Hailing from the small northern Michigan hamlet of Gladwin, Nate Feuerstein is selling out shows on his current U.S. tour, while bringing an “edge” to Christian hip hop. (Story, videos)
THE ARTIST: NF
THE MUSIC: Dark-tinged Christian hip hop
WHERE YOU CAN SEE HIM: 8 p.m. Saturday at 20 Monroe Live in Grand Rapids, with Kyd The Band ($20-$49.50); Sunday at The Phoenix in Toronto, Ont.
“I remember the shows when no one was there / I remember the shows when nobody cared / Some people in front of me laughing like, ‘He isn’t going nowhere.'”
For Michigan rapper NF, the lyrics on the album-opening track “Intro 2” display the stark contrast a couple of years can make in the music industry.
Two years into his career, NF, aka, Nate Feuerstein, is now poised to catapult to the next level, undoubtedly on his way to becoming a mainstay in the hip-hop world.
As of late, the 26-year-old Gladwin native has been topping charts and selling out venues across the country.
Of his current 38-date national tour, 19 shows have sold out. His songs have been featured on Madden NFL 16, ESPN, VH1, Showtime, NBC’s “Chicago P.D.,” “Grimm,” “Shades of Blue” and the trailer for the Fox season finale of “Empire.” The rapper also recently signed a record deal with music industry giant, Capitol Records.
His most recent album, “Therapy Session,” topped Billboard’s Top Christian Albums chart upon its release, and the video for the title track has racked up nearly 5 million views on YouTube. (Watch the video below.)
NF harnesses an intensity matched only by some of the greats. On “Therapy Session,” he rhymes through smoldering anger, fierce confidence and heartbreaking tears, resonating deeply with an ever-growing fan base.
With stinging conviction, NF carves bar after bar of intense, raw lyrics into his songs, mixed with melodic, sung choruses. His style is theatrical and his voice hyper-emotive. At some points, he draws a striking resemblance to Michigan rap superstar Eminem, delivering a similar back-of-the-throat venom during the most climactic verses.
“His emotional transparency is very relatable and is a powerful tool of communication,” said Beacon Light, a fellow Michigan-based hip hop artist and Christian rapper from Grand Rapids.
A ‘DARK TONE,’ WITH MUSICALITY AND EDGE
“I appreciate his vulnerability in his music. What makes him stand out in the Christian industry is his dark tone. He brought an edge to Christian music that was absent. … What makes him stand out in the mainstream industry is that his songs are free from profanity while maintaining musicality and edge.”
NF performs at 20 Monroe Live at 8 p.m. Saturday. Doors open at 7 p.m.; tickets range from $20 to $49.50. See details online here.
“I haven’t been to one of his recent shows, but I know Nate feels his music and usually just vibes out to it. It’s almost as if the crowd is sitting in on a private listening session with him spilling his heart,” Beacon said.
Before hip-hop stardom, Feuerstein grew up in the sleepy north-central Michigan hamlet of Gladwin, population under 3,000. In his music, he cites his hometown: “Grew up in a small place / had to drive an hour just see a movie” he raps on the track “Breathe.”
Early on, his parents divorced and with his mother’s absence, Feuerstein was raised by his father. Tragedy struck the family when his mother died of an accidental drug overdose in 2009, an event that Feuerstein refuses to shy away from in his music. In “How Could You Leave,” NF devotes an entire track to his contentious relationship with his mother, baring all in a paralyzing ballad.
Through a shaking voice he recalls devastating memories:
“You took those pills for the last time didn’t you? / They took you from us once, I guess they came back to finish you / Crying my eyes out in the studio is difficult / Music is the only place I can go to speak to you.”
After graduating from Gladwin High School in 2009, Feuerstein began dabbling in music. In 2010, he released his debut album, “Moments,” under his own name. From there, he released an EP titled, “NF,” with his new stage name. The EP garnered substantial attention, charting on Billboard’s Top Christian Albums at No. 12, Top Gospel Albums at No. 4 and Top Rap Albums at No. 15.
GRAPPLING WITH LOSS, QUESTIONS OF FAITH AND DEPRESSION
“Therapy Session,” released last spring, quickly reached No. 1 on the iTunes Rap Charts. Though often billed as a Christian rapper, Feuerstein has been intentional about ensuring his music is accessible to everyone, and regularly combats the stigma that follows the genre he’s been pooled in.
“I do think he should embrace his Christian fans and faith more,” Beacon admitted. “It’s OK to make music as therapy, but ultimately it is Christ who brings us healing. I would like to see more clarity in that area of his career.”
It seems, however, that NF’s prerogative is to take an unfiltered and often darker approach to his artistry; contrary to many of his peers in the Christian rap realm, his album grapples with loss, questions of faith and crippling depression. In interviews, Feuerstein regularly answers questions about his faith-based music by posing a question of his own: “If I build houses and I’m a builder, do I only build houses for those who only believe in God?”
Although on the brink of stardom, NF seems to have picked up his small-town roots and brought them along for the ride. He often references his childhood, his hometown and Michigan, aptly representing the state’s burgeoning hip-hop scene.
“We are a different breed in Michigan. We have lyrical influence from growing up on Eminem, Royce, Big Sean, etc. Yet we have some Midwest flavor and Chi-town influence,” said Beacon Light.
“Grand Rapids is right in between the Chi and Detroit, so over here we are a blend of both cities. You find a mix of grimy street music, turn-up stuff mainstream rap like Drake, and underground hip-hop heads.”
VIDEO: NF, “How Could You Leave Us”
VIDEO: NF, “Therapy Session”
VIDEO: NF, Trailer for the 2017 Therapy Session Tour
Copyright 2017, Spins on Music LLC