So after a long stint of audience building, touring with Logic, and letting the dust settle from a sudden rise to fame, NF drops a 20 (TWENTY!) track album, The Search, in a singles world. That definitely shows some cajones (can I say that?) in a fruit-fly-attention ocean. Letting NF make an album this big is the one thing that I have to compliment Capitol record execs about, but I have more for them later. NF is the perfect example of a millennial artist, and Capitol has capitalized beautifully on him. A good dude, with a troubled past, dope rap chops, and a perfect storm of opportunity: the signing of a Christian rap artist onto Capitol’s roster, a unexpected hit of a TV show, a powerhouse Christian producer (David Garcia) largely untried in the secular realm, Capitol Christian Music group executive’s gamble to create a Christian artist by “going positive” without the Gospel-heavy lyrics, targeted specifically to the mainstream audience. They all combined for a one-two punch. And it landed.
Here at Jam the Hype, we hired NF for his first “official” tour, on the west coast right after his Capitol signing. I got to spend two weeks with Nate in the tour van back in 2015. He shared his story with us, which is largely public now in his music. It’s a story that’s been repeated before: a troubled family riddled with drugs and suicide that sends a kid to retreat into his bedroom with a stereo and a Notepad. God had gotten a hold of NF’s life and transformed him, giving him perspective on his troubled life. When having those van conversations on that tour, one thing hit me: this kid isn’t ready for what’s about to happen. And that was prophetic because the Nate writes about it clearly now on the track Like This on the new album. Nate had made a decision for Christ, and that carries through to his music today. There’s a heart here that has an unmistakable fingerprint on it. It’s on those of us who believe, too.
The Search is chock-a-block full of what made NF resonate with millennials and Gen-Y. He’s “real” on every level – from anxiety to suicidal thoughts, to struggles with rejection, being awkward at parties, and the tragedy of being alone, or with people. This resonates with every human, especially people in their twenties as they deal with the aftermath of how they are like their parents, and how they are not. It’s no wonder that NF has managed to sell a lot of albums. He’s a Swiftie speaking for a new generation.
Musically, I’m not sure there’s a lot of new ground being broken here and that’s OK. The strongest track is Time which will clearly be the hit radio track. But the fact that musically the rest of the tracks don’t call attention to themselves, allow for NF’s lyrics to shine. This is a move for the fans. Keep the beats simple and let the themes soar. The one musical surprise on the album was the string section-based Trauma, which is a touching memorial and love letter to his mom, even though he never felt that she loved him back. Wow. Keep the tissues near for that one.
Message-wise there’s a lot to unpack, and this is why rap is powerful and why NF has resonated. The themes to the album are struggling with becoming an adult from a broken childhood, the struggle with living life with fame, and also just everyday pressures, especially delivering results in business. My advice to NF, in response to what he says in My Stress, is “Just be who God made you to be and let the chips fall where they may. God put you on this platform for a reason. Don’t let other people tell you what to do with it, especially record execs. Yes, they’ll criticize you, but they don’t run or own you. Let God do the talking and He’ll take care of you.” That’s how you deal with “The Stress.”
The title track, “The Search,” is classic NF, with an honest assessment of where he’s at right now, with a recounting of his background and how that is playing out in his adulthood. Other autobiographical tracks include Hate Myself, Trauma, and the Interlude where he talks plainly about his success, “Making millions but none of this will make you happy.”
Fame has taken its toll on Nate and he spells it out plainly in Interlude, Change, Why, Leave Me Alone, and Like This. One thing people don’t think about is the isolation of fame and always wondering if people are your friends because they they really are friends, or because they want something.
So, it’s a good thing the album is titled, The
The most hopeful part of The Search is the track I Miss the Days that includes a very uplifting gospel choir. This adds the bit of hope that we really need, musically and lyrically. I just also hope that Capitol record execs let Nate talk about the One Hope plainly. This is why you hired a Christian rapper. Let him speak.