NF is back with a new album. Find out why Elio Elia calls it “underwhelming, unremarkable and unrefined” in his review of NF’s album Hope.
On the back of two consecutive Billboard 200 #1 albums, Michigan rapper N.F.’s fifth studio album, Hope, offers a muted variety of what his fans have come to know and love, but what general audiences will continue to express indifference towards.
The album begins with the title track, drawing listeners in with a sparse, almost spoken-word introduction. Soon enough, the string instrumentation swells, and a far louder, brasher, and sonic production barges into the song. This stylistic element will be very familiar to avid listeners of N.F.’s output, as will the direct lyricism employed in the song, championing belief in oneself. “It’s time to give the people something different,” he proclaims, but the remaining songs on the album fail to live up to this promise of novelty.
The song that follows, “Motto”, is a stark criticism on the music industry at large. N.F. champions authentic individualism over industry homogeneity, refusing to bow to label demands to submit a “record full of radio songs”. However, such radio-friendly offerings are present throughout the entire album with songs like “Careful” and “Suffice” which quickly evokes tones of “No Limit” by G-Eazy without the effortless charisma that carried the track, deploying contemporary rap production. There are even songs that lean towards pop music, such as “Gone” and “Mistake”. The former offers a few sonic surprises, with the welcome addition of a female voice to the album. However, both songs are largely forgettable, with neither offering anything notable or unique narratively.
A powerful exception is “Mama” a heartfelt tribute to the rapper’s deceased mother. The song combines potent piano chords, an emotive vocal loop, and a calmer vocal delivery to provide a very moving experience. The frequent refrain of “I gotta know Mama” is incredibly relatable, with the rapper reaching out beyond the confines of mortality, desperate to know if his mother has found peace. It’s the type of piece that is extremely welcome in post-COVID times; a piece that is bound to provide comfort to a hoard of listeners.
For a rapper whose last album was released before the pandemic, the record contains extensive ruminations, self-criticisms, and introspections. However, such elements are not rare in N.F.’s previous work as he is never one to shy away from darker, heavier topics. What is more surprising, though, is that for an introspective rapper who had his first born child between his last release and now, there is very little on the album that covers the experience of fatherhood. An exception is “Bullet”, a song that combines a modern sonic palette with N.F.’s classic flow and cadence to provide a love letter to his wife. It is one of the brief moments on the album where the rapper feels more like a person, a human being, as opposed to a smorgasbord of extreme emotions.
Such extremities are present in songs like “Happy”, one of the stronger productions on the album, incorporating more subtlety to convey its message. Lyrically, the song sees the rapper lamenting baggage, trauma, issues, and not for the first or last time, without necessarily making the story his own. It’s quickly offset by the track that follows, “Pandemonium”, where a brasher production makes a return behind self-aggrandizing lyrics that feel more repetitive as the song labors on. Such braggadocio is also prominent in “Let Em Pray” and “Turn My Back”.
The latter is the album’s strongest offering of considerate wordplay, internal rhyme, and other sound devices. In addition to a playful diss on Drake, which lands as randomly as one would imagine, the song contains praise for Kanye West. For an artist making a living in a genre that is so deeply rooted in the African American experience, the praise for West, whose thoughtless recklessness, such as wearing an “All Lives Matter” T-shirt, has inflicted damage on both African Americans and other marginalized groups, reads as sorely inappropriate, which feels self-defeating to the overall point of the song.
The final song on the album is “Running”, a slower, acoustic guitar-heavy track that sees the rapper determined to stop running to face his demons and finally let go. Along with lyrics that feel like a first-draft, the pop-production is sparse, and at numerous points it feels like the song is going to explode into something, but it doesn’t. It’s a slightly underwhelming end to a slightly underwhelming album. Overall, there is a fair amount to commend about the record, and loyal fans of N.F. will certainly derive immense joy, thrill, and comfort in many of the offerings. However, for others, the album can at times feel half-baked, unrefined, repetitive, self-conflicting, and, most of all, unremarkable.
By Elio Elia
SINGLE REVIEW – DRAKE GOES BACK TO HIS EMO ROOTS ON SEARCH & RESCUE