“Clouds The Mixtape” comes two years after NF’s fourth album, “The Search,” which shined a spotlight of potential on the 30-year-old Michigan native. However, it’s clear rap’s mental-health hero should have stayed searching because the mixtape sounds lost in monotony.
The first track, “Clouds,” opens with the sound of ominous strumming and snappy lyricism. Yet it feels like NF warned us heading in not to expect too much by rapping, “Calmly, feel myself evolving / Appalling, so much I’m not divulging / Been stalling, I think I hear applauding / They’re calling, mixtapes aren’t my thing, but it’s been awfully exhausting.” Through this delivery, vocally reminiscent of Twenty One Pilots’ Tyler Joseph only with far less originality and energy, it’s easy to see what NF means when he says mixtapes aren’t his thing.
Although NF claims he’s evolving, tracks like “That’s a Joke,” “Just Like You,” “Lost” and “Paid my Dues” would disagree, as all of them sound too similar to display any growth or originality, much less artistic evolution. The same strumming in “Clouds” is overbearingly present in all of these songs. It casts too thick of a sonic cloud for listeners to be able to distinguish between these tracks despite occasional moments where it seems NF is ready to start raining down with profound lyrics. For example, in “Just Like You,” NF extends the olive branch to people suffering with depression or a mental health crisis, a topic few rappers touch upon though they should. Yet despite some enlightening lyricism from NF on this track, listeners are bound to feel bored three songs in because they’ll feel like they’ve already heard it with the previous two tracks. This is especially disappointing because listeners will likely skip the track looking for something that sounds fresh, even though NF’s well-intentioned and sharp lyricism couldn’t have been fresher.
Listeners find a better sound on the track “Prideful,” where it seems like NF actually bothered to make a new beat. The song is among the album’s brightest moments, as NF shines with introspective lyrics like, “Even unhappy people can have happy moments / Even small circles fall when the people you chose are / Lookin’ at you like you owe ’em that money you’re grossin’ / Brief seconds that impacted my life, on a huge scale / Weigh ’em like what’s wrong and what’s right.” These lyrics, coupled with a sobering piano and snappy beat, show what this mixtape could have been: an introspective album maintaining NF’s Christian values, where he uses his platform to spread a message on mental-health. It also should have shown more originality in the beat production. The fact the album has to rely on the same ominous strumming for three tracks in a row shows it’s lack of creativity. Despite the often impassioned vocal deliveries on many tracks regarding the hot topic of mental health, NF coldly stays in his comfort zone, and it makes it seem as if he doesn’t know where to go musically. As a result, listeners won’t have much of a reason to follow the uninspiring, drabby and monotonous songs on this mixtape.
Out of the 12 tuneless tracks on the mixtape, only one is a true masterpiece where NF’s cloudy mixtape reigns brilliantly. “Story” truly cements NF as a force to be reckoned with as he tells a story about a violent robbery in a convenience store. NF masterfully blends his signature somber tone with the suspense, rising action and climax necessary to telling an incredible story. However, NF doesn’t just tell a good story. He shocks listeners by putting them in the shoes of an innocent bystander trying to stop a robbery, making their hearts race as he delivers lines like, “Peak around the edge then I start running at him / He don’t see me coming does he steppin’ / Closer grab his neck and hold ’em / Squeezing on his throat / I’m tryin’ to / choke em then his elbow hits my nose an’ / Think he broke it / I think he broke it my / Blood is leaking all over my clothes I tried / Not to let go / But my hands begin to slip and bullets start to fly.”
“Clouds The Mixtape” is largely a mosaic of monotony where NF provided little room for his lyricism to shine, despite his clear ability to paint immersive pictures with his words. There are scarcely some clouds of originality on this otherwise dry release, but ultimately no rain.