As has often been the case in recent years, mental health plays an important role in the life of modern recording artists. Talking about this topic has become a hallmark of this era’s music, opening all kinds of audiences to the realities of anxiety, depression, self-doubt, suicidal tendencies or considerations, and several other mental health issues. With his July 26 album release, NF has once again opened the door for listeners to take a view into his mental health status following the success he found in 2017’s Perception and the singles that followed. Reflecting on both the days before this overflow of popularity and his most recent accomplishments, NF uses his newfound platform to state a very clear message, even with the entire world at your fingertips, long-lasting joy cannot be found in fortune. With The Search, NF clarifies that this joy can only be found in faith, honesty, and love.
The Search – “Yeah, the sales can rise/Doesn’t mean much when your health declines”
Given that we have already done a breakdown of this song when it was released as a single, there is little need for excruciating detail. Nonetheless, what one must know is that NF had felt confined by the issues of his past, as represented by the imagery of the cage featured on the cover of Perception. Being released from this cage would make one think that NF would feel a sense of freedom, but in truth, the artist continued to feel some of his past burdens with the addition of the pressures of a larger audience.
Leave Me Alone – “I went from nobody to kinda famous/Hide my plaques inside the closet, I just can’t explain it”
This track serves as both a follow-up to “NO NAME,” a 2018 single NF references here and a response to the fame he acquired with the release of Perception. While “NO NAME” seemed to indicate that NF rejected fame entirely, the artist states, “He [fame] asked me how I’d been, I sent him this song… Yeah, think he took offense, he seemed kinda off,” going on to indicate that fame told him the track “sucks.” NF personifies fame as resentful of his hesitation toward the concept and his openness toward mental health, preferring that the artist would make easily digestible hit records. While NF is certainly capable of making music with wide mainstream appeal, he also seeks to push the envelope, innovating in his new environment.
Change – “Yeah I don’t like new things/Got a lot of mood swings”
“Change” covers the idea of NF’s resistance towards and need for this concept. The artist knows that he requires a shift in his behaviors, citing his previous considerations of suicide and desire to seek God in this new period of life as a means of transformation. Transitions will always be uncomfortable, but to truly grow as both an artist and individual, NF is in desperate need of change.
Nate – “At 27, we’ll make millions, but it’s really sad ‘cause/You learn to realize that none of this will make you happy”
On “Nate,” NF attempts to reach back in time to his younger self, although he is uncertain as to whether or not his message will ever be received. Addressing Nate Feuerstein, NF details all the successes that he has had over the past few years recounting milestone projects like Mansion, Therapy Session, and of course, Perception. Each of these albums represented pinnacles of success the artist was reaching, but the pursuit of achievement never really ends, leaving NF broken down by this rat race.
Time – “Lots of regrets, I apologize for all of the stress/That’s not what I meant to do, you know I love you to death”
“Time” is perhaps NF’s most personal track yet as he delves into the struggles he has had within the context of his marriage. While NF has not been married very long, the stressors that come with serious relationships have not eluded the rapper. NF finds similarities in his attitude and his wife’s, often creating tension when their mutual stubbornness conflicts. NF is committed to maintaining an unconditional, unselfish love with his wife, and only asks for time to grow.
Only – “Yeah does anybody feel like me?/Show of hands, I don’t need a lot, I just wanna find my peace”
With “Only,” NF addresses the desire for community that has welled inside him as a result of his loneliness. As made evident in the earlier tracks of this album, fame has only led to more emotional turmoil, causing additional doubts to well up regarding the artist’s talent, longevity, and faith relationship. NF loves that he can rap for a living, but also recognizes that the eternal pursuit of success will never satisfy anyone, including himself.
Let Me Go – “Shatter my perception, hate it when I’m desperate/You just want perfection, I want you to let me/Let me go…”
“Let Me Go” deals with the expectations of others that NF deals with because of his rise to success. Whereas before NF existed in a Christian hip-hop bubble, breaking into larger mainstream success created added pressure to continue releasing smash hit records without giving up his integrity. With Christian hip-hop fans demanding a more clear focus on Jesus, and mainstream hip-hop fans just wanting “bops,” the mental tug of war that NF experiences daily is excruciating. “Let Me Go” represents the artist’s plea for each of these groups and fame itself to release him from their pressures.
Hate Myself – “When I feel like you don’t need me/Then I feel like you don’t see me/And my life has no meaning…”
“Hate Myself” is a letter from NF to listeners as he admits that while he would like to maintain relatability, being an aid to his audience, he is unable to because of his self-hatred. NF constantly questions his purpose and the truth of whether or not he is living up to said purpose, leaving him haunted by suicidal considerations in his darkest moments. Even when others try to comfort and show love to the artist, he elects to “…just pass it up.”
Trauma – “Standalone my soul is jealous/It wants love but I reject it/Trade my joy for my protection”
“Trauma” appears to be a plea for aid from a being that NF desires relationship from, although the entity in question is unclear. Whether it be God Himself, his wife, a close friend, or a parent, or another being entirely, it is clear that NF’s loneliness has left him feeling abandoned by the subject of this track. As NF states somberly, “Why haven’t you found me yet?/I hold you so proudly/Traumas, they surround me/I wish you’d just love me back.” NF’s loneliness has come as a side effect of his new sense of freedom, and as of the closing of The Search, it remains unclear if NF has found the hope he was looking for.
The Search is one of, if not NF’s most vulnerable projects yet. Of course, it has a selection of tracks that cater to the more traditional hip-hop fan, but in terms of lyrical content, openness, and production, the artist has only elevated his game. After Perception allowed NF to break into the mainstream, it would have been easy to release tracks that are simply clones of his past hits, instead, NF has chosen to continue to innovate and tackle themes represented by the collection of songs analyzed above. NF’s search for hope may have just begun, but it is one that his most loyal fans will gladly follow him through.