Interview: Bishop Nehru

Interview: Bishop Nehru

For the past few years, the New York hip hop scene has been dominated by crews. Still, while A$AP Mob, Pro Era and Flatbush Zombies have been making a name for themselves as collectives, Bishop Nehru, a Rockland County (NY) native, managed to get the attention of music blogs and hip hop fans all by himself. “I’ve always preferred working alone, even throughout school. So if there’s anyone to blame when things go wrong, it’s myself.”

Words by: Jelena Barisic

Not that the young emcee has had a reason to blame himself for anything these days. After all, when several blogs picked up his first two mixtapes back in 2013, he received more positive response than any 16 year old bedroom artist could ever dream of. In just two years, Nehru got to tour with Wu-Tang Clan, was co-signed by Kendrick Lamar and signed with Mass Appeal, a new brand label co-founded by Nas. To top things off, his collaboration with DOOM, NehruvianDOOM, is finally set to release this Tuesday.

“It’s crazy,” the now 18-year-old says, sounding slightly overwhelmed. “It’s like all the people I admire are appreciating me and my music.” When asked why he thinks that is, he immediately answers in a more casual tone: “Oh, because if your music comes from the heart, people will recognize that.”

Undoubtedly, the appreciation Nehru has gotten from some of his favourite rap veterans also has something to do with the distinct nineties influences on both of his mixtapes. Struggling to explain why the golden age of hip hop appeals to him, he says: “Back then they just cared more about the quality of music. Right now, artists just throw a song together and put it out. A lot of them don’t really tell a story, they make music just to make music. In the nineties, everyone seemed to have their own unique narrative.”

Which isn’t to say that he’s a hip hop purist. “Nah, I also listen to Nicki, Odd Future, Kendrick… Even trap. Just not all day – I eventually switch it up with some Nas or Erykah. I’m actually into a lot of different genres. Such as music by The Turtles, George Duke, Roy Ayers, Radiohead… Then again, who doesn’t like Radiohead?”

I know DOOM seems like a pretty inaccessible guy to the outside world, but he’s actually really laid back when you get to know him

While Nehru started out producing jazz tracks at the age of 13, it seemed clear cut from the beginning that he would eventually focus on hip hop. “I started writing rhymes and poetry in second grade, but I wasn’t recording. I never really wanted to be in a band. When I was younger, I did dream of playing the electric guitar or drums. I actually tried saxophone, but wasn’t very good at it. I also didn’t feel like carrying it around all the time.”

After Nehru discovered DOOM through an episode of The Boondocks (Madvillain’s Raid, All Caps & Strange Ways), he immediately delved into his entire discography. “DOOM is one of my favourite artists, as a whole. He’s not one of those rappers that started producing on the side, he does both extremely well. I mean, it’s hard not to look up to him.”

Bishop-Nehru-MF-DOOMIn April 2013, Nehru finally got to meet DOOM after opening for him and Ghostface Killah at the 100 Club in London. “We didn’t really talk for too long that night, but after my people hit his people up, we went out to eat. I know he seems like a pretty inaccessible guy to the outside world, but he’s actually really laid back when you get to know him. I discovered we have a lot of common interests, like psychology and movies. It was great, like talking to an older brother.”

Even though Nehru and DOOM haven’t actually spent a lot of time together, Nehru has learned plenty from their collaboration. “Getting feedback and advice from someone whom I’ve admired for years has really helped me improve. It definitely taught me that working together can be better than doing everything by myself. ”

To me, producing and rapping is two sides of the same coin, and when you have control over both, it’s easier to get your vision across

Still, the rapper feels most comfortable being on his own. “It’s not that I don’t like to hang out with other people, but I’m definitely fine with staying at home, reading or working on my music. I don’t really like partying, I never have. So I’m not gonna lie, it sucks having to go out there, having to network. But I guess it’s just something I’ve got to get used to.”

Unsurprisingly, the rapper that came up with the line ‘I’m used to being alone/Just me and symphonies’ on the aptly named track ‘IntroVERTz’, is planning on working even more all by himself in the future. “I want to get to a point where I don’t need beats from other producers. To me, producing and rapping is two sides of the same coin, and when you have control over both, it’s easier to get your vision across.”

Nehru has also been involved in the making of all of his videos. “Man, I really fell in love with directing. By the time I’m in my late twenties or thirties, I might want to find a career where I can do something I love and still have time to relax with my family. When that day comes, I think I’ll switch to filmmaking.”

DOOM-Bishop-NehruUntil then, the rapper and producer has enough plans to keep him busy. Nehru hasn’t finished high school yet, but is already looking forward to going to college. “How long do you think it’ll take me to get a degree in directing,” he asks. “I’d probably do psychology, philosophy and audio engineering as well. I’ll find a way to combine studying with recording and touring [laughs].

Part of the advantage of stepping in the spotlights at such a early age, is that Nehru still has plenty of time to explore and further develop his own sound. But there’s also a downside to his age, he admits. “People may not take me as seriously as other artists.” He pauses for a second, then continues decisively: “I’m not really afraid of that, though. I see my mixtapes as my demo’s, you know? To me, they don’t really count. The starting point of my career will be my first actual solo project where I’ve written, produced and mixed every single track. Meanwhile, I feel I’m really growing as an artist. I think NehruvianDOOM is really gonna wake people up.”

NehruvianDOOM / More Info

Jelena Barisic is a freelance journalist and copywriter from Rotterdam, the Netherlands. She specializes in music, (pop) culture and new media.