Nathan Feuerstein wastes no time getting up in your face on his sophomore effort, Therapy Session. “If you’re looking for music with watered down lyrics, I promise that you need to go somewhere else,” he tells us on album opener “Intro 2.”
Going by the stage name initials NF, this guy does not mince words. And it’s exactly that earnest, at times in-your-face attitude that’s drawn both rave reviews and concern about how this 25-year-old Christian rapper from Michigan may be just a bit too raw. Self-referentially, he raps, “He’s at it again, NF is crazy, he’s bad for the kids.”
So is he? And how exactly does this extraordinarily intense young rapper spit out his tale of unfiltered grief? (It’s grief that’s triggered by a veritable tsunami of emotions revolving around the death of his mother from an overdose as well as suffering abuse and poverty while growing up.)
“Oh Lord” expresses spiritual doubt (“Oh Lord, oh Lord, do You see us down here?”), but goes on to admit that we sometimes attack God’s character when the fault is actually our own (“It’s easy to blame God but harder to fix things/ … Everyone will sleep in the pews/Then blame God for our problems like He sleeping on you”). “Lost in the Moment” honestly proclaims, “Whoever told you that life would be easy/I promise that person was lyin’ to you/Don’t tell me that you’re fine ’cause I know that you are not.” Then the song offers a cautionary tale about being so numb that we aren’t fully present in our lives and relationships.
We’re told on “Real,” “I’ve been through hell all of my life/But I know where heaven is/Father, forgive me, for I am a sinner.” That song also recognizes the important redemptive role that creating music has played in NF’s life (“But You gave me music as medicine”), and emphasizes the importance of authenticity and honesty (“Tell me, what am I doing here?/If I’m not being real?”). NF confronts us with this: “Everybody wanna hear the real version of life/Then don’t get so sensitive when I say something a little bit raw.”
“How Could You Leave Us” unpacks NF’s grief regarding his mother, who, he says, was “addicted to pills,” which ended with her fatal overdose. He poignantly expresses his longing for a normal relationship with a mother who was never really there for him (“Why do I feel like I lost something that I never had?/You shoulda been there when I graduated/Told me you love me and congratulations”). A concluding voiceover adds (amid sobs), “Sometimes I think about things, like, you know, when I have kids. I’m like, you won’t be there, you know? You won’t be there for any of that.” NF talks openly about knowing he should forgive his mom for her failings, while admitting that he still struggles to do so.
The title track processes more hard emotions and experiences. “I got so angry inside,” NF raps. But he also adds, a bit more hopefully, “I’m trying to deal with depression/I’m trying to deal with the pressure.” “I Can Feel It” proclaims the importance of family. “Grindin'” and “All I Do” affirm the importance of working hard to pursue our dreams and calling. “Wish You Wouldn’t” strives to work through a difficult conflict. “Statement” takes hypocrites to task. Guest rapper Marty embraces Christ (“I run with the Son of God”) and eschews pornography (“Don’t waste time with the centerfolds”).
NF has dealt with so much abandonment in his life that a handful of lyrics can come across as unhealthy resignation. On “I Just Wanna Know,” he tells an ex, “Now you wanna jump ship/Leave me alone here?/Well, I’m used to it/Everybody else did.” Violent hyperbole and braggadocio turn up on “Real” (“Any rapper say that they runnin’ the game/I’ma come in they session and cut off they legs, woo/Strap a grenade to my head, pull out the pin/ … How you gon’ match that?/Just let me/Do what I do best/You’re better off playing Russian roulette”). That track also warns grimly, “My life is a mess, better watch your step when you step in it.”
I think it’s safe to say that Christians are generally more comfortable praising God than lamenting the inexplicably hard things that happen in our lives. Thus, much of the contemporary Christian music world focuses on the former—especially in these days of the worship song turned pop anthem. NF, though, is mostly focused on the latter, not unlike some somber moments in Psalms when David tries to make sense of his suffering.
Nathan Feuerstein has had a hard life. And his chosen pathway for processing it is rap, an outlet that he testifies on the title track has helped him survive: “Like this is something that personally helps me as well/I’m not confused about who gave me the gift/God gave me 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.”
It’s clear he’s striving to live according to his Christian convictions, but he honestly admits he’s far from perfect. He says, “I ain’t gon’ walk on these stages in front of these people/And act like I live my life perfectly/ … Christian is not the definition of a perfect me.” And he says it’s those kinds of admissions that generate crit from fans at times (“Why don’t you write us some happy raps?”). But NF insists, “This music is not just for people/Who sit in the pews and pray at the churches/ … Kids hit me up, say they slitting they wrists on the daily/This music is more than you think/ … Imagine someone looking at you/And saying your music’s the reason that they are alive.”
No, NF doesn’t pull any punches talking about the gritty struggles of his life, summarizing, for instance, his relationship with his late mother as “the bottom of hell.” But he doesn’t throw them any harder than necessary, either. That makes Therapy Session an album that pummels, not one that coddles. But, as NF observes, those who’ve been similarly beaten up by life may very well find life-giving encouragement in his blunt narratives of struggle … struggle that Nathan ultimately affirms only makes sense when we entrust it to God.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.