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Album Review: NF – ‘Perception’

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Disclaimer: All views presented in this review are those of the reviewer and not of DJ Wade-O.

When you say NF, there is such an allure to what he represents that his music is the most visible part of him. There aren’t many interviews that he does, and aside from touring, I feel like he would be happy being completely away from any type of spotlight whenever possible. But for someone who has this metaphoric shroud around him, he is known for being transparent and honest in all of his music projects – ranging from talking about his mother’s passing to battling depression.

With this kind of approach to his music, we have come to expect less “happy” music from him. His first two projects were riddled with stories of his internal battles with himself and the outside voices that try to influence his mindset. There is nothing wrong with this either – an artist is free to create music in whatever way they are influenced to do so. But with two albums of a similar concept, we look to his 3rd major release, Perception, with open ears to see if there are any new ideas to his writing or more of the same.

Closure

NF raps about real life. Always. And as he does this, there is a formula to each of his projects – including how each album starts with a track called “Intro”. If you listen well, you can see that these are opening statements to each project, giving you an idea of what he will be dealing with in the songs. What’s worth noting is that Perception is the only one with a track called “Outro”. And this detail is the symbol for closure in the story of NF verses his insecurities.

You see, the content of this album’s “Intro” is a conversation with NF and his alter ego – the one that is harsh, breeds fear, and chains NF in his own head with lies and foolish thoughts. For the sake of this review, I will call him “Evil Nate”. That other side is dealt with and buried (figuratively, but made to seem literal as well), and with this action, we are prepared to receive truths about NF’s life without anybody standing in the way.

With the REAL NF (reference to his Twitter handle) in control now, he is emboldened with the new freedom to live this life out HIS way. He already knows that he isn’t like everybody else, but now that he doesn’t have to worry about Evil Nate, he can embrace the title “Outcast” in a positive light. His career has been booming, touring is going well, and the sky is the limit for him! If any ideas come his way, all he sees is “Green Lights” giving him the go ahead to make it happen, as he strives to keep himself firmly planted “10 Feet Down” in the reasons he began rapping.

But with this new freedom, NF very quickly becomes aware of what devastation his personal battle caused in the life of others around him. Songs like “Dreams” and “Let You Down” show the push-and-pull that NF has to weather in order to maintain his freedom from guilt of his past, without completely ignoring the responsibility he has to own up to some of his past actions. Thankfully, NF takes the right road and owns up to a multitude of wrongs in his past.

By fulfilling his “Destiny”, he goes hard for the bright future ahead of him and takes the time to address elephants-in-the-room within relationships, whether platonic, familial or romantic. Remember, he hasn’t had this freedom for long, so in “My Life”, “You’re Special”, and “If You Want Love” he is dealing with ideas of a healthy relationship with his girlfriend, with his sister, etc., without altered eyes for the first time.

And even though “Evil Nate” has been handled, other peoples actions attempt to remind him of what once was, who he once was, to stunt his growth in this new territory. Fears that people will start acting funny now that he has notoriety, women who were formerly in his life contacting him in confusing ways at “3 AM” to “Lie” on him, and people who hurt him trying to resurface in his life are real issues that bring up real feelings that must be dealt with. So while he is dedicated to living this out right, he also asks for patience as he learns what it looks like to be real and uninhibited.

Through it all, NF is going to push forward and keep it real in everything he does – keeping it “One Hundred”. And if anything that he presented was unclear, NF lays it out for all those who follow him and support him in the “Outro”; Laying out his dedication to his craft, his fans, and to being a symbol of motivation for anyone else who has been in his situation before.

Musical Perception

The normal song bed for NF albums ranges between dark and depressing to hype and aggressive, but one thing you can’t say is that the music is unprofessional or amateur. This is consistent with his 3rd album. One could argue that it’s more of the same, but what NF’s music always does is create music that fits each song uniquely. It’s as if the song is created as the song is being written.

While NF may not be known for being a story teller, he has always been one. A majority of the songs are reflective – full of strings, sweeping synths, powerful percussive hits – to combine with NF’s vocal passion and lyrics to convey the desired feeling. There is no song on this album that doesn’t have a connected purpose to the overall theme of Perception.

There are a few tracks that are “hype” or “trap like”, but unlike the unfortunate CHH album formula that include these kind of songs just to have a hot single to put out or tour with, these songs feel like they belong with the album. Even though they are more uptempo than other songs, they’re not overproduced with lots of loud synths, sliding bass notes, trap hi hats clicking everywhere, and extra snare hits bouncing from left to right like the common trap song.

They make you bounce, but they’re meticulously composed like all the other NF songs. Plus, who could really stand still with NF passionately rapping at you? I like a handful of them, but my personal favorite is probably “Destiny”. It has the motivational hook of going after what you believe God created you to do with the hard beat of a “Turn Up” song.

Conclusion

NF paints a vivid picture of coming to terms with his life through his music, and with Perception, it feels like he has made some real progress in overcoming the issues that have haunted him for so long. But just because you deal with issues, that doesn’t mean that they don’t try to come back, and you need to be ready for that. With each song, we get to see a view into a topic that NF has dealt with or is consistently keeping an eye on.

This level of transparency is what allows his fans to be invested in what he creates. His audience is being directly spoken to and thats what resonates with a listener – being able to place themselves into the verse of a song and feel like it applies to their life. We all go through issues, some “worse” than others, but to each of us, they are real problems that we face everyday we wake up. NF writes to be a light to those in darkness – because he knows what that darkness looks like first hand.

He wants his fans to understand that “Perception” is relative. Things could seem completely horrible, but you can rise above your situation. It may take some time (it may take three albums), but the process will be worth it when you come out stronger as a person. And by the looks of this album, and the response his promo has been getting, his message is ringing loud and clear in a dark world looking for some light to hold on to.

Straight up, whether you like NF or not, this is a really good album. His content is clear and thoughtful. His ideas are presented with passion and you can hear it in every word NF speaks, and the music is so complimentary to his lyrics that you can’t help but be drawn in to the story that he is telling. I recommend that everyone at least listen to this album one time, and I would say that if you’re like me, you’ll want to play it again after your first experience.

The Best Canton Jone
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Daniel Cody is the engineer for the Wade-O Radio podcast and producer of The Life Change radio program for 4th Generation Ministries. He has a Bachelors Degree in Music Production & Record Engineering. He has a passion for authentic rap about the Gospel and collaborates with all genres of Christian music with his production company - Man of God Productions. Follow him on Twitter @DRoyulMOG.

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