NF On Breakthrough LP ‘Therapy Session’ & Not Being Pigeonholed: Interview
NF’s second major label LP Therapy Session arrived on April 22, the day after Prince died and the day before Beyonce unleashed Lemonade. Instead of being lost in the buying frenzy, the 25-year-old punched above his weight — topping the iTunes hip-hop chart and reaching the overall top 10. It’s a remarkable achievement for an artist without a radio single or even an easily-defined fan base. While Christian music readily claims him, the Michigan native is adamant about being a hip-hop artist, first and foremost.
I recently caught up with Nathan Feuerstein (his real name) at Capitol headquarters in Los Angeles to discuss the album’s remarkable success — it subsequently debuted at number 12 on the Billboard 200 — and his unwillingness to be pigeonholed by his faith. He also opened up about the influence of Eminem and the way he uses rap to work through his issues. Get to know the newcomer a little better in our Q&A below.
Therapy Session is top 10 on iTunes. How do you process that? It’s awesome, man. One thing I struggle with as a person is I’m always thinking ahead, so I’m always like, “Oh. What do we do next?” You know what I mean? But I am really grateful. My last album is also top 10 on the hip-hop chart. When your old album starts moving up, that means people are discovering you and checking into your music, so I’m definitely really excited about it.
How do you explain the incredible support? There’s no way to really know, especially now… sometimes people don’t even judge off of sales because people will just go to YouTube and listen to something, but what’s encouraging to me is I have a fan base that’s like, “We want to support Nate. We want to support this music.” I don’t think you can predict it, but I’m very happy to see it. It shows your fans really care about you.
When I was doing my research, I was surprised to see music sites referring to you as a Christian rapper. Is that how you classify yourself? Not at all. I mean, I’m a Christian, but I’m just an artist. I’m a musician. You know what I mean? To me it’s like if you’re a Christian and you’re a plumber, are you a Christian plumber? That’s the easiest way for me to explain it. I just make music. 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 that, but I am a Christian.
Are you surprised that people are using that label? Not really. I signed to CMG, which is the Christian side of Capitol. At the time, I didn’t understand everything. It doesn’t surprise me that people see that and think that, but I think I’ve made it very clear now, particularly on this second record, that I’m a hip-hop artist. You like it, you don’t like it. Whatever, I’m just being myself and I think people are relating to it. You like the music or you don’t, you know?
Do you have more Christian music fans or hip-hop fans? I think it’s changing. At first it was lot of Christian people, but now it’s a lot of people that just love hip-hop. I don’t make music for Christians. I make music for everyone. I make music for the masses. I want people to listen to my music all over the world and relate to it and feel it the way I feel it.
Is the lyrical content of this album more secular? I’m just doing me. I never sit down and think, “Oh, I want to make this record more mainstream.” I just make music the way that I make it. I’m growing as a person. It’s just like anybody. Sometimes people will be like, “Why don’t you rap about what you used to rap about?” I’m a human being. I can grow. When I talk about struggling with something, on the next record I might talk about how I used to struggle with it. Here’s how I got through it, and I explain it.
How did you get into hip-hop? I got into music when I was like 12 or 13 years old. I was listening to a hip-hop artist named T-Bone. Then my biggest influence was Eminem. I started listening to Eminem, which you can hear the influence obviously, when I was like 13 or 14. I pretty much just listened to Eminem for six years. It was pretty much all I listened to and I’m not exaggerating. Every once in a while I would listen to other artists, but he was such a huge influence.
What’s your favorite Eminem album? My favorite song, I used to listen to it on the bus for hours, is “The Way I Am.” I’ve always wanted to figure out who I am by myself. I don’t want people to tell me who I am. You know what I mean? So when I heard the song “The Way I Am,” which is on The Marshall Mathers LP… even though I can’t relate to every single thing that Eminem is saying, when I listened to him, it made me feel something that I can’t describe. It’s unexplainable. I liked that.
When you put on an NF album, I want people to sit there and go, “Whoa, I just felt like an emotion.” Maybe I didn’t lose my mom, but I have a bad relationship with this person or that person. I want people to feel that emotion, you know?
It sounds like you’re getting a lot off your chest. Is that why the album’s called Therapy Session? Music is just therapy for me. So if you don’t like the music, cool. I understand, but you need to understand when you put on an NF album, I don’t just write music for fun. This is real for me. I say that very explicitly in the lyrics. I think that’s what people are loving about it. If you look at the cover, it’s me sitting across from myself. I’m trying to convey that Nathan and NF are the same thing. They’re the same person, but it’s almost like I’m having conversations with myself, which a lot of people do in their minds, you know? You’re trying to figure things out, and it’s like I’m having a therapy session. The music is my therapy, but I’m talking to myself through my music.
