At a time when the hip hop game is being scrambled and realigned explosively by ‘rhyme without reason’ rap (think Flatbush Zombies, OFWGKTA, Waka Flocka Flame, Lil B, Kreayshawn, A$AP Rocky etc.), it’s increasingly hard to place a marker on where hip hop begins and where another as yet undefined and spasmodic genre ends. Our current inability to pin down what the hell is going on in hip hop has meant aforementioned spasmo-rap has fallen under the hip hop umbrella for lack of a better divider. In truth it’s another beast entirely. Too often we tune in to a hip hop broadcast or attend a show billed as hip hop and are assaulted by this sub-genre of slippery word smithery and yelling so far from the conscious rap we came up on, it’s almost unrecognizable.
Make no mistake, hip hops coup d’état is in full swing and the outcome of the uprising, whether the victor be neo-rap and it’s idiotic verse or the culture of kings that melds beat, flow and relevance seamlessly, will define rap and hip hop culture for the next generation.
So, in seeking a release from the current storm or perhaps even a return to the classics, there is something deeply appealing about an artist who honors and harnesses historical influences, if only to provide a moments respite from the unpredictability that so often accompanies the modern genre. In Bishop Nehru, we see a messiah that has the potential to put a full stop to noisy rap partisans’ bullshit debates about who truly embodies the genre in contemporary America.
Surprisingly, this old mouth and large responsibility sits atop young shoulders. Aged just 18 and having already collaborated with or been produced by the likes of MF DOOM, Madlib, J-Dilla and Disclosure, the sky seems the limit and even that is only figurative. Combining tight verse with tidy beats Bishop seizes bland and approachable language, as if handpicked from a bin of discarded words and contorts them into something meaningful and reminiscent of the golden era. Nehru is an iron fist in a familiar glove, his music is simple in composition, truthful in delivery and drizzled like warm honey to clapped out minds.
Drop Magazine caught up with Bishop and we spoke about some unexpected things; loving his mom, moving away from rapping, being an asthmatic vegetarian, how fresh the air is in Holland, why he wants to be reincarnated as a dinosaur and of course, about collaborating with DOOM.
So, you have been recording your album with MF DOOM in London for the last couple of months. Welcome back to The States.
Thanks. I got back two or three weeks ago but I’ve been in LA directing. I just got back to New York.
Nice. We’ll talk about directing in a bit, but first things first, the album. NehruvianDOOM is dropping in a couple of weeks. How was the recording process?
The process was dope. I flew out to London (where DOOM’s label Lex Records is based) three or four times for me and DOOM to work on it in the studio.
MF DOOM is a master and could have chosen anyone to work with, I imagine he would have had a big influence on the album. So how was the creative process? Were there any conflicts?
Creative freedom is really important to me but DOOM was really relaxed. Everything we were saying was synchronistic. We had a lot of the same ideas and it all just kind of fell into place. So there wasn’t any conflict at all.
So DOOM was a chiller? You must be thrilled to be working with him?
He is one of my favorite rap artists. In fact, favorite hip hop artists. Period.
You are ticking some boxes aren’t you?!
Haha. That’s what they tell me.
But it wasn’t always rap was it? You originally started playing jazz music…
Yeah, when I was about six my mom would listen to C100 [radio station] which plays everything other than rap! It has the happy go get music, like Pharell, neo soul, and pop stuff. But jazz, I kind of got into it myself with the help of my grandma who used to listen to Al Green and soul music. I remember having a bunch of CD’s of her favorite jazz artists. But I really got into jazz when I was at school because they don’t play rap in schools, so I was playing classical music and things like that.
Do you think an understanding of classical music has helped your rap career?
I don’t think I have a rap career. It has helped me create rap music. But if you think about it, rap is the easiest format of music genre wise. It’s just verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge. No disrespect to that. I enjoy it. I partake in it. But in other genres such as rock, jazz and classical music, artists have to put a lot more effort into making the music.
That’s surprising to hear a rap artist say that!
Yeah, I’m trying to learn the acoustic guitar, but if I could play electric guitar, honestly, I wouldn’t even be rapping. I would be playing in a band or something. The piano is super awesome also. I’m pretty good at piano, when I get good enough I’m going to get into other genres.
So guitar, piano and bands are next?
Yeah! I’m still young. I could do a lot because of where I am for my age. There is a lot that I could challenge myself with and conquer. But you got to understand it and it’s just a matter of picking up an instrument and spending time with it.
Are you getting that time at the moment? Or are things pretty busy for you?
Usually I have a lot of time. Only 30 minutes of interviews a day, so I have 23 hours and 30 minutes to do what I want. I find space and time for everything.
So you are back home with you parents now?
Yeah, with my mom. I think I’m always going to live with my mom. Even if I don’t live with her in the same house, I’ll be right next-door, or just down the block. I love my mom.
She takes good care of you?
Yeah! She’s always been that kind of mom. I appreciate her. Touring has its moments, it’s kind of cool, I guess, but I hate leaving my mom.
Would your mom go on tour with you?
Hopefully! I want her to! She came into my room the other day and pranked me. She was like ‘I quit my job to go on the road with you!’ and I was like, ‘you serious?!’ But she was just joking. Haha. That would have been cool if she had quit.
Maybe she will after this album drops?
Yeah hopefully! She is the only person I would need with me.
So being young and having this music career how did you juggle school as well?
