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Bishop Nehru: Fighting Expectations

"I feel people are going to listen to it and expect straight raps and it’s so much more than that, it’s a real composition of music. It’s hip hop made in a way that’s not all negative."
September 29, 2014, 3:50pm

Bishop Nehru is an odd rapper. He’s the type of rapper whose worldview has been severely impacted by anime—namely, Naruto, a show that follows a loud mouthed ninja who dreams of being accepted by the villagers who shunned him. As far removed as that story may be from a young MC who has already garnered co-signs from Nas, Kendrick Lamar, and MF Doom, it’s one that connects with Nehru, who has always felt himself to be a bit of an outsider. “A lot of the people I use to hang around or affiliate myself with they felt like, since I started getting popular from rapping, started turning on me—but I look at this as a passion and something I really love doing and at the end of the day you can’t control how people react.”

Taking the first half of his name from the central character in the movie Juice, and the ‘Nehru’ from former prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, the rapper started working his way into music through popular music forums like Kanye To The and Odd Future Talk, where he would upload hip-hop and jazz instrumentals that he would create for others to rap over. However, he would grab the attention of the general public years later, when he released the self-shot video, “Languages”, in which he rapped lyrical miracles beyond his years over Mos Def’s “Mathematics”. Capitalizing on this buzz, Bishop released the debut, Nehruvia: The Mixtape which would attract listeners and one legendary producer/rapper by the name of MF Doom. Doom, liking what he heard on Nehru’s mixtape and specifically on his classic instrumental, “Lemon Grass” invited him to collaborate in the studio. Eventually, what would start as a small EP developed into the full length project, NehruvianDOOM. Despite the accolades and recognition from his idols, Nehru still feels like a misnomer in the genre that originally claimed him, and even further away from the greater listening public he seeks.

Looking to finally break through hip hop’s “glass-ceiling” and move through the ranks, Nehru delivers his first major release in NehruvianDOOM which stirs together MF Doom’s signature warm analogue sounds and Nehru’s story-driven verses. We spoke to him about pairing up with MF Doom for their new album NehruvianDOOM, being inspired by Think Like A Man Too, and technology destroying the connection between humans.

Noisey: You once said, 'it’s crazy because somewhere in a parallel universe I'm the most popular artist out. I just gotta tune in' what do you think the problem you’re facing here is?
Bishop Nehru: Shit, I wish I could tell you man because if I could I wouldn’t even be here. We would probably be having this interview in a completely different location. But yeah I just feel like right now when it comes to my music as far as popularity goes I’m not really there yet and I think somewhere out there it’s the reverse I just have to find that place.

Do you think you’re still trying to find that sweet spot where your music connects with a large audience but still makes you happy as an artist?
I think I’m starting to find it now. On NehruvianDOOM I was closing in on it but on that record it’s not my sound as a whole I’m sharing it with MF Doom as well. But the stuff I’ve been working on the side is getting me closer

Speaking of Doom I heard he gave you a book called, Why Darkness Matters.
How you know that? Yeah he did. It’s about melanin and how it affects different parts of the brain like the pineal gland and it’s a real deep book. I feel like Doom gave it to me because it fit with some of our concepts on the album.

Like the track, “Darkness” right?
Yeah, that one and a couple others as well. It’s weird because he gave it to me right after we were mixing that very same track. He did it all super stealth like; he went to his house and came back with the book and a little note inside of it. It was like, “From your Big Brother Doom remember information is key,” but the way he wrote remember it was written like, “Re’Member.” It was weird.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from Doom?
I learned a lot about making beats but also how there’s never any pressure when he makes music and that’s what I want to have my whole career. I never want to feel like I have to put something out. For Doom, if he’s down with an idea that’s it. When we we’re making the project he didn’t seem like he was stressing or rushing to get anything out. Obviously, he wanted it done but at the end of the day he was having fun and I always want keep that feeling because that’s why I started doing this.

Is that the ideal situation for you? I know you said you want to be a big artist and MF Doom is a legend but he’s still on the fringe compared to the level you want to be at?
There’s times where I want to be the biggest artist because I don’t want the messages in my music to go to waste. I want as many people as possible to hear it and understand it. Even now I kind of have to slow down on the way I present that message and find other ways to bring my music to the forefront because things aren’t happening as fast as I expected them to. In life there are things you can’t control so I’m just working around it trying to find my own way.

Isn’t that also a concept you talk about on the song “Caskets” and just the idea of going with the flow?
I don’t really want to give away the whole thing but with “Caskets” and the whole album a lot of the concepts are part of I guess you could say, a character story. “Caskets,” is sort of about a time of hardship and just finding your way out of it which is what I ended up doing. So, I thought those ideas would fit because in the face of adversity I felt many people would identify with those feelings.

