One of the realest faces of hip-hop music who somehow managed to remain underestimated for so long recently released his fourth studio album. The hip-hop artist in question is no other but Nathan Feuerstein more known by his stage name NF.
The ground-shaking album The Search preserved the trademarked deep personal reflections and served as the next step of the artist’s journey of self-understanding and acceptance. It gracefully built up from where things were left with Perception (2017) and took the rap game several levels higher.
The Search went deeper than NF has ever dared to enter and completely destroyed public opinions and criticism as well as taboos about openly discussing mental health. A huge step forward for NF as a person and an artist, his new album is a passionate and extremely emotional rollercoaster which I highly invite you to hop on – it’s so damn worth it!
When I say NF is an artist I mean a God damn definition of what an artist should be like. He takes some of the most brutal and disturbing feelings a person can experience and manages to use them as fuel for songs cemented with emotions. And this makes it extremely hard not to sympathize or relate to.
NF makes real music about real things, he makes it in an incredibly alluring style, and he makes you understand what he is experiencing.
I first heard the guy when Perception was already out (I clearly remember listening to Outcast and getting so hyped I had to get out and use the energy which it gave birth to) and I was impressed by this guy’s stunning flow, extremely well-thought lyrics, and consistent style. Exploring his earlier records I only became more addicted and I understood what feeds his will and need to produce killer hip-hop tracks.
His album covers are as symbolic as his lyrics
His old records make it unavoidable to notice that NF has the tendency to explore the darkest rooms of his Mansion and applying filters is not something he would ever do. Brutally honest and absolutely direct for what is torturing his mind the artist takes things even further with The Search.
The Search (the album) is dark, sometimes depressing, but more real than anything you have heard in a while with hip-hop of supreme quality easily outplaying the majority of rappers claiming they have what it takes.
The very first song from the album serves as a perfect introduction to the next stage of NF‘s journey. A flawless and ruthless opening of the album showcasing it will be equally emotionally hard, turbulent, and musically polished.
Symbolism and metaphors are 150% present, references to past songs and events are on point and lines of lyrics which hold incredible value and truth will surface and keep coming up during the duration of the whole record.
See, we’ve all got somethin’ that we trapped inside
That we try to suffocate, you know, hopin’ it dies
Try to hold it underwater but it always survives
Then it comes up out of nowhere like an evil surprise
Then it hovers over you to tell you millions of lies
You don’t relate to that?
Metaphors and symbolism are the things which define the album (and the art of NF in general) and are consistent not only in the lyrics but in the music videos supporting the songs.
The entire record is filled with beats and instrumentals creating the typical for the rapper heavy, badass, and mind-shattering vibes.
There are also several exceptions from the signature flow and beat NF is known for and I have to say they turn out to be beyond satisfying. The artist shows his vocal abilities by incorporating gentle singing in Only (a beautiful collab with Sasha Solan) and My Stress, a similar approach with various vocal elements is also visible in Change. Like This has a completely different flow and delivery from the rest of the album and serves as a fresh example of other styles NF can easily master. Furthermore, at the end of the album, there is a ballad-like track which overflows with emotion and gracefully concludes The Search (or does it) – Trauma.
If you by any chance decide to play Perception before jumping into The Search you will notice how the latest album picks up exactly where it’s predecessor left things.
Being free from some of your mental restraints is not guaranteed to make things all good. Burdens and past regret, traumas, and wrong focus are sometimes hard to get rid of and NF shows that with his well-constructed lyrics and beautiful symbolism (the black balloons accompanying the entire record imagery).
Nate openly talks about his anxiety, fear of the future, self-doubt, hate, and endless worries and often uses personification to make things more understandable and impactful.
What I really want to point out is that this is one of the things which make this guy exceptional. We need more artists who openly talk about those issues and show that being vulnerable and open does not define you and does not mean there is something wrong with you.
Not being okay is perfectly fine and we all fall into a deep hole sooner or later but there is always a way out.
Leave Me Alone – the second song from the 20 tracks during which NF searches for himself and an escape from self-destructing tendencies is a direct conversation with Fame. The personification which the artist has mastered to perfection and used to talk to Fear, Depression, and other negative qualities is taking full power on this one.
NF also reminds listeners for when he first started “talking to Fame” back in NO NAME and continues the conversation to illustrate how despite the popularity and traction he has gained his self-doubt and self-hate did not disappear but instead grew stronger.
Remember back in “NO NAME,” I said fame called? (Yeah, yeah)
Told you I hung up, it kinda felt wrong (Leave me alone) (Wrong, wrong)
Finally called him back, we didn’t talk long (No)
It took a couple days to get a response
But once I finally did, he said this song sucks (Leave me alone, quiet, quiet, quiet)
His insecurity and fear of people watching his every move might have lead to his silence on social media and lack of interviews as NF hints in other songs like Why for example. His struggle with Fame and Success seem to be extremely troubling judging by the lyrics of the song, the aggressive, and hardly controlled beat and flow, as well as the Interlude marking the middle of the album which states:
My most considered, like, “successful” moment of my life was the worst. The most depressed I’ve ever been. Literally feeling like I’d probably be happier if I was just dead.
