NF – Hope

A record that acts as a statement of independence...

For a while there, it felt as though NF was lost to us. His breakout moment ‘The Search’ came four years ago, placing the rapper amongst the hottest artists on streaming. Sitting outside the norm, his punk-like defiance brought a global audience, but increased fame seems to have brought increased pressure. New album ‘HOPE’ finds NF claiming a space of his own by rejecting expectation – as a result, it’s an often thrilling return.

A record racked by self-doubt and the need to confront your expectations, the album wears its heart on its sleeve. Opening and title track ‘HOPE’ places the motto front and centre: “what’s my definition of success? / Listening to what your heart says…”

Following this, NF unveils the label baiting ‘MOTTO’, and its rejection of commercial expectations within the artistic process, before broadening the palette. ‘HAPPY’ has a pop element, the soothing piano chords recalling Coldplay’s stadium bangers. ‘PANDEMONIUM’ is as raw as they come, almost cartoonish with its over-the-top appeal. ‘SUFFICE’ is submerged and sub-aqueous, before moving into a shuddering piece of rap bravado. 

Indeed, ‘HOPE’ is often at its most entertaining when NF sits in that rap lane. ‘BULLET’ is all fast flow thrills, recalling Eminem in its incisive word-play. ‘LET EM PRAY’ lifts from the trap production book, building some arena-worthy around NF’s daring. Yet its not all muscle and studio fireworks – closer ‘RUNNING’ is little more than vocal and guitar line, a moment of sparsity and empathy that finds NF yearning “I’ve waited long enough…”

With only two features – man-of-the-moment Cordae and pop voice Julia Michaels – the focus is very much placed on NF as an artist. This is perhaps his most personal document yet, one that dares to deal with self-doubt and worthlessness in the public gaze. While some tracks hit harder than others, as a gesture of self-reliance, and a commitment to artistic independence, it’s a worthy attempt to look beyond the darkness, and embrace the light.

7/10

Words: Robin Murray

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