by this one thought: What does it mean if you achieve all you’ve ever wanted and its not that great? NF’s most recent album just closed its first week at #1 in the US top 200, beating out Chance the Rapper’s effort by a whopping 20,000 albums. NF also earned the #1 spot on the Billboard 100 Artist chart, topping megastars, Billie Eillish (2), Ed Sheeran (3), Post Malone (6), Shawn Mendes (8) and Drake (10) to highlight a few.

The Search begins with its title track in such silence and subtle ethereal ambiance that you are sure to check your volume at least a few times. Plucked strings come in abruptly at 36 seconds like something out of a Hitchcock film and the album enters a non-stop tour de force that delivers several clear hits and more than a few tracks that are sure to have longtime fans reminiscing about their first introductions to the rapper known as NF.

NF, an acronym for Nate Feuerstein, continues his introspective cinematic style in The Search that has brought him fans from across the hip-hop spectrum and beyond in his three previous major studio albums, even directly referencing themes and lyrics from those outings. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Feuerstein’s style has been the annunciation he is able to deliver while not sacrificing chopping speed and vocal talent that doesn’t rely on autotune to make it palatable. These skills have married perfectly with lyrics that deliver far more than the standard hip hop fare, offering meaningful tracks dealing with the loss of loved ones, self-improvement, depression, self-doubt, the existential crisis of overnight fame, and handling relationships in light of the aforementioned topics.

Furthermore, we analyzed tracks from The Search and found that the album contains an incredible 1,750 unique words and a whopping 1,192 usages of words longer than seven letters, making it an album that is not just impressive musically, but also as a technical & lyrical achievement.

Making this effort even more impressive, Feuerstein breaks away from the mainstream of modern hip-hop artists whose albums are rife with features, guests, additional writers, etc. This makes the album’s thematic and technical weight an even bigger achievement, but also stands as a testament to the effort Feuerstein has gone in building up his brand. It is almost unthinkable that a modern artist, especially in the hip-hop category, could gain such traction without the typical press tours, guest features and other means of boosting an album’s profile. Furthermore, it displays the dedication and devotion of his fanbase in purchasing his album when free streaming services, YouTube and other avenues exist to enjoy the music without opening your wallet. It speaks to the connection that fans have with NF’s music and message.

Courtesy of NF Facebook Page

This album, like those before it, does not shy away from addressing real issue and ends up being about the furthest thing you could imagine from your garden-variety hip-hop album. Most obviously, he deals with the changes associated with fame and wealth following his smash success with his previous album, Perception, and its single, “Let You Down.” He addresses those feelings directly in the song, “My Stress.” Feuerstein admits he is just waiting for the call saying the album isn’t selling and notes the changing attitudes of people in his life now that he is internationally famous.

In the end, the trope of an artist being burdened by the thing they worked so hard to achieve and growing jaded with the industry as well as having relationships infected by his fame are all too true. The pressure to continually deliver something bigger and better that lives up to or even exceeds the hype is a tiresome game to play and can often lead to artists futilely attempting to write hits as opposed to speaking through music, often leaving them with formulaic tracks that may reach temporary success, but eventually foster their own irrelevance. Feuerstein is able to tow the line between writing songs that are sure to be massive successes without sacrificing the tone and tenor of his artistic voice. Overcoming the pressure that many artists feel once they hit the top has only been exacerbated in the time since his previous album by his admitted self-critical and obsessive character traits. While those elements of his personality put him in league with most great artists, he has not been immune from their effect on areas of his life outside musical production.

While this theme of an artist struggling with the pressure and changes fame often brings are not unique to Feuerstein, what is unique is that these themes are not dealt with haphazardly, surrounded by vacuous pop songs, or as a covert flex that comes off less as an admission of weakness and more of a way of fishing for additional compliments. Feuerstein has offered fans a deep dive into his own mental and spiritual state across his discography and thus, offers something unique in our ability to see the full scope of an artist’s transition from obscurity into fame. Listeners are thus not abruptly thrown into a serious discussion of the cost of fame and the price paid to achieve that success, because the conversation was started several albums ago. That makes this feel far different than the typical shallow treatment these subjects often receive. Outside observers can view the entire evolution of his career and personal trials across his albums.

However, It appears as though Feuerstein is turning a corner. It is a subject he has discussed in prior albums, wondering if moving beyond the issues that have plagued him in the past will essentially undermine the brand he has built through Real Music. It is clear that he has treated that personal transition with great care and this album seems to be a the start of a sea change in reframing his own mental state, with much of the album handling many of the internal dialogues we have been treated to in the past before introducing a change in perspective in the sixth song, “Time.” It is clear that Feuerstein is dedicated to breaking out of the cycle that has haunted him, echoing a familiar attitude we all have in our journeys in self-improvement. We all just need time. This song is also sure to be a massive hit with a catchy hook, a beat made for cruising with the windows down and a relatable message.

This is not to say that the album doesn’t have some absolute bangers. “No Excuses” and “Returns” are just a couple tracks that are tailor-made for your workout playlist. However, even in these moments, Feuerstein delivers more than a heavy beat and aggressive delivery, managing to forward the story while offering fans the hype beast tracks that are sure to satisfy listeners’ desire for the hard hitting songs that have turned heads in the hip-hop community for years.

Feuerstein has been cleaning out his “house,” a metaphor for his internal sense of self and mental state, and seems ready to release the “black balloons” he has carried with him since long before he was a #1 artist and fans around the world knew the artist known as NF. The Search is a must buy for fans of hip-hop and offers several tracks that will appeal to those that aren’t. It is available for purchase now on iTunes and other participating retailers.

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