The Michigan artist, whose stage name comes from the initials of his government name, Nathan Feuerstein, released his fifth studio album, The Search, on July 26. The project topped this week’s chart after moving 130,000 album units. Of that total, NF racked up 43,000 streaming equivalent album (SEA) units, which is equal to 58.4 million audio streams. The Search now has the fourth-largest week for a rap album this year, according to Billboard.
By contrast, Chance’s star-studded album debuted at No. 2, moving 108,000 album units. Eighty thousand of those units were SEA units, which equates to 104 million audio streams. This count made Chance’s album the most-streamed album of the week, but still could not compare to NF’s overall sales, which were pushed to the top by strong traditional unit numbers.
Despite the massive numbers and loyal following, NF is still an unknown among many hip-hop fans. If you’re in need of a primer on the rapper, here’s what you need to know about NF.
What kind of music does he make?
NF’s music is categorized by many as Christian rap, but he has denied the label many put on him as a Christian rapper. “I’m a Christian, but I don’t make Christian music,” he has said in past interviews. “You’re not going to reach everyone with just one point of view. I write about things I’m actually dealing with. You don’t have to be Christian to relate to them.” Regardless of his own clarifications, NF’s music has been included on Christian music charts in the past.
He’s also stated that one’s religious background does not have to be tied to one’s profession. "If you're a Christian and you’re a plumber, are you a Christian plumber?” he asked in a CBN News interview. Nevertheless, NF has frequently incorporated Christian messages in his lyrics. On his 2017 single “I Live for the King,” he raps, “I don’t live for the world. I live for the King. I live for the King.” He has also made several appearances on Christian hip-hop projects, such as Flame’s Royal Flush album. His 2015 feature on TobyMac’s single “Til the Day I Die” gained him a lot of praise within the Christian hip-hop genre, as well.
How did his new album make it to No. 1?
The Billboard 200 albums chart combines stats from traditional album sales, track equivalent albums, and streaming. NF’s new album, The Search, was originally projected to sell 95,000 units, but reportedly benefited from strong numbers when it came to traditional sales on iTunes and album bundles with signed merchandise on NF’s official website. The numbers were also boosted by a concert and album redemption offer. Eighty-four thousand of the album’s 130,000 album units came from traditional sales, which is the highest number in all of rap this year.
Has he been this successful in the past?
The Search is far from NF’s first win on the charts. In 2017, his fourth studio album, Perception, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, moving 55,000 units in its first week. That total was the lowest for a No. 1-debuting album in 2017, but it still became NF’s first chart-topping album. Two of the album’s singles (which each reached the top 50 of the Hot 100 chart), “Let You Down”and “Lie,” were radio hits, earning top 10 positions on the all-genre Radio Songs chart. In January 2019, Perception became certified platinum by the RIAA, selling more than 1 million units.
How did he get into music?
NF says he endured a lot of hardship growing up in Michigan. After his parents divorced, he lived with his mother until his father later gained custody of him when her boyfriend abused him. His mother passed away from an overdose in 2009. In response to his troubled past, NF turned to rap as an escape from reality. He began recording music on a karaoke machine. Soon after, NF released his debut studio album, Moments, under his real name, Nathan Feuerstein. The project was independently released in 2010.
Is he signed to a label?
Following that release, NF attracted the attention of the label Xist Music. The imprint signed him in 2012 before he dropped his next project, I’m Free. In 2014, he signed to Capitol Christian Music Group, where he became the label’s first hip-hop signee. He released his breakthrough EP, NF, via Capitol, and it charted on Billboard’s Top Christian Albums chart at No. 12. Perception was also released through Capitol Records and his own imprint, NF Real Music. His latest project, The Search, was distributed via NF Real Music and Caroline Records.
Who is he influenced by?
NF has often cited Eminem as a major influence on his rap career. He remembers listening to the Detroit native as a kid and drawing inspiration from his raps. “It’s not like I related or thought all the things he thought or raps about, but I guess that was one of the first times I felt like I heard something that was super raw,” he told NME in a 2017 interview. “I just felt that authenticity. I also love the sound and the energy he puts off, but more than that, it was like a moment in time where I heard someone who I felt was super authentic but I also I loved his style. That’s why he’s the biggest influence for me, personally. I like music that moves you; I like music that can take you to a place that you just wouldn’t be.”
What are other rappers saying about him?
Most major rappers have avoided explicitly commenting on NF’s rise to the top, but he’s seemingly gotten some feedback some from fellow artists in subtle ways. Many speculated that Eminem was targeting NF on his single “The Ringer,” which appeared on 2018’s Kamikaze. On the track, Em raps: “It’ll help me get back to myself, and she’ll love me/I mailed the bitch back and said if I did that/I’d be like everyone else in the fucking industry/Especially an effing Recovery clone of me (NFing).” The final line of this bar could be a play on words, but it has not been confirmed by either artist.
On the other side of things, Logic appeared to show support for NF, adding him to his 2018 headlining tour with Kyle. NF recalled meeting the Maryland artist four years ahead of the joint tour during an interview on Z100: “I was talking to Logic’s producer side stage while he was performing and I was like, ‘Man, this is crazy, ’cause, like, four years ago, I did a showcase with Logic, and he just dropped his first album.’”