One of the most underrated rappers of the early 2000s, Henry Thorough, AKA Nickelus F, AKA Sweet Petey, comes from Richmond, Virginia, is part of the local Association of Great Minds collective, and has had a career spanning over 12 years and almost 2 dozen mixtapes, including multiple accolades as a freestyle rapper. Freestyles have always been a part of hip-hop, and while not everyone can spit straight off the dome — instead of stringing together pre-written lines — the ability to do so is a mark of a truly exceptional artist. Who is Nickelus F?
Nickelus F, first and foremost, is a freestyle rapper.
The 2017 XXL Freshman freestyles and cyphers were…interesting, if a little disheartening. XXXtentacion gave a creepy — and cringy — acappela verse, Kyle deadass ended his cypher verse with “Gotta blast!”, and Kamaiya gave one of the most lyrically complex yet utterly boring verses I’ve had the displeasure to hear. What happened to the golden age of freestyles, with Cam’ron counting stacks on MTV while spitting off the dome, or Eminem trading verses with Slaughterhouse on BET? While these high-profile artists brought freestyling to the mainstream, Thorough managed to hold it down for more independant and local artists, winning battle after battle in local competitions and on TV.
It’s ironic that in 2009 Complex magazine featured Thorough in their annual “10 Most Underrated New Rappers” list, as his career technically began at the age of 17, when he competed in the The Source Unsigned Hype Emcee Battle, out-freestyling older and ostensibly more skilled competitors and getting 2nd place. Thus, early in his career Thorough established his chops as a rapper and an artist, demonstrating his skill in stringing together bars on the fly, sometimes prewritten, often straight off the top.
Back when 106 & Park was still on BET, Nickelus became its “Freestyle Friday” champion not once, not twice, but seven times in a row.. The video below in particular showcases his immense skills, as he spits bar after bar for 10 straight minutes.
It’s no wonder that he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007, as his skills stood out amongst his cohorts and makes the recent XXL Freshman Freestyles even more disappointing.
In the mid-2000s, Nickelus teamed up with a burgeoning rapper from Toronto, allegedly teaching him the basics of rapping. It’s impossible to overstate Nickelus F’s role in Drake’s career, especially now that Drake is one of the biggest artists of the 21st century. Back when Drake’s Room for Improvement mixtape came out in 2006, Nickelus was featured on 4 different songs (including “Do What You Do,” which originally featured fellow Virginia rapper No Malice), highlighting their close relationship. Nickelus has admitted to giving Drake bars, but has denied that he ghostwrote for him. While it might seem hypocritical for a freestyle rapper to give away lines like that, he’s maintains that there is a stark difference between battle-rap and “entertainment,” as he explains in this quote from an interview with Mass Appeal:
“If you’re battle rapping, yes it matters…But in terms of entertainment, it’s been proven that it doesn’t matter. People connect with the person you are. I feel like fans nowadays aren’t as concerned with if the person is a good writer. Only other writers care about that. Look at it like this: Quentin Tarantino makes extraordinary films and in general receives all the credit for the movies. But do you think he sat down and wrote that script word for word? “
Usually a Drake cosign is more than enough to propel a rapper into the mainstream; Drake’s feature on “Versace” arguably started Migos stratospheric rise in popularity, “Hotline Bling” was originally released as a remix of Dram’s “Cha Cha,” and many in OVO’s camp can attribute their success to Drake’s presence on the label. However, Thorough has managed to stay under the radar, despite his collaboration with Drake.
Most would say that Nickelus’ spot on the BET’s Hall of Fame and his place in Drake’s career were the highlights of his career. However, while he might have fallen by the wayside, and freestyling as a part of mainstream hip hop might have fallen by the wayside, Thorough didn’t stop grinding, quietly releasing mixtape after mixtape over the next decade and participating in battle rap competitions, such as when he competed in the Legends Never Die competition in 2016. His discography is too large to delve into in this article, but a few mixtapes stand out in particular.
Yellow Gold, which came out in 2011, is Nickelus F’s first mixtape in a 3-mixtape collaboration with Ohbliv. Ohbliv is a producer from Richmond, and this tape stands out as a truly Virginian product. Yellow Gold 2 came out in 2013, and is my personal favorite in his wide discography; almost an hour of bars with some singing on Nickelus’ part. Yellow Gold 3 is still in the pipeline, but keep an eye out; if it’s even half as good as the two previous mixtapes in the Yellow Gold series, it’s worth a listen.
In my opinion, his mixtape Vices features his best production, and was the first project of his I listened to while writing this article. The tape showcases his extensive skills both as a producer and a rapper and while his lyricism isn’t as complex, his flow is untouchable as he floats over his beats.
Considering his collab projects with fellow Richmond artists, his place in Drake’s career, and his run as the undisputed freestyle king, it’s a shame that Nickelus F never had a chance to blow up. His extensive discography attests to his ability to make music that will appeal to wide audiences, while his career attests to his realness amongst industry plants and ghostwritten verses. He’s indisputably a RichTown Legend.