Within a single year, Christian rap artist NF has made quite a name for himself. Aside from a few underexposed EPs and independent releases, 2015's Mansion was the world's first real exposure to the 23-year-old Michigan rapper. Last year's release introduced a surprisingly forceful (at least within the Christian subgenre) form of rap, with fast-paced rhythms, aggressive lyrics and emotional ballads. Often compared to Eminem, NF isn't unfamiliar with controversy, and his latest project, Therapy Session, isn't likely to shift that reputation.
The album opens up with "Intro 2," a continuation of "Intro" off of Mansion. While nearly a carbon copy, it doesn't quite pack quite the punch of its predecessor. Within the opening lines of the album, NF identifies the stigma of the sophomore slump, stating "I'm back, did anyone miss me? / They said the second record can be tricky / well that's kind of funny cause I am not tripping." The title track ("Therapy Session") shows up immediately after the introduction, and it certainly packs a punch. The lyrics are incredibly honest and carry with them a weight of sophistication previously unseen by the rapper: "I know I handle some things immaturely / I know that I need to grow in maturity / I ain't gon' walk on these stages in front of these people / and act like I live my life perfectly / that doesn't work for me / 'Christian' is not the definition of a perfect me." He closes the track with an extended monologue, thus kicking off his therapy session: "I write about life, I write about things that I'm actually dealing with; something that I'm actually experiencing, this is real for me. I need this, this is a therapy for me."
The album's third track and first single is the sentimental "I Just Wanna Know." The piece explores the relational rifts which can occur between people and the subsequent pain of working through them. The hook is quite catchy, and while the verses show NF demonstrating a healthy dose of control, he's not holding back. "How Could You Leave Us" is one of the most emotional tracks on the album, even apart from the sobbing in the background and tearful extro. Here, we see him dealing with the loss of his mother, "Our last conversation, you were sat in the living room / talking 'bout my music and I brought you something to listen to / you started crying, telling me this isn't you / couple weeks later, guess you were singing a different tune / you took them pills for the last time, didn't you? / they took you from us once, guess they came back to finish you."
"Oh Lord" is one of Therapy Session's best tracks, with the song's structure continually adapting throughout. NF opens in a slower, more rhythmic fashion akin to Paul Wright, before heavily dropping in on the third verse, questioning our collective view of God, "It's easy to blame God but harder to fix things … you see, the same God that you're saying might not even exist becomes real to us but only when we're dying in bed." Songs such as "Grindin'" and "All I Do" exhibit some of NF's growth as an artist, especially on the latter, where he competently dabbles with trap elements.
The album's real gem comes in the form of its closing song, "Lost in the Moment," featuring CCM soul artist Jonathan Thulin. Stylistically, this track is quite similar to some of NF's material off of Mansion, but feels far better developed. Thulin's hook is incredibly simple, yet pairs perfectly with NF's flow. The lyrics are profound and heavy-hitting, showcasing some of NF's strongest elements. The album closes with one of Thulin's signature vocal runs and the fading lines, "this may be the last song that I'll sing / so I'll take it in / this may be the last day that I'll breathe / so I'll breathe it in, I'll breathe it in."
After last year's bout with various Christian media review groups, NF has definitely gone on the defensive. Within Therapy Session's lyrics, he addresses prior album reviews and seems to feel the need to excessively explain himself to his critics. While this isn't particularly grating, it does feel a bit cumbersome when his lyrics could already be considered quite self-centric. Within the theme of this album, though, it makes sense that he talks a lot about his own life and experiences. Part of Therapy Session's appeal is its attitude of inward reflection while working through past hurts and personal struggles.
Ultimately, Therapy Session is an excellent album and borderline concept project, but it doesn't feel "finished." Some of the tracks seem a bit out of place, and while I don't think I've ever complained about an album being too long, Therapy Session pushes that limit at 14 tracks totalling almost an hour. The album's digestibility would be greatly improved if a couple of tracks were taken off of the roster. While nothing here is bad, subtracting a few pieces could have added more emphasis to others.
In no way is NF lacking in talent or creativity, but he could afford to exercise a tad more patience. This album doesn't seem quite ready for release, evidenced by the short, one-year gap between Mansion and Therapy Session. Regardless, NF has blown past the sophomore slump, creating a project well-worth listening to.- Review date: 5/4/16, David Craft
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