NF’s “CLOUDS (THE MIXTAPE)” is cloudy with a chance of existentialism

The 29-year-old rap prodigy reaches new heights in his first major album since 2019.

Lydia Snow, Freelancer

Triple platinum-certified, Dove Award-winning hip-hop artist Nathan John Fuerstein, better known as NF, is back on the saddle with his heavily teased release “CLOUDS (THE MIXTAPE).”

QUESTIONING FAME

“CLOUDS (THE MIXTAPE)” appropriately begins with a storm of sorts. In the first track, “CLOUDS,” NF’s aggressive tone of voice, which nears hysterical shouting, is backed by dark, driving instrumentals and choral elements. “CLOUDS” points at the aching burden of music industry success.

 Hollywood! Hollywood! Hope Nate doesn’t go Hollywood!” the bridge proclaims, as if raised by a group of taunting schoolchildren. 

In “THAT’S A JOKE,” the mixtape’s cinematic tone swells and expands with a pitter-patter of staccato violins. Diving deeper into his analysis of fame, NF scorns those who take him at face value and who refuse to acknowledge the setbacks he has faced. While less skillful rappers could have distilled the message of “THAT’S A JOKE” into a flat, demeaning diss track, NF is light on his feet, spewing near-comedic quips.

How could you call me unskilled?/That’s like lookin’ at Mount Everest and then calling it a small hill.

STRUGGLES AND VULNERABILITY

With a moody piano backing track, “JUST LIKE YOU” brings the listener to a simpler, more solemn place. Here, NF draws from his own personal experiences to tell a cautionary tale of identity struggles, while taking on the role of an understanding friend.

I want you to know when you’re alone and you feel afraid/You’re not the only person in the world that isn’t okay,” he counsels.

The personal contemplation of “JUST LIKE YOU” is followed by the heart-pounding desperation of “STORY,” a raw, grating reflection on fictionalized traumatic memories. “STORY” takes place in a gas station convenience store; descriptions of candy bars and cigarettes set the scene as the lyrics recount a confrontation with violent crime.

PRIDEFUL” is one of the mixtape’s artistically weaker pointsits humdrum musicality resembles a run-of-the-mill hip-hop track. The lyrics, however, are especially revealing, as NF articulates uncertainty and regret over a toxic relationship that led him to deny his self-worth.

How’d you go from bein’ that somebody I believed/Into bein’ someone doubtin’ me behind the scenes?” NF asks.

In the mixtape’s sixth track, NF candidly admits he is “LOST,” providing reasons behind his personal misgivings and mistakes. “LOST,” a collaboration with Hopsin, boasts some of the more stirring vocals and lyrics on the album, taking a desperately honest look at the human condition. “It’s obvious that humans are fragile,” NF states. “I admit I throw a fit when I begin to unravel.” The track presents a vulnerable plea for mental stability: “What I really wanna do is learn to handle my thoughts/And put the reins on ‘em.

MEANING

NF finds solace in the atmospheric “LAYERS,” which brings grounded optimism to the mix. “While I’m still alive, I got so much to look forward to,” NF testifies, alluding to his Christian beliefs with a promise to “thank the Lord for/Everything He’s done.

While “LAYERS” points at a greater purpose of human existence, the upbeat “DRIFTING” laments the confusion and apparent futility of life. Despite NF’s previous “failed attempts” at living a worthwhile life, a growth in his personal character is apparent: “I’d rather be burned alive/Than go back to thinkin’ I’m insignificant. 

Fans of fast-paced, Eminem-style rap will appreciate the breathlessly frantic Tech N9ne collab “TRUST, wherein NF forms a practical plan to cope with life. With lyrics like “I’ma eat you like PB&J, kiwi and grapes,” “TRUST” contains some truly bizarre references and analogies. It is also the most explicitly religious of the tracks, as NF details his encounters with the temptation of Satan: “He tried to get me to live with him, even called me a sinner/And told me everything about me doesn’t feel like a winner.”

“PAID MY DUES” wraps up the mixtape with a satisfying, cathartic conclusion. “Pursuin’ the mental can be dark and be difficult/But the pay off at the end of it can help you to get through it.” With this acknowledgement of hope also comes an acknowledgement of personal shortcomings, as NF, who is “just a human being,” finally comes to grips with his place in the world: “It’s time to get back in the swing of things/When my life crashes, I’m not the guy that’ll flee the scene.

In “CLOUDS (THE MIXTAPE),” NF is caught in the midst of a searingly human coming-of-age story, wherein he grapples with his own identity while also dishing out a healthy dose of philosophical sarcasm. Although sometimes relying on basic beats and synths, the mixtape also blends cinematic orchestrals with a modern hip-hop flair. Listeners will not regret finding shade in these “CLOUDS.”

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