My class just graduated. I was doing some home schooling but I never got 100% into it, which is something I really want to do later on. Just so I can partake in different things if I wanted to, like go to college, which I really want to do.
Bringing it back to your rapping, you chose Bishop Nehru as a name. Bishop was ‘pacs character in the movie ‘Juice’. But ‘Nehru’ is an Indian prime minister? Run me through that.
Honestly, I just needed a rap name. When I start branching out and playing all the instruments I’m learning I’ll probably go by my real name, Markel Scott. But at the moment I have Bishop Nehru. While I do, I want to be the only rapper who makes positive music. Rap used to be about positivity, but now people are glorifying the negative, which is cool, but only to a point. There is a level of consistency in it that I don’t like. Music is more powerful than that. It has the power to keep people feeling negative, so with that in mind, to be a Bishop means being a spiritual advisor, and I thought I could do that via my rap music. I just want to make positive, real rap music. Even though some of my tracks are extremely vulgar, it’s all real. They’re things that have happened in my life. I’m now more of a ‘think first, then act’ person than I used to be. It’s about being conscious of my decisions.
Is that maturity?
Not maturity, I’m still immature as fuck! It’s more like touching fire for the first time; you learn not to touch that shit again. I am experiencing more things and I feel like I’m growing.
You grew up in suburban area of New York, Rockland County. With that considered, I think you’re doing a lot to buck the perception that rap is made by urban kids only. Do you think your suburban upbringing influences your rhymes?
I guess so. Maybe. Not really [Laughs]. There is a lot of bad shit in Rockland County too; I just don’t talk about it yet. I’m not saying my city is the toughest in the world. It’s no Chicago, but every place in the United States has its own ghetto. Everybody goes through the same sort of things, whether you are suburban or urban. I have white friends who have divorced parents like my parents and I have black friends whose parents are divorced too. We all go through the same things, we just separate them in our minds. Maybe this could affect the music I make – I don’t know, I think maybe its just me?
Ok, so now it’s time for a hypothetical question, you have to make a choice. You can be either; critically acclaimed and revered by your rap peers and not famous at all. OR, you can be world famous and get no respect from other rappers. Which do you choose?
The only people holding me up are my fans! They are number one. I would have to choose world famous and loved by my fans, that is how I started anyway! I was not respected by anyone in the rap industry and I only had my fans – they were there since day one. If I got no fans… I got nothing. I see that. So definitely world famous. Nehruvian or nothing!
You want to be world famous?
Hell yeah! I want to be world famous for music and directing. You can have everything else. Swimming, basketball, football, I want film and music.
So you’ve been directing some of your film clips?
Yeah I love it. I just directed a new video for the NehruvianDOOM project out in LA. It was my first time directing anything out there – it was awesome.
Is directing what you thought it would be like?
It’s about bringing to life what you see in your mind, especially when you have the song to match it. When I make a song, I already see the video. The video is the final aspect. Then people are like, ‘oh, this is the message he was trying to convey in the song’. When you have visuals that match a song so perfectly, it completes the process.
So in the clip you were making bacon [Bishop Nehru feat. Aaron LaCrate – Appalled]. Is that what you were imagining when you were creating the clip?
[Laughs] Oh no, that’s the only video we made on the spot. We were still in the studio and we had a camera. But I don’t consider that a video, I consider it a vlog or whatever. But I thought that was a dope visual. But recently I don’t eat bacon at all. Right now I am on a vegetarian kick. I haven’t eaten any meat for two months so far. I’m going to try keep at it as long as I can, but every time I see a Chicken Shanghai I get a little tempted!
Haha. So why vegetarianism?
In the United States, you don’t know what you’re getting. There’s a lot of pesticides in meat. I feel like there are healthier ways of eating. They make it seem like you have to have meat in your diet but you don’t. So I don’t eat McDonalds at all any more.
Changing tack a little, in one of your past interviews you mentioned you were an asthmatic. Does it ever impact your music?
No, when recording it doesn’t impact me – but it does sometimes when I’m performing. I got to have a lot of waters on stage. When it gets really hot, that’s when my asthma starts fucking up. I remember, as soon as I landed in LA my chest started hurting, it was weird.
It’s just that pollution. It’s not Rockland County fresh air out there is it?!
Haha it’s dirty! The freshest air was in Holland – I was there opening for Nas. It was dope and the air was super fresh – it had the best air, and it was super peaceful. They all ride bikes. Oh! That’s why the air is so fresh. They all ride bikes!
Haha. Ok – finally, one last question I like to ask people. If you could be any type of animal, what kind of animal would you be?
Do you mean if I could be reincarnated, what would I be?
Umm, I would either be a monkey, a dolphin or a fucking dragon.
Haha. A dragon is not an animal! So a monkey or dolphin, you gotta choose.
Haha fuck. Well dolphins can swim really good and monkeys can run really good. Soooo. Shit. I guess… No wait! I don’t want to be no monkey. It’s so typical. What about a velociraptor! Or a tyrannosaurus rex.
Oh man, that’s not an animal either! But ok, I’ll let that go! So why a t-rex?
They are just the most vicious of dinosaurs.
Haha. Ok. Thanks for your time! Best of luck and I look forward to getting a copy of the new album.
I appreciate that. No problems.
Nehruvian or nothing.
NehruvianDOOM is out via Lex Records, September 23.