In what may be a surprise to many music fans, the new album by the beloved hip-hop artist Chance the Rapper, “The New Day,” was edged out of the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s albums chart this week. What’s likely an even bigger surprise is who beat him out.
Meet NF, a rapper with a much lower profile than Chance’s, with a devoted fan base that propelled his release "The Search" to the top of the charts. Mainstream hip-hop fans might not understand how NF’s “The Search,” which had no significant media push around it, topped “The Big Day,” an album that saw Chance partnering with Lyft and giving major interviews in support of the release.
But NF is no stranger to the top of the charts, and while Chance’s first-week success for “The Big Day” was largely driven by streaming, NF’s fans flocked to the iTunes store to buy the album, with traditional sales driving his big numbers for “The Search.”
So who is NF?
The 28-year-old rapper was born Nathan Feuerstein in Gladwin, Michigan. He released his debut album “Moments” in 2010 as an independent artist. NF signed to Capitol Christian Music Group in 2014, raising an important question about whether he positions himself as a Christian rapper or identifies as one. Perhaps in an effort not to be pigeonholed, NF distanced himself from the term for years, telling Idolator in a 2016 interview that while he “(talks) about my faith” in his music, he “wouldn’t describe himself” as a Christian rapper.
“I mean, I’m a Christian, but I’m just an artist,” he said. “I’m a musician. You know what I mean? To me it’s like, if you’re a Christian and you’re a plumber, are you a Christian plumber? That’s the easiest way for me to explain it. I just make music.”
NF also told Idolator that he “pretty much just listened to Eminem for six years,” an influence that’s immediately evident when listening to him rap. And through some combination of his Slim Shady-soundalike songs and his music’s spirituality, he gained a loyal following, which helped his next few releases chart increasingly higher on the Billboard albums charts. His 2017 release, “Perception,” debuted at No. 1 on the publication’s charts dated Oct. 27, beating out new releases from Lil Pump, Gwen Stefani, Marilyn Manson and others.
Now, less than two years after the success of “Perception,” NF pulled off an even more impressive feat with “The Search,” which, along with Chance the Rapper, beat out new albums from Of Monsters and Men and Andy Grammer, and helped knock Ed Sheeran’s “No.6 Collaborations Project” down to No. 3 this week.
As Billboard pointed out in the publication's analysis of how NF beat Chance for No. 1, "The Search" sold more copies than predicted — 130,000 equivalent album units, as opposed to the 95,000 forecast — and benefited from iTunes Store sales, as well as albums bundled with signed merchandise and concert tickets sold through NF’s official web store.
While "The Big Day" had larger streaming numbers than "The Search," that wasn't enough to give Chance's album the edge over NF, with "The Big Day" trailing by 20,000 equivalent album units.
With most of his album promo coming from various posts on his social media, NF took to Twitter to praise fans and management for helping him send "The Search" to No. 1.
"I put my life into this and to see this much support means a lot to me," he wrote, also thanking "my label for letting me do whatever I want creatively since day one."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Who is NF, the Eminem-soundalike who beat Chance the Rapper for No. 1?