Review Rating: Catch It On The Radio [4.4 / 5]
He describes a cage with an unlocked door and the keys in his hand - but why is he still in there? NF took listeners through his house of thoughts in Mansion and stepped aside for a Therapy Session, yet from the get-go, his latest work has teased a different NF - or is that a faulty perception? The battles he fought across two chart-topping albums arise again, fought with an astonishing new ferocity, darker sounds, and an unsparing honesty. From "Intro" to "Outro," Perception is a worthy next chapter in NF's story.
"Outcast" is a fight embedded within a fiercely cold and intense track, pulling from the album's themes of imprisonment and what is seen on the surface. The song has a massive sound that creates a sense of tension, anticipation for something unexpected yet suspiciously familiar. In his lyrics, NF paints the picture of a prison and a conversation with himself - what good is it to conform to someone else's perception, to pretend to be a "new NF" when there's still healing left undone? "They laugh and they tell me I'll never get out, I'm just trying to be me - I ain't nobody else," NF fires, expressing his frustration with the world's expectations. "I don't care what you think, I'm just being myself, so I guess for now, I'll just be the outcast!" In the end, there is no way to expect one therapy session to make everything better - here, NF gives us a glimpse, not at the battle, but the war in his mind.
"Let You Down" is a more melancholy song that quickly becomes personal. Sharp vocals, drums, and piano notes combine to back NF's fast-paced verses, only to mellow out across the chorus and give listeners a chance to process it all. The lyrics explain the frustration of dealing with a friend hell-bent on forcing their ideal future on others. In their eyes, anything else is a disappointment. Since his path as a writer and rapper contrasts with his friend's vision, NF vents with an emotional and forceful "I'm sorry that I let you down!" The story has a specific path, but the themes are relatable and general, making this track as personal and relatable as possible.
For the first time across his albums, "Outro" gives NF a chance to wrap up the record and tie everything together. The strings and percussion from previous "Intro" tracks tie together the discography and hint at other tracks in NF's musical journey. Here, he lays it all out - the point of his mission and the takeaway from his battles. NF struggles with the demands of those around him, only to realize a need for a perspective change. "But then I figured out the reason they follow me … this is for the kids who feel like they're at the bottom," NF proclaims, "… that's why the passion is different, I don't care if they get it!" Though perception demands artificial smiles, NF lays out the reality - that life is not all sunshine and authenticity is more important than living a lie.
As fantastic as the album is, this reviewer feels a gaping hole in the track list. There are various staples across NF's work - songs about coping with the past, dealing with loss, struggling with relationships, defending the cause, and wrestling with understanding God's work. Perception feels unbalanced, with a lot of tracks regarding relationships and coping with disappointment yet a lack of songs that bring it back to NF's faith. Therapy Session's "Oh Lord" beautifully tackled the hypocrisy of people who demand from a God they do not even believe in and Mansion's "Wake Up" was a fantastic wake-up call for apathetic believers, yet Perception never tackles these subjects. Granted, NF writes unconventionally and puts focus on writing what he is feeling or thinking in the process, but this reviewer hopes this absence is not the start of a trend and nothing more than a perception of its own.
There's far too much in Perception for any review to adequately describe the record - at the least, it's a worthy addition to the NF anthology and seamlessly integrates with, if not further develops, Mansion and Therapy Session. Technically, NF is the best in the game; thematically, NF's brutal honesty and transparency give his songs added meaning and impact. Though there is a discouraging footnote to the album as a whole, each track boldly attacks issues and struggles relevant to all listeners. At the end, Perception is the story of a man trying to make sense of who he is and where he needs to be - ready to unlock the door and leave the perceived prison.