Reviewed by Andrew Midgley
NF's 'Perception' continues 'Therapy Session''s tropes: ominous bells sound, emotional frenzy is indicated by movements from low to high pitch, and Nate Feuerstein occasionally yelps like a Jack Russell with catarrh. But 'Perception' is better - it is more measured without compromising Feuerstein's characteristic intensity; it is more compelling yet with wider focus; it is less navel-gazing and more, well, perceptive: "I'm not a rap god", NF spits on "Outro" - a disavowal of idolatry that is both knowing and humble. Yet by secular standards he may be wrong. 'Perception' is driven by a new confidence, riding in on the wonderful "Intro III", a conversation between Feuerstein and his fears that culminates in his rejection of them: "I thought you had me in prison this whole time/but I'm the one holding the keys." Perhaps this maturing away from self-pity derives from the greater confidence generated by his previous album's success; perhaps NF has grown as an artist, or perhaps as a Christian. Whatever the cause, the effect is that 'Perception' adeptly mixes styles and themes in a way that 'Therapy Session' struggled to. Ruelle's guest slot on the cantering "10 Feet Down" features a great use of AutoTune, while single "Green Light"'s bouncing bass brings NF out of the last decade - a much-needed development - with aplomb. We even get Feuerstein singing - and rather well - on the standout, down-tempo "If You Want Love". "If you want love, you gon' have to go through the pain," he sings. "If you want love, you gon' have to learn how to change/If you want trust, you gon' have to give some away." Remarkably, this injunction to transform (if not be transformed) does not come across as sermonising, perhaps because it feels primarily self-referential. Indeed, NF prefers to walk the walk than talk the talk ethically - there is no swearing or heavy drinking on 'Perception' ("What's the point in having conversation with somebody that won't remember we had conversations?", he asks on "My Life"); and no fixations with sex, violence or money. If Feuerstein debases himself on the bitter "Lie" ("only person that you ever cared about was you/that's why it's so funny", he kisses-off to an ex), there remains a consistent acknowledgement over the record that his life - Christian life - constantly requires willingness to change. Spiritually, therefore, 'Perception' is an edifying listen. Musically, too, it is more than worthwhile. Lyric sheets running to several pages testify that Feuerstein really enjoys his rap-craft, and the new variety to proceedings demonstrates a judicious approach to collaboration. If his Slim Shady act showed promise before, 'Perception' shows that the real NF has now stood up.
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