BY NIKITTA FOSTON
On a drizzly Fall evening, on a stage in the heart of Chicago’s West loop, a fire raged, scorching the edges of each beat, burning through the lyrics of Capitol Music Group recording artist, NF.
For those who might imagine a hip-hop Christian artist to be dull, dry or lame, think again. For it is precisely the current of his melody, the spiritual context of his lyrical content if you will, that delivers an ailing heart so strong as to saturate and soothe simultaneously.
Nathan Feuerstein, known to the sold-out crowd as NF, delivered a powerful combination of grit, guts and in-your-face raw emotion Wednesday night at The Bottom Lounge. His incredibly satiating elixir of lyrics, which spring from his reservoir of pain he says, catapulted the hip-hop artist to the Top 10 Billboard Albums position in April 2016 with Therapy Session in the royal company of the likes of Beyonce and Prince.
The ballad-style rhythmic flow of Fleurie opened the show, and the two performed their hit ‘Mansion,’ in a smooth duet that moved the crowd:
Fleurie: “What’s reality with all these questions, feels like I missed my alarm and slept in…broken legs but I chase perfection. These walls are my blank expression, my mind is a home I’m trapped in and it’s lonely inside this mansion.”
NF: “Yo, my mind is a house with walls, covered in lyrics, they’re all over the place…that’s where I write when I’m in a bad place and I need to release and let out the version of NF you don’t wanna see. I put holes in the walls with both of my fists til they bleed, you might get a glimpse of how I cope with all this anger in me. I’m a keep the door shut, and keep the lyrics inside.”
Fueled by the anger and anguish of his mother’s fatal drug overdose in 2009, the Michigan born rapper strikes a universal chord with fans dealing with their own demons: depression, rejection, loss, pain and the residuals of existing in an imperfect world.
“He speaks from his pain, but his message is hope,” says Barbara Marrero who brought her 23-year-old niece, Marisa, to the show. “We need more of that.”
In ‘How Could You Leave Us,’ NF channels his pain into a hardcore anthem, laced in soulful melodies that tell the story of the grief over the loss of his mother:
“Yo, I don’t know what it’s like to be addicted to pills, but I do know what it’s like to be a witness, it kills…..they say pain is a prison, let me outta my cell….how could you leave us, why would you leave us…music is the only place where I can go and speak to you….I know you gone but I can still feel you.”
“He’s amazing, just expressing his feelings the way he does,” says Marisa Marrero. “I can just relate. He’s so inspiring.”
Indeed, if the standing room only crowd is any indication, the message and music is resonating. And not just teens and young adults but elementary-aged kids who are hoisted on their father’s shoulders near the back of the venue to get a better glimpse of the hip-hop phenomenon.
In “Grinding ft Marty”, NF gets the crowd amped with his dedication to the game, his relentless hustle to the top, not giving into distraction, doubt or competition:
NF: “Anybody sleep on me, better do something with your eyelids….I hear a lot of whining, I don’t hear a lot of rhyming…this industry ain’t nothing but a box, but I ain’t gone climb in it…you put me in a room full of rappers, come back in 5 minutes, I’m a be the only one still alive, with a note on my chest saying, ‘I did it’….I run with the Son of God…what is you running for?”
NF: “I’m out here grinding”
Crowd: “Okay, Okay, Okay”
“I listen to his music too,” says Angel Vega, a former Christian DJ who brought his 18-year- old son, Jordan, to the show. “It’s a positive message. It’s Christian. They’re the sort of lyrics that are needed instead of the garbage we listen to about sex, drugs and degrading women.”
Vega is a part of the wall-to- wall crowd, a wide swath of varied colors and ages.They are draped in NF t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats, yelling in unison to NF’s ‘Therapy Session,’ which tackles domestic abuse, hate, suicide and family dysfunction:
“This girl at a show, looked me in the face and told me her life’s full of drama, said her Daddy’s abusive, apparently he likes to beat on her mama. I got so angry inside, I wanted to tell her to give me his number, but what you gone do with it, right? You gone hit ‘em up and he’ll start hitting her harder? That’s real. These kids, they come to my shows with tears in they eyes. Imagine someone looking at you and saying your music’s the reason that they are alive?”
In as much as the 25-year- old’s music is creating a lyrical therapy session, the process is also helping him, he says at the end of ‘Therapy Session.’
“I write about the things I’m actually dealing with..this is real for me…I’m not confused about who gave me the gift. God gave the gift and he gave me the ability to do this and he also gave me this as an outlet and that’s what music is for me. When I feel something, whether it’s anger, a passion about something, a frustration. This is where I go. This is real for me. I need this. This is a therapy for me.”
Listen to Therapy Session here.
Check out his latest video for the album’s title track, “Therapy Session” here: