The third studio album of so-called Christian rapper NF unexpectedly reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts shortly after being released earlier this month, beating the greatest-hits album of the late Tom Petty, a feat called “shocking” in Forbes magazine.
Michigan musician Nate Feuerstein, who performs under the NF moniker, was described on the World Religion News website as a Christian artist who “does not focus on materialism as a topic for songs, refrains from cursing and openly discusses their faith in their lyrics.”
But NF himself balks at the label, despite signing with a Christian label. In an interview earlier this year on the music site Idolator, the musician said, “I talk about my life, I talk about my faith. I talk about positive things that I’ve dealt with that have taught me things, and I talk about negative things that I’m dealing with. I wouldn’t describe myself as [a Christian rapper], but I am a Christian.”
Q. Why would the media be surprised by NF’s rise to the top of the charts? Is the rapper’s openness about his faith a valid marketing tool for the music industry when it’s not the primary focus of his work?
I can’t speak for the shock from Forbes magazine, but I can speak for what society has become. We live in a world of labels. Instead of referring to NF as a singer of rap lyrics, he is a “rapper.” Then when all the stereotypes of rappers become false when referring to NF, it becomes shocking.
Now, regarding his faith, why shouldn’t people with a strong faith base to their life be creative and enter the music profession? Because we have heard the stories, some true, about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, we think that a clean non-cursing positive song cannot exist in the secular music world. May I remind you that the Psalms and the Song of Songs were written by secular people — two kings by the way? Those two books of the Holy Scriptures are full of life’s trials and tribulations. For example, Psalm 116 (ISR 1998):
1. I love God, because he has heard my voice, my pleas.
2. Because he has inclined his ear to me, and I shall call throughout my days.
3. The cords of death were around me, and the pains of the grave came upon me; I found distress and sorrow.
And, Song of Songs 3:7-8
7. Sixty mighty men are around it, of the mighty men of Israel,
8. All of them holding swords, skilled in battle, each one has his sword on his thigh because of fear in the night.
One need not be a believer in God and lose sight of society’s problems. One only needs to be uniquely one’s self.
Rabbi Mark Sobel
Temple Beth Emet of Burbank
NF, who writes deeply personal, forceful raps laid over expertly produced symphonic tracks reminiscent of Coolio (another rapper that found airplay due to his accessibility), is simply an excellent performer who has captured the zeitgeist. His lyrics are not “Christian,” yet they are often “moody” (his words) and angry. Though he doesn’t curse or employ a first-person narrative of violence against women the way fellow Michigander Eminem did, NF resembles his predecessor in his wordplay, Dr. Dre-like beats, and aggression. There has always been room in the pop marketplace for angry young white men. Elvis Costello would agree.
If there is surprise that someone like NF should top the Billboard 200, it may be because NF is not your average Christian artist, like Amy Grant or the late Keith Green. He does not sing songs of praise. It might also be because, unlike soul singers that go gospel (Al Green) or country/rockabilly outlaws that return to church (Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley), a young white rapper simply overwhelms the narrow definition many people have of Christianity. And that’s a shame, because NF’s lyrics reveal him as a searcher who doesn’t have all the answers, and sometimes he’s angry about it. Like we all are.
In a fractured media market, no artist can totally control his marketing. NF does not make the sign of the cross in his videos or appear in prayerful poses. Yet he is signed with an expressly Christian label, so he presents a marketing dilemma: Should he be sold as a Christian artist to an audience tired of listening to Eminem with 80 percent of the lyrics bleeped out, or might he cross over simply by having the anger, the chops and the talent but not the troublesome message of the former Marshall Mathers? NF’s Billboard success proves the latter. Plus, how can you not be on the side of someone who rhymes “That doesn’t worry me” with “I know I handle some things immature-a-ly”?
Unitarian Universalist Community of the Verdugo Hills
I’m not especially familiar with NF except to have listened to him for this, but when I generally hear the word “rap” my reaction is to add a C to the beginning of the word and dismiss the whole issue post haste. That’s me, although I’m aware that many actually enjoy this peculiar art form. It seems incongruous for a white boy to be performing it though, since only “Malibu’s Most Wanted” comes to mind when I imagine the crossover, but I have to say, he seems to be making a positive impact. I don’t know enough to endorse NF’s theology, but I agree that Christians ought not be segregated for their faith simply because their art intrudes on culture or the usual pagan expectation. Why not judge by the art’s standard rather than the race or philosophical viewpoint of its creator? Similarly, shouldn’t we expect that worthwhile people don’t blaspheme, profane or otherwise denigrate good morals? I wish I heard more spiritually uplifting rhymes when I encounter this style, but generally it’s about bustin’ a cap in some “ho” (seasoned with an endless supply of the N-word). I can’t believe it’s acceptable to the listeners or their community, but I’m guessing it’s not entirely acceptable, and some are turning toward NF to get away from it.
Anyway, I hope this rapper’s faith is a selling point for his albums. It would mean that listeners are identifying with a godly celebrity and that he’s having an influence, even if every song doesn’t directly mention Jesus. Look, I’m a Christian, but I don’t make everything I utter about the Gospel. I’m ready to go there, but I don’t act like an obtuse goob just constantly sniping at unbelievers about my faith, and I think a rapper can rap about life’s experiences so that all may identify and still glorify God by the manner in which he does it. The media may think consumers are all profane and need a steady stream of filth to maintain a steady stream of profit, but maybe people are getting tired of the darkness and self-glorification of the rapping elite. Let’s hope.
“Let no filthy talk be heard from your mouths, but only what is good for building up people” (Ephesisans 4:23 ISV).
Rev. Bryan A. Griem
Media writers need fodder from which to create content and the advertising industry likes a fresh slant for their campaigns. Having read through all the lyrics of the songs on his recent No. 1 album “Perception,” I am not persuaded that the label “Christian rapper” accurately describes NF.
But truth be told, I am more curious that he shares a surname with a Holocaust survivor and psychologist, the late Israeli professor Reuven Feuerstein, renown for his work on human intelligence and its mutability.
Be that as it may, the two lines on the album which seem to me to be clearly religious express the typical questioning of a young person about his future and maybe some religious doubt. “I talk to God, what’s next for me?” “Talk to God, ‘Can you hear me?’” Another displays both Biblical knowledge and an understanding of the proper use of the semicolon: “People change; even Satan used to be an angel.”
Perhaps Forbes’ magazine, with their famous lists of the richest of the rich, only took note of this rap singer because he measures wealth on a different scale: “You are not a rich man because you are on the Forbes’ list.”
Whether NF is a Christian rapper or, as he prefers, a rapper who happens to be a Christian, I can totally see Jesus himself appreciating this NF lyric: “Grab your own glass and fill it, don’t let your fears destroy you. Woo.”