Disclaimer: All views presented in this review are those of the reviewer and not of DJ Wade-O.
Why do you listen to Christian Hip-hop music? Seriously, think about it. It’s a question that not too many people sit and ponder. However, the answer to this question is what makes music, and more specifically CHH, so unique. Most people you talk to will have different reasons for why they love the music they listen to.
I’ve seen the diversity in why we listen to music in my own life. I have friends who listen to CHH simply for the production. I have one friend who is a dancer and loves to listen to records she can dance to, while another loves lyricism, and focuses on that. Some listen to it solely for worship and others use it as an escape from the realities of life.
I bring this question back to you, why do you listen to CHH?
This question wasn’t birthed from my ultra creative mind (I wish). NF’s new album, Therapy Session, brought it to me. Therapy Session is NF’s second album on Captiol CGM. It is the follow up to his March 2015 debut album Mansion. Mansion put NF on the CHH map because it was the best selling CHH album of 2015. This is relatively unheard of for an unknown to the genre, to burst onto the scene like NF did last year. Even though the charts will catch your eye, it was the content that made the real impact.
NF poured out his heart on Mansion and connected with fans in a very personal way. That is what made his last record so successful and that is the route he is going to continue to go. On the intro to Therapy Session he says:
“But you have now entered my Therapy Session
If you don’t like music that’s personal
I have no clue what you people are doing here
Might as well throw out the record”
This is exactly what his new record is about, and more importantly, that is what NF is about. He is about making “real” music that comes from his heart and speaks to the listener’s soul. That’s the reason why NF makes music and that is what Therapy Session does.
If you are familiar with NF in any capacity, then you know that he is heavy with emotion and transparency. Therapy Session, however, isn’t just a continuation of that, it is an expansion of that very idea. Right out of the gate NF makes his intentions for this record clear and lays out where he is in his life. “Intro 2” is the perfect introduction to this record. You get the full NF experience just from this one track.
The hard-hitting production gives the track an epic feel. That accompanied with NF’s smooth and quick flow is perfect. You also get the full emotional gamut on this track. He references his love and passion for rapping, struggles with his past mistakes, and his struggles with the feedback from Mansion. NF also elegantly explains why he entitled this record Therapy Session.
The title track is where you get the most blatant showing of the concept. He ends “Intro 2” by saying he doesn’t want to be late to his “Therapy Session”. This track showcases exactly what NF is aiming for. The production here has a similar sound, it’s just a bit softer of a feel. His aggressive delivery brings a substantial amount of intensity, which gives the “Therapy Session” feel. That is also felt with his transparency. NF is literally pouring his heart out, unfiltered, on this track. This honesty reinforces the tone for the record beautifully, but it also brings the guard down for the listener. This is a necessary element of the record for where NF is about to take you. The next two tracks may be the darkest parts of the album.
“I Just Wanna Know” is an artful display of hip-hop and transparency. NF rides the quick tempo beat perfectly. That, mixed with singing on the hook, gives the album instant replay value. This is a track that you want to listen to over and over again because the sound is so good. Then when you listen to the lyrics, it contains a message that everyone can relate to. NF honestly and skillfully navigates the falling out of a relationship that was very important to him. His second verse is a gut punch because it is a place most of us have been.
“We used to talk like best friends
I remember that, I guess I don’t know what happened to us
Now you got me questionin’ what trust is
You told me you would be there for me
Yeah, but you ain’t really mean it did ya?”
From here, NF takes you to one of the most emotional tracks CHH has ever heard. “How Could You Leave Us” is gut-wrenching. NF gives his honest thoughts about his mom’s death and what caused it. The “Therapy Session” theme is felt strongly here because you can imagine sitting across from him in a room, and listening to him pour out his heart. He goes back and forth between being sad and angry, and that pure honesty is moving to listen to. Even though this track brings you to a low place, introspectively, it is one of the highest parts of the album, because it is so compelling. It transports you to another place. Therapy Session could end here and no one would be disappointed.
Thankfully for us, the record doesn’t end there. Even though “How Could You Leave Us” seems like an impossible place to transition from, NF handles it like a veteran. “Breathe” allows the listener to do just that. He still gives deep and introspective bars, but the intensity is dialed down with simple production and a smooth hook. With basically just the bass, “Breathe” is the perfect tone change sonically.
The album starts to pick the pace up a little more with “Real”. The soft keys lure you in but then NF hits you with the bass and the quick delivery. This track is a head nodder in its purest form. The content even shifts to let the listener relax a little. Not one to parse his words, NF makes it very clear that he has intentions on becoming the best emcee that he can. This track could come off as arrogant and may be off putting to some, but I read it as a necessary confidence. That confidence and attitude is what got him here and it is refreshing to hear it on display.
“Oh Lord” is the biggest tone change from a music perspective. Here NF features his singing voice and a guitar early in the track. It builds throughout to reach a soulful, almost worship-like song crescendo. This is another track with brutal, convicting honesty, that is hidden by a beautiful song that provides additional playback value. The album moves into what most would probably consider it’s peak with “Grindin’” featuring Marty. This track is oozing with confidence, as it makes you want to start working. NF’s signature passion is on display over a fantastic beat that is paced perfectly. It moves from hard-hitting parts to more quiet parts, in a way that will nod your head. Marty’s voice adds a good element to the beat that makes this a song that fans will go back to for years to come.
The last quarter of the album is the perfect landing point for a record like this. NF shows off some more savvy song layouts because right after “Grindin’” he brings down the tone with “Wish You Wouldn’t”. It is a soulful track that fits seamlessly here. It is sandwiched between two quicker tempo songs and leaves the listener off balance in a good way. On a 14-track album it’s easy for listeners to check out on this portion, but his mixture of sounds keeps you engaged. “Statement” gives off a similar feel as “Real” because it’s just NF delivering bars.
He ends this rollercoaster journey with “Lost in the Moment” featuring Jonathan Thulin. This track is somewhat of a trend in CHH, as more and more artists are ending their records with a reflective track that leaves you feeling encouraged. “Lost in the Moment” is NF’s version of that. It has a very triumphant and epic feel to it. Between Jonathan Thulin’s tremendous voice and the way the beat builds, NF will have you worshipping to end this record. It allows the listener to reflect on the entire experience and take in what was just heard. It was the perfect ending to this album.
This record may not be for everyone. NF is aware of that. He mentions that several times throughout the record. That type of honesty is appealing and refreshing. However, this record is much needed today. I asked earlier, why do you listen to CHH? I asked because that is an important element in deciding if this record is for you. NF makes music for the down trodden. Those who are (or have been) struggling and are tired of pretending that they aren’t. That’s what this record is. It’s NF dealing with his life.
He is open about his struggles and what he wrestles with. This was literally a “therapy session” for him. It can be that for you also. If you feel left out or alone. If you are a misfit that doesn’t feel understood. Or maybe you’re going through a tough time, and you’re having a hard time processing what you are going through. Maybe you need an escape from life’s ills, or just need to know that someone else is going through something similar.
Therapy Session is for those who aren’t scared to admit that life sucks sometimes. It’s for those who want to yell and scream and vent. This isn’t just music, it truly can be therapy for all. If you are willing to go to an uncomfortable place and really deal with life and all of its mess, then NF is ready to see you now.