To say the Billboard and iTunes charts have been shaken up the past two weeks would be an incredible understatement. Apple showed out for “VIEWS,” as Drake looked down on Toronto from the CN Tower, HBO and TIDAL’s exclusive rights to “Lemonade” had Beyoncé fans throwing money for her new project and incredible love and support was shown for Prince after his surprise death.
But among the big names and mega-marketing campaigns is a 25-year-old rapper from Michigan whose sophomore album just debuted at No.12 on the Billboard charts and sits comfortably at No.3 in sales on the iTunes hip-hop/rap chart behind both the clean and explicit version of “VIEWS.“
Using his initials of NF (Nate Feuerstein) as his moniker, the Saginaw, Michigan native tells me about his hometown over the phone. “I was born in Saginaw Michigan,” he says, his demeanor is quiet and serious. “But I didn’t live there for very long. I only lived there a couple years then I moved to a small town called Gladwin.”
Rapping about having to drive an hour just to see a movie on his song “Breathe,” NF jokes about the make-up of his suburban Michigan town. “There’s nothing there, there’s fast food you know? A little park and stuff like that, so I grew up in a really small town,” he says.
Growing up in a small town NF started to take interest in music. Writing raps about everyday life at first. Things became more serious when he started listening to fellow Michigan native and rap superstar Eminem. “I became a huge fan of Eminem and his music moved me in a way I couldn’t describe,” Feurstein adds while elaborating on some of the things he went through as a child. Rap soon became a muse for NF under heartbreaking circumstances. “When my mom died when I was 18, I was a senior in High School and it [rap] definitely became way more of a therapy at that point,” he says. “It [rap] was something I couldn’t really describe to people. Almost like I was sitting in a room and I didn’t have a therapist but I had my music and I kind of talked through it.”
Signing to Capitol Records, NF opened up about his struggle with depression and hinted at his mother’s drug problem on his debut album “Mansion,” which debuted at No. 62 on the Billboard 200 last year. Taking in the honesty of the project while losing sight of the ultimate message, NF began seeing negative feedback from those who pigeonholed him as a Christian rapper. They mistook the aggression for violence rather than therapy and outreach to others who are struggling with personal issues.
“When I came out with my first record [“Mansion”] you know there were people who came with the Eminem comparison but it was mostly Christians being like ‘Oh you didn’t say this enough, you didn’t do this enough,’” he said.
After an impressive intro track on the follow up to “Mansion,” “Therapy Session” rolls into the title track, taking the subject of negativity head on. Recalling fans telling him stories of how his music saved their life along with mention of death threats, NF stays unapologetic about his subject matter, a refreshingly honest trait.
“I don’t just say things in my raps to sound cool. People are writing me about killing me and killing my family and stuff like that. I’m a very defensive person and a very aggressive, blunt person as well so that track is really just me trying to come out of the gate on my album and be like, ‘look, if you don’t like that kind of music you don’t have to listen to it,’” he tells me with passion. “I think it [“Therapy Session”] helped explain to people; this is what I do, this is why I do it, I can’t be any more clear than by putting it on a record and actually putting it out to all those people.”
Honesty and realness are recurring themes on this project with the heart sitting within tracks 2-4. Harsh dissonance from “Therapy Session” feeds into a wailing sample on “I Just Wanna Know,” another song that gets at the heart of NF and his relationship with not only his mother but significant others and friends. “Normally when I sit down and write a song it just comes out of me or whatever and it can be about something very very specific,” NF says about “I Just Wanna Know.” “That song was different for me because I did pull from so many different things, so many different relationships.” We’ve all been there, lost connection with someone special to us, NF continues to write as therapy about the past while keeping content relatable to others who have struggled with losing someone.
NF’s most personal story of loss comes out on “How Could You Leave Us,” as he breaks down his mother’s addiction to pills and eventual overdose. “I’ve been writing songs about my mom for years but no one’s ever heard them or they’ve heard an old, old, old version of something. So I knew I was going to do it [write about his mother] eventually.”
Writing pieces of this very song before, NF waited for the perfect accompaniment to tell his full story. “Instrumentals to tracks really speaks to me and I made this instrumental with my buddy [Tommee Profitt] from Michigan,” he says. “The crazy thing is that song I had written before,” says NF elaborating on the process of “How Could You Leave Us.” “Most people don’t know this, but that song I had written where I actually sang the whole song. It was like a piano ballad but nobody ever heard it really.”
Scrapping the singing version because he felt like not enough was being said in a slower cadence, the original chorus was saved for the introduction to the album version. “When we made this track I took the actual chorus from the other track because I loved it so much which is what I sing at the beginning of the song, that first four bars,” he says.
The result is dark. Thundering piano chords sit above a minimal baseline. It’s a song that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand straight as the storyline progresses. NF keeps a serious tone throughout. Mimicking the rest of the album until the last hook fades out and a sobbing NF thinks about life going forward without his mother.
But through his painful journey, NF continues to keep the well being of others before his own. “I just wanted to put something out there that will definitely be therapy for me but I knew it was going to be extremely relatable to others because there are so many people that have been through what I’ve been through and worse,” he says.
With “Therapy Session” flourishing on the charts and Feuerstein’s story helping others get through hard times, there has been some positive time for reflection. “Being in the industry and really seeing the behind the scenes stuff especially with streaming now, somebody’s got to love something to buy it and that’s just what it’s come to,” he says while speaking on the early success of “Therapy Session.” “We sold more records the first day with “Therapy Session” than we did the first week of “Mansion.” For me as an artist and as a person that’s working his butt off to try to make music not just for myself but for other people, when the fans show up man that’s really encouraging.”
You can stream “Therapy Session” below and head to iTunes to grab a copy of your own.