Before the release of his 2020 mixtape Ion Feel Nun, Louisville rapper EST Gee was experiencing nothing but pain. After being shot five times in 2019 and living to rap about it, he lost his mother to leukemia at the start of the pandemic. His brother was murdered a mere week later. The mixtape’s phonetically spelled title pointed to the physical and emotional numbness that gripped him at the time, and that he further explored on his decidedly more confrontational I Still Don’t Feel Nun, which followed later that year.
The title of Gee’s first proper studio album, I Never Felt Nun, indicates his continuing disassociation from his emotions. Yet what that title conveys on the surface isn’t entirely accurate, because, as Gee puts it on “I Can’t Feel a Thing,” he doesn’t feel anything only “99.5 percent of the time.” So there’s still a little bit of something left in him; if anything, he’s “thankful” to be “blessed with pain” because it provides him with some form of stimulation.
The typically discourteous MC occasionally displays an uncharacteristically poignant side to his belligerent persona throughout I Never Felt Nun. On “Coming Home,” he drops his husky rasp of a voice down a whole octave as he cries out to a former flame, turning a benign play on words (“Just know I miss you, like you missin’ me”) into a mournful expression of loneliness.
Elsewhere, “Blood” finds Gee begging for carnage, but the vengeful tone in his voice suggests hidden torment lurking beneath his bellicose proclamations. He details his cousin’s suicide and his own distressing mental state on the doleful “Voices in My Head,” and even recognizes that going to therapy would help him process the trauma. However, as he pointedly asks with little affect, “Who gon’ listen to all this different shit you know I been into?”
When not in his feelings, Gee remains a brass-tacks songwriter with a surprisingly strong ear for melody. His talents emerge in creative yet decidedly simple ways: The infectious chorus found on “Both Arms” is built around a series of deliberately metered duplicate phrases—“Send ‘em, send ‘em,” “Spinnin’, spinnin’,” “Whip it, whip it”—with two menacing verses about “stretching” enemies that float across a foreboding piano line. Likewise, the midsection of “Get Em’ Geeski” is loaded with rhymed three-syllable, two-word epithets, where Gee fashions himself into a “dope whipper,” then a “Fendi flipper,” and finally a “life stealer” with ease.
Structurally speaking, though, these tracks are about as complex as things ever get on I Never Felt Nun. The album’s 21 tracks are composed of mostly simple chorus-verse-chorus arrangements that are between two to three minutes in length. This, for a rapper as one-dimensional as Gee, whose sonic palette largely consists of heavy trap drums and piercing horns, becomes a noticeable sequencing issue as songs as interchangeable as “Is Heaven for a Gangster” and “Love Is Blind” start to blur into one another. The four-track run from “Double Back” to “Get It Going” in particular drags the album to a grinding halt.
Impersonal, lifeless guest spots from the likes of Future and Bryson Tiller don’t help in breaking the mounting tedium, even if their voices are a welcome change of pace. Machine Gun Kelly’s appearance on “Death Around the Corner” seethes with emo-laden threats that are gracelessly drenched in Auto-Tune. And all of this before Young Jeezy, who’s one of Gee’s biggest musical inspirations, phones in what’s supposed to be a passing-of-the-torch moment on “The Realist,” closing the album out on a disappointing note of unfulfilled potential.
There’s one guest spot on I Never Felt Nun that effectively offsets the album’s relentless bravado: Jack Harlow, whose cheeky swagger on the minimal “Backstage Passes” serves as a nice foil to Gee’s self-serious fulminating. The native Louisvillians trade off their accomplishments on the track’s chorus—Gee made it famous for “turkey bags,” while Harlow gave its residents a few Guinness-sized “big records”—with a laidback charisma, exhibiting a natural rapport that veers into boyish playfulness. It’s not a terribly flashy collaboration, especially given how barebones the track’s production remains, but it exemplifies I Never Felt Nun’s workmanlike ethos. If only that approach had been applied to the album’s editing.