NF Credit: courtesy the artist

There’s a white Michigan rapper with a whiplash-inducing staccato flow who shocked the pop music world when he topped the Billboard 200 last year. No, it isn’t Eminem. The real shocker came in October, when the number one album on Billboard belonged to Nathan John Feuerstein, aka Christian rapper NF. His third album, Perception (Capitol CMG/NF Real Music), is “Christian” in the sense that it’s obscenely polite and lightly peppered with references to religious ideology. Nods to religion are par for the course in hip-hop, of course, but NF dropped jaws in the pop industry when, despite siloing himself in the world of faith-based music, where he operates a major label’s Christian imprint, he reached the peak of contemporary music. Despite its outsider origins, Perception’s manicured production, gloopily emotive vocal samples, and battle-ready raps fit snugly into what’s acceptable—and even expected—of mainstream hip-hop. NF is as much an acolyte to Eminem as he is to Jesus, though NF’s songs are largely bereft of the sense of fun Em allegedly imparted in his songs during his halcyon days. NF’s strength is in his empathy, shown in moments in songs such as “My Life,” where he delves into the pain of what it’s like to care about someone struggling with alcoholism— a quality that leaves room for every person in the story to retain a semblance of humanity.   v