After releasing an in-depth exposure of his heaviest burdens in a heartfelt hip-hop spectacle, NF retreated to prepare for his next move. Even though the world is not ready for the following chapter, we recently got a full mixtape to hold on to until the new album era begins.
Clouds The Mixtape is a collection of songs not bound by any concept or grand idea. It is a pure representation of two of NF’s most recognizable sides as an artist – his deep, thought-provoking self-reflection and his badass demand for recognition backed up by an indisputable display of skills.
NF always stood out with his unfiltered honesty and transparent exposure of emotionally overwhelming topics. He built his whole artistic persona upon the deep-dives of the mind, mental health struggles, self-doubt, anxiety, and personal challenges.
Old but gold
His fourth album, The Search was yet another exploration of the most pressing concerns of the artist. NF presented a range of well-known human troubles shaped by his personal experiences, delivered by his unique storytelling and wordplay.
The artist’s discography shows a consistent evolution of the explored themes as well as an improvement of lyrical substance, wordplay, and delivery. Since Moments (2010), the rapper walked a rocky road of improvement both in a personal and professional manner. I dare say The Search was the culmination of his journey so far – a refined exposure of the darkest themes most people run away from presented in an accessible, thought-provoking, empowering way.
Listening to the latest full-length, we can see the pique of the detailed self-exploration NF is known for. But we can also tell, this is not the end of the road – the lyrics, themes, clever visual hints, and the whole concept of The Search indicate there is more to explore. The journey of overcoming fears and reaching the desired change just started. We are sure to see the next stage sooner or later.
NF is not an artist to rush things. The artist is known for his dedication to the craft, his hard-work, and perfectionism he often points out in his lyrics.
Broken legs, but I chase perfectionFrom Mansion
These walls are my blank expression
We did not see much activity from him after The Search release and promotion, which could only mean one thing – he was hard at work. While the new album might or might not be entirely ready, NF pointed out he has no intention of releasing it until he can tour it – a fundamental element for his expression.
I didn’t want to release a full-length if I couldn’t tour it, because it’s a huge part of my records. I like to build shows with stuff from the covers, stuff from the videos — I like making it all one thing.NF in an interview with Zane Lowe
That does not mean new music is not available for fans. NF released a touching demo – Chasing in October 2020. It started building a hype that had to continue.
Clouds The Mixtape is a collection of songs that could not find a place in a record or EP. The mixtape unties the angry side of the rapper who continues to suffer unjustified negativity (I still cannot force myself to see the point of the groundless accusations that he is steadily going down since Mansion) with the well-known vulnerable, transparent, human side of the artist.
The purpose of the mixtape is to give a home to those unreleased tracks and build up hype for the upcoming album – something it does not fail to achieve. While there is no grand concept or a timeline of explored themes flowing from each other (like it usually is with NF), the mixtape is incredibly satisfying and effective.
The mixtape appropriately opens with the title track. Clouds has the well-recognized features of an NF song. We have the suspense-infused build-up leading to an explosive hyper-energetic drop in the core. There is a vile aggressive note in the whole track fitting to the lyrical content, featuring NF recount success and highlight that he will never fit the “cliché rapper mould”.
I don’t tend to take the easy road
That’s just not the way I like to roll
What you think’s probably unfeasible
I’ve done already a hundredfold
Fast-paced verses fuse with refined wordplay and hidden references to clearly state NF has no intention of backing down and has what it takes to destroy negative comments coming his way.
His dedication stands out with peppery remarks towards mainstream rap lacking substance. He also introduces the purpose of the mixtape to set the expectations for the rest of the tracklist straight.
Mixtapes aren’t my thing, but it’s been awfully exhausting
Hanging onto songs this long is daunting (Yeah)
Which caused me to have to make a call I thought was ballsy
Resulting in what you see today, proceed indulging
The second track seems like a subtle continuation of Clouds. It shows NF release his anger and demand the respect he deserves for his undeniable skill.
The way I connect letters
You’d think that the alphabet was made by me
When it comes to storytellin’, I’m great at it
The starting tracks indicate that Clouds will not lack the confident, badass side of NF. Layers is another song expressing the artist’s dedication towards music and his craft, highlighting his hard work and outstanding motivation.
It ties in with Clouds (the song) in terms of being a direct comeback at negative reviews and criticism of The Search. NF’s determination to not go down shines bright and contributes to building up the hype for the next album.
Only thing I’m cool with losing is losing sleep
And it’s only cool with me
If it means I get to watch my dreams
It is worth pointing out the beat switch at verse two completely changing the vibe of the song. Layers also gets deeper and unveils more interpretations with each line, showing the many layers of the artist.
