Just over two months ago, I sat in a circle of 8/9 people opposite Bishop Nehru at his first album listening session in Willesden, North West London. His sense of tranquillity was hemmed with an underlying tone of vehemence. The same could be said of his project. As we bopped our heads through the 12-tracks produced by Kaytranada and previous long-time collaborator MF Doom, it became evident that ‘Elevators: Act I & II’ served as two things – it is both the perfect introduction to those who are unschooled, and the perfect commencement for those who had a few years ago fathomed the inherent greatness of Bishop Nehru.
The 19 year-old kid I first met in Vancouver, Canada at the start of his 2016 Magic 19 tour is now refined. Three projects later, at 21 years old Nehru has finally released his debut solo studio album. His persona, his music, his delivery are all sharper, lighter and unequivocal to any other Hip-Hop artist in the same age bracket. “I think it’s been great so far, although, it could be a lot bigger”, Bishop begins over the phone from New York, as I ask him about the response he’s felt since the album release, “but I feel like it’s a real special project, it just needs a couple more eyes on it, and once everybody notices it, it will go.”
The album, which is split into two parts, ‘Act l – Ascension’ produced by Kaytranada, and ‘Act ll – Free Falling’ produced by MF Doom, seemingly serves as the perfect platform for a long-awaited collaboration between Bishop and the Haitian-Canadian producer whose 2016 debut studio album ‘99.9%’ received worldwide critical acclaim. “I recorded a track with him in LA. It was pretty dope vibes you know, like a typical studio session,” Nehru tells me on working with Kaytranada, “…and that was the session where I got pretty much most of the beats for the project. He dumped them off to me that day. We recorded ‘Driftin’ (the opening track) in the studio that day. There had previously been talk of us working together…” he casually says, “…but that track of course, just confirmed it. It’s been like a year in the making.”
And rightly so, ‘Driftin’ instantaneously sets the tone of the album, an upbeat, ascending melody, straddled with bars of self-assurance, wit, humour, and it’s dope. The lyrics for ‘Lost In My Mind’ however, were my point of inquisition to Bishop, given it’s contrasting message to what the rest of the track delivers. “It’s definitely coming from a negative light of course…” he begins to explain, “at the same time however, it’s also just a general feeling. Pretty much a trip through my own head. That’s the sort of idea I have for the video, without giving too much away. You know, like a whole bunch of chaos going on around me. Almost like I’m viewing both negatives and positive things in my head pretty much. There’s certain things that people interpret differently. That perspective and those different perceptions are the inspiration for those lyrics.”
The concept of duality is consistent from the surface splits of the album, trickling down to the deeper veins of individual tracks and verses, in particular around ‘The Game of Life’, a 4 minute retrospective narrating two individuals perspectives meeting their respective tragic endings. Without delving too deep into it, I compliment the production on the track and ask how involved he was in it. “I didn’t really have much of a hands-on approach, but there was certain things that I heard in the beats that I wanted to bring out. I brought in a pianist, guitarist, and told them certain things I wanted them to hit. I guess that can be counted as co-production…” he contemplates humbly, “…but I think Kaytranada and MF Doom did their job pretty well.”
“I’m really open to working with other people, especially when they’re on my same type of vibes. And I feel like us three are all kinda’ reclusive musicians, mysterious, so it was a nice fit.”
One of my favourite tracks, ‘Get Away’, stands out for the prominence of it’s aspirational, prognostic presence on the project. Given the budding New Yorker has already been in the game for a few years, it naturally brings about the question – what the goal is? Nehru’s answer assures me that my impressions were accurate. “Well in the end…” he begins, “…I definitely want to be known as one of the greatest musicians.” Arguably a stunningly centred declaration for a 21-year-old rapper, although, nothing seems to indicate at the slightest hint of adolescence about Bishop. “I wanna learn more instruments. I’ve been playing piano now for a couple of years. I feel like MJ’s career is the perfect example with regards to the age thing. He was pretty much making music since he was a kid, and his biggest album came at the age of 24. I look at it like that. I don’t time myself. I just know if I keep making music with my heart, it will eventually get heard and explode.” Nehru momentarily diverts away from his usual reticence, “… I wanna be a household name musically. I have so many different sounds I want to share with the world too, and it will take a little while for people to be able to really pinpoint like, ‘yo, this is his sound’, but I feel I can do everything. That’s the type of artist I want to be known as, a versatile musician, who can do pretty much anything.”