A topic just mildly touched in Leave Me Alone is developed in the next song – Change. Nate‘s OCD and fear of letting go of the pain are discussed in detail in the song and express his immense struggle with his current situation and the parallel fear of change.
The rapper has often stated that his mental health issues and traumas are the sparks behind his songs. His fear of letting go of them is not completely unjustified (in his mind) – what will be left to rap about and what will his fans think if he changes direction?
Of course, none of those questions is something the artist should be worried about but as he says (in the song Nate) – it’s a lie he cannot help believing in.
Change is an extremely powerful song which showcases the static position of needing to change but not being ready to do it. It strongly resonates with me and I am certain a lot of people managed to give voice to their unexplainable struggles via the song.
Regardless of the negative aspects, the third song on the album also shows a step ahead in the self-development of the artist. Nate also talks about learning not to shut people off when they criticise him or give him advice and setting his ego and pride aside (Oh, you wanna tell me somethin’ negative?/ I don’t wanna hear what you think). The topic is further explored in other songs f.x Time.
Similar themes are discussed in the next song as well – in My Stress NF explores the love-hate relationship he has with stress and pain. Pride, anxiety, and fear intertwine in the song to show how difficult things can get if you let the wrong emotions control your behavior and thoughts for too long.
Yo, this life got my head spinnin’
Wonder what I’d do if I knew these were my last minutes
Wonder if I had a week to live, would I stay trippin’?
Wastin’ every day that I had left tryna sell tickets
Or maybe call my dad (Oh), say I love him and laugh with him
Take a couple days and get away from this fast livin’
Asking thought-provoking questions is not something new for the artist and it persists in the majority of the album.
Nate, When I Grow Up, and I Miss The Days are three songs which take a nostalgic look back in time.
NF reaches his peak in Nate where he talks to his younger self trying to explain how hard life will get, but despite that, he will manage to cope with it and achieve a lot. He adds stories from his childhood which shaped him in one way or another and makes a friendly reminder not to lose our grip and strength despite going through hard times and that happiness doesn’t always come when we imagine it will.
His wordplay in those three songs also takes another level and makes the tracks even more powerful and impressive – combined with the mood matching beats they become masterpieces which will without a doubt make you stop for a while and think about your past, present, and future.
One of the most vulnerable moments of the artist is well depicted in the song and video for Time. Extremely emotional and passionate song about the hard part of being in a relationship which once again highlights the importance of change (as well as understanding, patience, and dedication). It is simply a beautiful song which is a great reminder for anyone who is in a difficult part of their relationship.
And right after the heartfelt confession comes the Return of the Outcast (which we saw full-power in Perception) – accepting being different and a “misfit” and using it to his advantage NF empowers everyone who might have felt down because he/she doesn’t fit in.
The song is aggressive, slightly scary, and completely badass – filled with proof for the artist’s realness as well as a shout out to his real fans who have been with him since day one.
Show up to my funeral wearin’ all black, and what’s happenin’?
I look around and wonder, “Where my fans at?”
Oh Lord, they know me so well, they know I’m not in that casket
Trash bag is prolly buried somewhere full of my ashes
My music’s superb, playin’ with words, play with my nerves
More of the badass and confident side of NF is also visible in the tracks No Excuses and Options. In hard contrast and opposition with the rest of the album, those two tracks are filled with confidence, highly-energetic and motivational. NF combines heavy beats which will destroy your sound system with lyrics showcasing determination for success (these are the options, as he says).
The vulnerable NF often switches places with the badass and confident side of the rapper and soon after makes place for the darkest side of his mind. Songs like Only, Let Me Go, Hate Myself, Why, and Thinking are packed with more sets of provocative questions and raw confessions about the struggle of anxiety, fear, self-doubt, and self-hate. The songs will unavoidably touch your heart and make you look deep inside your own self to look for answers about human nature.
Yeah, if you made a list of people that you trusted would you put your name down?
Do you know who you are when you look at life and you talk about yours, do you feel proud? (Lonely)
Are you leaving a mark, or scared to make a bad impression so you just go hide in the dark? (Lonely)
The Search ends (I exclude the second version of Time as a final track) with a ballad which once again shows that NF is not only an amazing rapper but also a great singer.
Mixed with matching piano instrumentals the song serves as a heartfelt confession and asks for help. It thematically ends with the question “Why haven’t you found me” fitting perfectly into the concept of The Search and emphasizing the need of assistance in the exhausting battle with your traumas and demons. A splendid ending for one of the best albums of the year.
There is way more to say about this record, to be honest. But I guess that each person will interpret the songs differently and this is part of the magic of music – you can find the message you need to hear if you listen closely.
The album is without a doubt one of the best releases (maybe even the best) for 2019 and it takes hip-hop to a level which is hard to touch. Supreme in each category The Search is definitely a ride you will enjoy – it might make you think about topics which are not of the jolliest kind but NF never says anything irrelevant -exactly the opposite. He raises awareness for mental health in a way which is hard to overlook. Thank you, Nate.