NF’s “Mansion”, Suffering, and Effective Evangelization
Rap music is one of the most authentic and effective mediums a person can use to convey passion, emotion, and truth. As the rap beat moves a person’s body, while the rhyme and rhythm of the spoken word barrages the ears, rap music can be an effective way of conveying a message, good or bad.
Nate Feuerstein, a Michigan based rapper known as “NF”, understands the true nature of rap music, as he uses rap not just to drop a phat beat, but as a medium to drop lyrical passion and truth. In recent years, the national rap scene has been a relative desert for true artists like NF who want to convey a message other than “seducin’ women, doin’ drugs, and gettin' money.” It is apparent that Feuerstein wants to make an undeniable - and much needed - impact on the current rap culture.
NF’s debut album, Mansion, is proof that a rap album can be a truly profound piece of non-profane art, as Feuerstein dives into the deepest parts of his soul. This album is reminiscent of the style of Eminem, as NF unapologetically raps, weaving a story with lyrical precision, raw energy, and passion. The entire album is a masterpiece and will get “good cred" in the rap scene. This rapper is certainly my new favorite artist.
Mansion is a great album because NF lets the beauty of his music speak the real and even hard truths of living a Christian life. He does not just use his music as a cheap medium for evangelization. Feuerstein, while undeniably proclaiming his Christianity, does not literally say the name of Jesus in every song. However, he explains, through the whole album, how the influence of Christ can be found in every part of his life - even the darkest parts. The biography on his website explains that, “His music draws from many real life struggles, including being abused as a kid, struggling with anger issues, and losing his mother to a drug overdose.”
Oftentimes, people who struggle with these dark realities suppress them. NF, instead, has done what few ever do. He has entered into his own suffering so that he can bring a message of hope and strength to others. He does not let his suffering consume him as he brings his struggles out into the light. It is clear that NF wants people to wake from their caves of suffering. In the refrain of “Wake Up” he sings,
You spend your life in a dream that you can't escape
Cause you live your life in a coma, you're never awake
If you'd open your eyes then maybe you'd see what's at stake
You're sleeping, you're sleeping
The reality is that the Christian life, for many people, is filled with holiness, glory, and joy. However, there are so many young people today who are totally detached from the Christian life. This detachment comes, partly, from being surrounded by immense pain and suffering, whether it be from physical and sexual abuse, drug abuse, divorce, bullying, or tragic loss of a loved one. Thus, the good and holy practice of a Christian life could seem like an ocean of decisions away. When kids are dealing with so much sin and suffering, they can feel that they are helpless and have nowhere to turn.
The other reality today is that kids who are struggling with immense suffering tend to listen to music that tells them redemption is found in women, money, drugs, and personal glory. These sources of false, worldly redemption, however, will only lead them deeper into their caves of suffering and away from the true joy of the Christ. In “Paralyzed”, NF reflects on the crippling nature of sin that surrounds a person who looks for this kind of redemption in the world.
The philosophical and theological problem of suffering and evil has been one discussed by intellectuals for ages. Here, I think it is important to understand that God does not make or want people to suffer. God only desires us to be in paradise with Him. However, because of our rejection of God (sin), He has allowed suffering to exist in the world. It is through enduring suffering that we can ultimately choose to love God. In other words, if everything were perfect - as we would be in complete union with God - there would be no merit in loving God. Sin and suffering allow us to truly love God.
The self-titled track of the album, “Mansion”, is NF’s manifesto. In this song he references all of the times of his major hurt and suffering, while comparing his life to living in a mansion. In this mansion, NF locks himself in with all his suffering, anger, and sin, writing his rage-filled thoughts all over the walls. However, throughout the song he asks himself, “Will I ever clean the walls off inside?” He admits that something needs to change and realizes that it is not God who locks the doors of his mansion, but it is NF who locks himself inside. At the same time, he knows that the only way of being redeemed from this mansion is by choosing to open the doors, letting fear and suffering out, and calling in God.
In “All I Have”, Feuerstein proclaims one of the most fundamental truths of life people need to hear, “I am a Christian, but I’m not perfect.” Young people need to hear that the Christian life is not perfect, but it is possible. They need a foundation in a genuine source of joy and hope. NF believes that this source is the person of Jesus Christ. And Christ works through all kinds music to reach all kinds of people. Music is a medium that can reach all people in some way.
Currently, we are engaged in the “New Evangelization” of the Church, which is undoubtedly an essential aspect of living the faith today. However, we cannot use this re-evangelization of our own people as an excuse to forget about those not being evangelized in the first place. Largely, these are people who are not making it to any church on Sunday and who are lost in their caves of suffering. With authentic evangelization, we need to reach those people who are not hearing the Good News of Christ at all and really are the ones who need it the most.
The most authentic way of evangelization is, first, by living your life in the world authentically, and then by bringing your encounter with Christ to the world. Those who are not Christian will find your witness authentic, as it comes not from the denial of who you are and what you have gone through, but as you have brought Christ into those parts of your life.
As a credible, up-and-coming rapper on the national scene, NF is certainly opening up the avenues of grace and dialogue. True evangelization is not easy, but it is ultimately life giving. NF, with his debut album, understands what good evangelization, at times, takes: heart, soul, guts, suffering, and straight-up, unapologetic authenticity.