"Paid My Dues" is NF's reaction to critics who lambasted his The Search album. In the first verse, the rapper accuses music media powerhouses of paying their reviewers "for trashin' people."
Dropped The Search and they emerge up outta nowhere to the surface
Just to peek behind the curtain, throwin' salt at all my burdens
Several upmarket sites and publications criticized The Search's themes of struggle against mental health and dealing with fame. Pitchfork, for instance, questioned how listeners "are supposed to respond to an album that often reads like a suicide note."
The remainder of the song finds NF flaunting his lyrical skill and commitment to carry on with the hard grind. He has "paid his dues" and the rapper considers his continuing success to be the best response to the critics.
The hard-charging song had been in development for at least two years prior to its release on December 3, 2019. It was originally teased back in December 2017; the references to The Search (released in July 2019) imply NF had changed some of the lyrics since then.
NF co-wrote the song with his go-to collaborator Tommee Profitt, and with Saint X, formerly of the EDM duo Capital Kings.