ALBUM REVIEW: NF drifts and looms on ‘CLOUDS’


As on his 2019 album, The Search, Michigan rapper NF maintains his somber and melancholic stylings on new mixtape CLOUDS, highlighted by simplistic string arrangements and classical music influences throughout.

Caroline, Mar. 26

While NF continues to prove his technical abilities as a lyricist, many of the songs ring with style over substance—such as how the rapper (Nathan Feuerstein) is drawing heavily from his contemporaries, particularly fellow Michigander Eminem.

That isn’t to say NF doesn’t offer anything fresh, interesting, thoughtful and emotionally provoking. Throughout the runtime, he taps into storytelling, self reflection and personalization. He makes a concerted effort to vary his delivery through experimental flow patterns while posturing with more maturity and sensitivity to his songs’ subject matter than Eminem.

But NF continues to struggle to break out of the mold of matching his stylings with an emphasis on staccato multisyllabic rhymes, speed and aggressive vocal delivery. Perhaps that’s nitpicking, considering how even Eminem himself pulled from Redman when finding his identity on The Slim Shady EP.

The self-titled opener evokes the uneasy and ominous thematic presence that have characterized much of NF’s recent work, as he begins his verse with an intentionally stilted—but nonetheless tactful—delivery. This choppy and somewhat awkward delivery plays on the lyrics that feel somewhat directionless. It’s as if he was struggling with writers block, only to use the subject of writers block to then inform the rest of the song. It’s bold insofar as concept goes, but it still rings a bit structurally unstable as the lyrics may come across as padding.

We also see a side of the rapper flashing a bit of arrogance on “THATS A JOKE,” where he insists that he shouldn’t be underestimated as a force in hip-hop. The contrast between this track and the later “PAID MY DUES,” on which he claps back at critics of his last album, highlights a semblance of insecurity about his perception and the sting of rejection—which he even acknowledges mid-verse.

CLOUDS really begins to pick up its steam with “STORY,” where NF guides listeners through the experience of surviving a botched gas station robbery. The intensity of the situation paired with his rapid-fire flow evoke the stylings of clipping. frontman Daveed Diggs, between the firsthand account and the detailed panicked thought process of the narrator. The emotional resonance of tracks such like “JUST LIKE YOU” and “PRIDEFUL” have NF emotionally pouring out to his listeners as he offers solidarity with people struggling with mental health issues and opens up on the emotional toll the music industry has had on him.

“LOST” features a guest appearance from Hopsin, who took a break from music deal with personal and family issues. Both artists bring their A-game, with Hopsin standing out with a sort of maturity many might not have come to expect from the divisive rapper. Fellow Midwest rapper Tech N9ne is featured on “TRUST,” which feels like a natural collaboration between the two as they deliver breakneck multis while never missing a beat.

While CLOUDS may not break new ground in the ways NF has strived for to meet critical demand, there are clear signs of growth and malleability. His strengths as a storyteller would be put to use well on a more conceptually and narratively driven outing, while his sullen stylings still solidify a unique image for himself and should lead to some morose machinations for close examination.

Follow editor Tim Hoffman at

(19) Comments

  1. Mario

    Whoever wrote this has no idea what he's speaking about. This mixtape is strait FIRE. Refreshing breath of air over the same mumble rap that gets air time. Bring back the age of the lyricist. NF+hopsin+tech 9?! Not a single bad song on the whole mixtape

  2. Rob

    Hahaha... Wait, this was a joke right?!? Guy. Are you high?!? This is the most legit fucking mixtape I have literally ever heard. This shit is historical.

  3. Kevin

    dumb review.... That mixtape is awesome .... NO WONDER it hit 1st place on itunes.... calling it simplistic , shame on you !

    1. Sean Katz

      NF brought me back to Hip Hop after almost a 15 year period where the whole genre was very uninteresting to me. The combination of his clear deliver, and poetry that stays both clean and meaningful, has kept me coming back time and time again. You compare him to Eminem. A reasonable comparison, especially when you look at his first two albums. However, I can tell you for me personally that most of my Eminem albums are sitting on my shelf gathering dust (Used to be a big fan.) While ALL my NF albums stay in the rotation. For me, he has surpassed Em in both delivery, and content. NF keeps turning up the heat on the fire he is bringing. Clouds is just the most recent example.

    2. Savannah

      Why can't they be both? They're actually hip-hop fans if they appreciate the greats instead of trash mumble rappers.

  4. Chase

    While this review is better than the one Rolling Stone wrote, it’s as if hard “critics” just can’t get behind the fact that NF is bringing back the age of the lyricists. NF makes it look cool. He has improved dramatically after every new album he’s dropped. Not only can he spit quick, but you can actually understand him. He doesn’t user filler rhymes. Everything has meaning. He has the ability to curse you out without cursing. He switches up his flows and cadences with ease. Never does he talk about drugs, money, or women. He brags about what matters: his skill. Saying that this mixtape “doesn’t break new ground” is ridiculous. It’s what the hip hop industry needs. I don’t understand why critics are afraid to say those words. I’m not praising NF simply because I’m a fan; I’m praising him because he’s changing the game and people aren’t recognizing it. He releases a song and within a few hours, it reaches millions of views. Obviously, he’s not one to be messed with. Also, your use of using Eminem’s name in this article wasn’t needed. NF is NF. The Eminem references have to stop.

  5. Archie Bryann

    I've been an NF fan for a while now. And I believe this review. NF is trying something different but he still has quite a lot of work to do for his EVOLUTION to be perfect. The writer is quite right. But either way, the album was FIRE.

  6. Pete

    Clearly, the author of this review isn’t a fan of lyrical rap... the general consensus on this mixtape is that it’s fantastic, from fans and non-fans.

  7. Tim Hoffman/Barney Venable

    Mr. Tim Hoffman and Barney Venable should invest in a thing called taste. Clearly the mixtape still has room for improvement and NF himself can grow in many areas, but to say that he overall an incredible artist is like calling Everest a small hill. Check your hearing my brothers. Or just, you know, invest in a sense of style.

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