How would you explain your evolution as artist since Mansion? I think I’m more lyrical. I just improved lyrically as a hip-hop artist, and I think that’s something you should do as time goes on. You should get better, not worse or stay the same. I would say as I got older, I started listening to a lot of styles of music, not just hip-hop. So that’s another difference. I listen to so may kinds of music that it influences the sound. I’m singing on one song and then the next song sounds like I’m rapping on a movie trailer, and the next song sounds like a hip-hop song. You know what I mean? The next song has an acoustic in it. That’s because I listen to Ed Sheeran and I listen to Adele. I listen to Drake. There are so many different genres, it’s like I took all my influences and just threw them in a pot and made the album.
Could you talk about “How Could You Leave Us”? It’s so raw and personal. I’ve written tons of songs about my mom that no one’s ever heard. My mom died when I was 18, and it’s something that I struggle with a lot. I’ve grown up with a lot of anger, things I didn’t even realize were coming from different places in my life, and so that song specifically is the most vulnerable. It’s real. I mean, that’s really me crying. My producer left the room. For like five minutes I just talked on the microphone. There’s so much stuff people didn’t hear that we took out, of me just bawling and talking about memories. It was very therapeutic for me. We picked through the stuff that we felt was the most important.
It doesn’t fix everything, singing that song. On the Mansion album I hinted at things, but I never went into detail. The great thing about hip-hop is that it’s almost like talking, so you can say a lot more. I had written some songs that were just singing and I would go back and forth. I’d be like, “Oh, I’m not saying enough”… but I came to realize once I wrote “How Could You Leave Us” that I’ll never feel like I said enough.
I just wrote it, cried my eyes out in the studio, and just put it out there, and the response has been amazing. There are so many people that have been through way worse than me. I mean, I get written from people that lost both their parents in a car accident and they survived. It makes me feel for people, but it’s also awesome to know that my music influences and impacts other people.
Is it scary sharing these emotions with the world? It’s weird, man, because it seems like that would be the case… I probably should go to therapy.
I think we all should. Yeah, I think a lot of people should, but I’ve always been like, “No, I don’t want to do that.” I had some weird experiences when I was younger and I hated it. Like, this person doesn’t know who I am. I was a kid at the time, but it left a sour taste in my mouth. I lost my train of thought. What were we talking about?
About exposing yourself emotionally. I mean you’d think it would bother me more. Sometimes it’ll hit me and I’ll be like, “Oh, dang. The whole world is going to hear me cry.” I’m not a crier. Like, I don’t really cry. You know, my producer looked at me and was like, “Are you okay with this?” I was like, “Yeah. It’s real, and I know people are going to feel it and it helps me.” I think it’s going to touch a lot of people.
You’ve mentioned some of the artists that influence you. Would you consider a collaboration with a mainstream artist? Totally, if it makes sense with the brand. I don’t want to just do something to do it. I would love to surprise my fans. I would love to take an artist that people would never expect, but do an NF song with them.
Do you have anyone in mind?Twenty One Pilots. I would love to do that, just because I love what they do. Their live shows is incredible, and I love their grind. It’s awesome what they’re doing. I love their fan base. Their fan base is incredible. Those are the fans you want as an artist. You want fans that are like, “Yo, I’m driving six hours to go see Twenty One Pilots,” or “I’m driving six hours to go see NF,” so I’d say that would be on the top of my list for sure.
Do you worry something like that would alienate some of your fans? I would just feel it out how I felt personally as I went. I’m going to always be myself on everything that I do, so I think there’s just a line of being like, “Hey, I’m going to respect my fans,” but I think fans also have to realize I’m being myself, so everybody around me can do whatever the heck they want to do, but when NF gets on the track, he’s being NF. You know what I mean? As soon as I get that point across, I shouldn’t have to worry about that. Obviously, I stand for something, like any artist.
How have you been received by the wider hip-hop community? I don’t know yet, I feel like it’s just starting. I feel like my name is being brought up in conversations, but hip-hop is a very respect-oriented thing. You earn respect or you get to a certain level and then people start respecting you, or an artist that’s already respected kind of puts their arm around you and it’s like, “Yo, you need to check out NF or check out this artist.” I’m still on the grind. My name is being tossed around those circles, but it’s not like I’m getting hit up, “Hey, you want to tour with this person or this person?”