How do you inspire a record label with over 120 gold and platinum records and 20 Grammy Awards to try something new?
Ask Reach Records.
Two years ago, Lecrae and Ben Washer’s independent label moved Brad O’Donnell, SVP A&R at Capitol Christian Music Group, to pursue a hip-hop artist.
“They were the ones who showed the Christian—and general market, by the way—that there was an audience hungry for music like this,” O’Donnell told Rapzilla. “It was not only with the music, but I was impressed with the artists as people and what they stood for.”
Capitol CMG’s stacked roster includes TobyMac, Chris Tomlin, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith and Hillsong, but no pure hip-hop artist. O’Donnell refused to sign a rapper just for the sake of signing one, though. It needed to be the right one.
Hardship plagued Feuerstein’s childhood.
His parents divorced. His mother’s boyfriend physically abused him. And his mother committed suicide.
Music became Feuerstein’s escape.
“First I started listening to it to get away from my problems,” he said. “Then I started writing it to get away from my problems.”
Feuerstein would flee to his parents’ van and write for hours. He recorded songs on a karaoke machine by playing instrumentals into one microphone and rapping into the other. But it became more than an escape.
Feuerstein placed second in the nationwide 2008 Fine Arts Festival rap competition and first in Michigan in 2009 (he filled out a form wrong, disqualifying him for nationals). The next year, he released his debut album Moments independent. Xist Music became enamored, and the record label signed him in 2012.
Xist announced that Feuerstein, who had adopted his initials NF as his stage name, would release an EP the next month. It never came out. The parties agreed to part ways.
NF went from signing a record deal to spending much of the next two years trying to ditch it and find another. One minute, he shared a label with Christian hip-hop legends The Ambassador and Da’ T.R.U.T.H. The next, he paid the bills as a part-time electrician—what bills he could.
Pockets which were practically penniless forced NF to a drive a malfunctioning, old Volvo. It overheated frequently, making him rearrange his schedule to use it when the sun was down. Other quirks included no heat (in Michigan winters) and surging five feet forward before it overheated.
“I wouldn’t even feel right selling that car to someone,” NF said. “They’d probably die.”
On an occasion his Volvo didn’t overheat, NF drove to Grand Rapids, Michigan where he’d fly out of the next day for a performance. NF used his free time to meet local producer Tommee Profitt in his studio. They had only worked together once three years prior, but that night, they recorded the song “Wake Up.”
It ultimately became part of NF’s pitch to Capitol CMG. And it’s the song that impressed O’Donnell most.
“I’d never heard anything like it,” O’Donnell said. “As great as his flow was, it was clear he had as great of a sense of melody as he was a rapper.”
NF’s signature intensity became selling point No. 2, captured in a video of him freestyling.
“I couldn’t believe his intensity,” O’Donnell said. “Some people just feel music—it literally comes out of every pore in their body. It’s not an intellectual thing. It comes straight from the heart. And that’s what I felt when I watched that video.”
After waiting and watching for over a year, O’Donnell finally knew he had found the right rapper.
He scheduled a meeting. NF signed on the dotted line. And after an overheating on another trip to Grand Rapids to record with Profitt, NF bought a new car.
On August 5, he’ll release a self-titled EP. Profitt produced all six songs, and NF wants those songs to impact listeners the same way music impacted him growing up.
The project will include a re-mixed version of “Wake Up” by Manny Marroquin, an eight-time Grammy Award-winning audio engineer. Capitol CMG and NF believe the song has a broad reach, so they utilized their resources.
As if Capitol CMG wasn’t a large enough cosign, Da’ T.R.U.T.H. and Flame will attend NF’s album release party in Houston on August 6. While Da’ T.R.U.T.H. is a former label mate, Flame featured NF on the song “Start Over” off his album Royal Flush. It was actually NF’s song before a mutual friend showed it to Flame who loved it, bought it and rewrote the verses.
Expectations for NF are high. A hurdle will be—as a white, Michiganian rapper—Eminem comparisons, which annoy NF. However, his former boss believes NF will clear them with ease.
“I expect that kid to be huge, to be quite frank,” Xist CEO Terverius Black said. “He’s rough and raw around the edges, but from a talent standpoint, I’d put him against anybody … He has it all.”
Follow NF on Twitter.