Angry, powerful, badass
Paid My Dues has a similar vibe. It starts with a slow intro leading to a rapid-fire tempo switch, hitting listeners with pure anger and agitation. It deals with the harsh criticism the artist tends to receive and goes on to explain the true nature and meaning of his craft.
To pick up the bars, you gotta be smart
You really gotta dig in your heart
If you wanna get to the root of an issue
Pursuin’ the mental can be dark and be difficult
But the pay off at the end of it can help you to get through it, ayy
The third track on the mixtape switches the aggressive claim of ground from the first two songs with a personal, delicate vibe. It is another side of NF that often takes the spotlight in his music.
The soft piano instrumental and subtle addition of strings highlights the gentle, intimate nature of the track. Self-doubt, anxiety, and self-inflicted pressure overflow from Just Like You with the important emphasis on the fact that no one is alone in those struggles.
I want you to know when you’re alone and you feel afraid
You’re not the only person in the world that isn’t okay
There’s millions of us just like you, like you, like you
Fear of change and the fact that many people identify themselves with their flaws, anxiety, and mistakes also get the necessary attention to expose another common phenomenon in modern days. The vicious circle of self-hate and doubt is well-explained, but the bright takeaway from the track is that those issues are common, and there is a lot of support and help available.
The powerful message leaves listeners with a feeling of hope and empowerment, urging them to take action and change for the better.
Take a walk with me, take a risk with me
I’m scared too and it gets so tempting
When you’re so empty, to disown everything
You hold dearly when you know clearly
You been so buried in your own fairytale
The precision and the cinematic effect the song has is impressive
Story is a touching narrative with excruciating detail painting a hyper-realistic picture of the events that NF raps about. Even though there is an illustrative video supporting the song, there is no need to see it to fully witness the action unveiling in front of your eyes – NF’s storytelling hits the next level with this one.
Prideful is a real-life story of betrayal and deception caused by pride, greed, and selfishness. It is unclear who the song is about or when exactly it was written, but everything else is painfully understandable.
The emotional track features elements of demanding respect in the typical NF manner, highlighting his efforts, dedication, and persistence while also calling out people for their impure motives and actions.
How’d you go from bein’ that somebody I believed
Into bein’ someone doubtin’ me behind the scenes?
Can’t forgive a sorry that I ain’t ever received
The mixtape includes two long-anticipated collaborations. The first one is Lost, featuring Hopsin – an artist whose style matches the aesthetic and flow of NF almost to perfection.
Both rappers are high-class storytellers with hauntingly introspective tracks and badass remarks towards low-tier modern rap or pretentious critics.
Lost is a song showing both artists get into a deep self-analysis of the flaws, concerns, and fears occupying their minds. While being lost, NF and Hopsin look for ways to overcome the explored troubles and become better versions of themselves.
They also encourage listeners to find the confidence and motivation to overcome their own struggles adding an empowering note to the piece.
Failing’s how you grow and learn your lessons, kids
Take the worst and try to make the best of it
‘Cause when you fail, just know that it’s a test and if
You can learn to pick yourself back up again
And train your brain to not be such a pessimist
Typically for the icons of substantial hip-hop, the artists switch between confidence and vulnerability to show both sides of their identities. Hopsin further elaborates on the threat visible in Lost in his latest single Alone With Me.
The second collaboration on the record is with TechN9ne. Trust features the distinctive rapid-fire speed of delivery seen in TechN9ne’s work combined with the introspection of NF.
The track is similar to Lost in terms of themes. It once again unveils the irresistible switch between personal reflection and confidence from both artists.
Drifting is another track having NF deep-dive into his mind, tackling self-hate and doubt. The song gives off a vibe of being a follow-up to Hate Myself (The Search) as it has a similar thematic and instrumental build-up.
NF struggles with common mind troubles again and unveils an exhaustive depiction of his mindset with his masterful wordplay and a note of empowering remarks.
Intensified by living a life deprived
I’d rather be burned alive
Than go back to thinkin’ I’m insignificant (Insignificant)
But that’s what gives me the energy lacked
To renovate, have to innovate, past intimidates
Can’t remain afraid
NF is not an artist whose track you can hear once and call it a day. His music has fascinating depth that needs tones of replays to bring out its true meaning and potential.
Clouds The Mixtape serves as an “easy-going” release in the sense that it does not have the usual elaborated concept unveiling piece by piece with each track. Nevertheless, the quality of music is fully preserved – each song has its role in NF’s story and features relevant remarks in the witty lyrics.
It establishes the hype for the next full-length and gives listeners something to extensively replay, until the next track drops and blows us always.
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