“It Wouldn’t Be Right If Nas Wasn’t on the Album”: Bishop Nehru
When he was 16 years old, Bishop Nehru released his debut mixtape, Nehruvia, a compilation of rapped reflections that few 16 year olds have the emotional sophistication to complete. On one of the project’s most discussed tracks, “Misruled Order,” Nehru struggles to navigate his complex, oftentimes motionless home life, laying lines like “Needing cheddar is something bigger when you eating cheddar for dinner.”
Just two years later, the New York spitter is now one of Mass Appeal Records’ first signees. He timed the deal announcement to coincide with the release of his latest project, The Nehruvian EP, a mix of old and new sounds set to gear his fans up for his forthcoming album.
The 18-year-old has a habit of working with icons. Last year, after meeting DOOM in London, the two created NehruvianDOOM, a collaborative album with no outside features. Most recently, he’s been ushered under the wing of Nas, who is overseeing executive production on the youngster’s approaching LP. Nehru was even dubbed the “future of music” by the living legend.
When we met in a park on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Nehru's tall, lanky figure came sauntering in a vintage Polo crewneck (I would later learn he's a thrift shop regular) and a thin, street-inspired track jacket. Peeking out from the sleeves were his spiritual beaded bracelets—a few to each wrist— which clinked as he shook my hand.
Bishop Nehru, who takes the second half of his rap moniker after India’s first Prime Minister, infuses everyday conversations with the metaphysical influences of the East. A recent trip to Japan allowed him to reflect on his relationship to Eastern cultures and religions, which in turn will find itself in his music.
As we chatted, Nehru contemplated his categorization as a “New York rapper,” recalled how he and Nas spawned a partnership, and mapped out how he plans to awaken listeners with his message.
On choosing music over college:
Honestly, I always was good in school, getting the work done and everything, but after a while I just felt like I was doing it just to do it. I didn’t really care to be there. I started to try to find little things I liked to do, little hobbies like photography, video, and music, obviously. I knew of a lot of people before me who were successful without it, so I wanted to do my own thing.
On cultivating his musical interests:
I discovered music at a really young age—probably like three or four. When I was in middle school I started studying it seriously and looking into the history of music, frequency, and things like that, then as I got into high school I took up piano. It was pretty helpful.
On his lyrics “I hate expectations they ruin every single thing that I think of doing/ Could you please just leave me to be human?” from “User$”:
People take what they see me being and expect me to be what they see me being. I have my own life; I see myself being what I want to be. I don’t care what people want me to be. I’m always going to be what I see myself being.
On being labeled:
I don’t really care what people say. I see people’s comments, that they want me to try other beats, but ultimately that’s something that I have to decide to do. I’ve decided that I’m going to try it, to grow as an artist, and to have people accept the music. Some people like EDM; some like jazz; some like pop; some like rock; so if I want to connect with all these people and at least give them my story and show them how I’m influenced by that genre as well, I have to dive into that world a bit and try to bring it back to hip-hop as much as possible.
On getting a deal with Mass Appeal and working with Nas:
A while back, I had a meeting or something with Mass Appeal. It wasn’t even about signing with them or anything. We were talking about Nas because he’s one of my favorite rappers, and he happens to be a business partner with them. I guess they played him my music, and he liked it. The rest pretty much unfolded itself.
On the disadvantages of being young in the music industry:
Having an inferiority complex, one. Feeling inferior is a lot. I get that often. There are times when people say, “Why don’t you do this?” and I’m just like, “I don’t want to.” If I’m doing a video, I just want it to be the camera guy and me. I don’t like when a lot of people are watching me. I’m weird like that. Being insecure is another big thing, because people don’t care. At the same time, being confident. If you’re confident in yourself, it automatically gets taken as arrogance.
On being assertive:
The crazy thing is I was never really like that until a lot of eyes started watching me. I have to get used to people watching me at all times. I said on “Somebody Waits,” “Have you ever felt inside a giant eye that’s watching?” That’s literally how I feel. I feel like everywhere I go there’s some giant eye that’s watching me, making sure I don’t do anything bad. It sounds weird, but I feel like that’s the basis of my inferiority complex.
On his recent trip to Japan:
I had a couple shows, and I did a lot of shopping. Yeah… I bought a lot of clothes.
They have a lot of vintage shops. So many. If you wanna get Polo, Tommy Hilfiger, they have it by the boatload. These shops around [SoHo] are nothing like Japan. But the food, I couldn’t live off of. I haven’t been eating meat for like, eleven months, so I’ve been trying to avoid that and reset my body. Everything’s with beef and pork over there.
On his connection with Eastern cultures:
I feel like my job as a—and I don’t want this to sound weird—an occultist, is to know everything. I want to know everything. That’s how my mind operates. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to know how things work. I feel like if I get everybody’s view of how they see the world and merge it into one, I can converse with all types of people. ... It’s just that I want to know how to speak to and understand everybody.
I focus on trying to be a magician. Not like the basic term of magician, like Houdini. The Google definition’s wrong. Magic is using controlled thought to get a result. Manifestation.
On his legacy:
I don’t want people to get caught up in my music; I want people to get caught up in me. My music is a part of me, but I plan to branch out and do many other art forms. If you only focus on my music, you’re only getting a fraction of it. I’d rather have someone who’s interested in my music and my personality as a whole, just so they can get the full message and perspective I’m trying to showcase. So the message with my music is me trying to awaken people to their own palette. A lot of the time it’s stories, so I know people can connect to it on a lower energy level, but on a higher energy level, I try to keep it to where people can find the palette themselves.
On Herbie Hancock, an artist he hopes to work with in the future:
The dude is amazing. I’ve been listening to him since middle school. If you go through his discography, it’s not one dimensional at all. That’s the kind of artist I aspire to be. I don’t want to be a dude who raps for his whole career; I feel like I’m so much more than that. I get bored with it easily. That’s why sometimes I may add a little singing with it, but that’s just for me. A bridge that has melody, that’s just for me to have fun.
On a potential Nas feature:
It wouldn’t be right if he wasn’t on the album.
On the forthcoming album:
I want it to come out with this year, but I’ve been operating through loopholes and stuff. Working with a record label, they want a certain involvement. I do produce all my own stuff, but I’ll be using other people’s beats to satisfy them— but only if they connect with me. I think on this album I’m going to experiment more than the EP. I put out the EP because I wanted to keep my sound and do something for my fans who really like my sound before I experiment.
Images: Tyler Mitchell for Green Label