“There’s lots I aspire to do as far as art, and connecting with people. If I was the biggest artist but I couldn’t connect, that’d be kinda’ pointless know what I mean?”
Our conversation then quickly detours to his previous experiences with mentor and New York Hip-Hop icon, Nas, and the deal he initially signed with Mass Appeal a few years prior. For followers of this protégé, we know all too well about the working relationship that never fully manifested itself between Bishop and Nas’ label. Despite this, I’m keen to discover his key learnings from the industry guardianship Nas may have offered. “I feel like, outside of Nas, there was too many outside sources trying to tell me, creatively, what to do…” he begins to reflect omnisciently. “I feel like I only really signed to hear what Nas had to say, and how HE thought I should do things, even though I was gonna’ do it my way regardless. I didn’t sign with him to get creative advice from non-creatives, that’s pretty much what it was.” Nehru continues, “Also, I kinda think I was a bit stubborn with certain things as well. So it was kind of a growing process for me as well. There’s certain things looking back where I could have been like ‘alright, I’ll take the backseat for this and let you guys lead,’ but that’s just not in my nature, I’ve always been kind of rebellious.”
It’s at this point I offer my re-assurance (not that it’s required), that, as an observer for several years, the path Bishop has elected is not necessarily the correct, but certainly the most organic, as he concurs. “He told me not to be sensitive about certain things in the industry. I mean, it’s a business at the end of the day, so you can’t take things personally. I’m sure if I see Nas tomorrow, he’ll be the same way he was when I first signed. Certain things are just business.”
We move into the second half of both our conversation and the project. MF Doom has produced the other half of the album, a bouncy, hip-hop-centric mix of tantalizing tracks like ‘Taserz’, ‘Again & Again’ and ‘Potassium’. “Concerning this ‘new age’ of Hip Hop, I don’t get the people that don’t like it” Bishop clarifies. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly for a rapper of his growing calibre his sustained admission into what some may perceive as a traditionally ‘purist’ Hip Hop community, is rare. Although, such an endorsement probably shouldn’t be a topic of conversation amongst this new generation of artists. “But I bump that shit. I think it’s just an age thing, they won’t understand it. I mean, when they were making jazz music, there was a point in time where jazz was called devilish music, know what I mean? People thought jazz was satanic, and that it put white women in a trance. This is literal…” he continues, “I’ve seen a poster that says this, that marijuana and jazz music are straight from the devil.”
“So it’s kinda like this now, when people say it’s trash, not real music, whatever, I feel like everything evolves. The influences evolve. Hip Hop is creating music from your situation. “
We take a final deep dive into America, and the wider impact on his music of the historic, deep social infrastructures now surfacing to a new generation of oppressed. “There’s a lot of people talking about stuff they don’t know about, pretty much. Now there’s like trap rappers who try to talk about revolutionary shit. That’s cool but I feel like at a certain point that’s going to start to pollute the message. You’re not spreading it correctly.” Whilst he acknowledges the issues plaguing so-called ‘minority’ societies have been persistent for hundreds of years, it’s just a new generation that are experiencing them. “We don’t necessarily have to find a way to move within the system, but it would be the smartest idea. I feel like it won’t change, but if they do change it, it will probably still not be in our favour. We gotta’ find a way to work around it.”
As we draw our to a close, Bishop assures me he’ll be back in the UK soon to perform the, what is now, his first album of an already strong catalogue enriched with introspective narrative and impeccable delivery. If ‘Elevators: Act l & ll’ is anything to go by, you can expect to see this Nehurvian King’s face plastered all over each floor of hip gop’s tower in the coming years, as he ascends to the rooftops.