How important is intuition is to you and the way you work as an artist?
Intuition is huge to me. There are a lot of times where I’ll just feel something is right. Even if my ears think a song sounds bad, if my body feels it and think its sounds correct I go with it. For example, “So Alone” the way I sang it was intentionally out of key and the [label] Lex Records were like, “Are you sure you want to put this out people might think that’s how you really sing.” And I had to tell them that I didn’t care because the song fits the mold of the character I envisioned for the album. At the end of the day my intuition and my vision is how I create and only I know how to show it. There are certain times where I get upset over a video because I’ll have an idea and it doesn’t work because of budgeting or time but again I always try to just work around it.

You also once mentioned how you don’t have friends who share your interests while also being surrounded by people who decided to make music only because they saw you profit of it. Do you still feel that way?
I hate that shit. I hate it so much and I know I get compared with other artists a lot and I hate that shit too. Everything I’ve ever wrote was straight from my heart. Ever. I’ve never said anything I didn’t mean so it’s like a slap to the face almost. And a lot of the people I use to hang around or affiliate myself with they felt like- I guess they felt like since I was getting popular from rapping it was something easy to do and that shit hurts. I mean anyone could rap and do some trap shit but that’s not how I look at it. I look at this as a passion and something I really love doing. I kind of take it lighter now because people are going to be people and do what they want to do.

I am curious to know how it feels to write a verse from your own personal experiences and then somebody says it sounds the same as somebody halfway across the world?
It happens to the best of them so you got to keep making music and prove them wrong. Artists like, Eminem went through it and a bunch of others to. When they come at me with comparisons to people like [Joey Bada$$ or even back in the days, Tyler the Creator] I don’t sit and dwell on it I’m like “Fuck these people I make music for me and I’m going to keep on going” and that’s the lane I’m moving in. I’m not blind to what people are saying but I just can’t pay attention. I know what I stand for, I know my voice, and what goes on in my life so I can’t let things like that slow me down. I’m just going to continue to make music.

Is there a song that stands out that was hard for you to write?
There’s this song called “Green” it’s on one of my first projects ever called, Kanvas when I was under a different alias. That song was hard to write because that was the first time I wrote about my mom having Multiple Sclerosis Syndrome. Ever since then I could write more freely. There was like a [mental] block but now I can write about a bunch of different things.

So, it’s easier to write now or do you still hold back?
Sometimes, I feel that way – but I think…I think [being open] is the best way to get the message across. There are certain times where I listen to a track and I think, “If the person I’m talking about hears this they might be upset,” but it’s a risk and I don’t really mind it. I feel like I have the right to tell my story. If it’s something that happened to me and affected me I have to talk about it.

Are there ever times where you just don’t want to hear any of those songs?
Often.

How much does positive energy factor into making music for you?
You ever see Think Like A Man Too? Remember when Kevin Hart bet all his chips at the casino table and he was like, “Get that negative energy out the air” and his homie took the chips and won? That’s kind of like how it is for me. I try to keep everything as positive as possible but there are times where a thought or situation will enter and just fucks it up, but you gotta keep going. I feel like every situation you go through happens for a reason and sometimes it’s not easy and people don’t understand it but you have to fight through it.

What song on NehruvianDOOM puts you in good space?
“Mean The Most” because the girl I wrote that for heard it on the radio and I was like, “did you like it?” and she did. I thought it was fucking dope that the girl that I wrote it for enjoyed it.

What do you want people to take away from the album?
I want people to kind of listen to it and take in the concepts. I feel people are going to listen to it and expect straight raps and it’s so much more than that, it’s a real composition of music. It’s hip hop made in a way that’s not all negative. I mean the album has its dark moments but it also shows you that those low moments are stepping stones for positive ones. For example, “So Alone” goes into “Great Things.” I just want people to really listen to it because there’s more to the album than what I’m telling you it goes even deeper.

You once talked about Michael Jackson and how he has no identifiable sound from Thriller to Bad and how you want to be just as versatile. Do you still feel limited as an artist?
110 percent. Since the Doom project is coming out I have to do more shows and there are times where I just want to stay home and make music because I’m always getting new ideas so I definitely do feel it. But I understand these limitations come with the territory of being seen as just a rapper so I try to raise them a bit. I’m always making something because I don’t like holding on to music. I like putting it out and letting people hear it. I want to play the piano more and expand my knowledge of the guitar but people still think I’m just a rapper. Some people don’t even know I make my own beats and I definitely feel limited as far as directing videos and everything. But again I understand I have to work more to go beyond those limits.

Have you already started work on any project for next year?
[laughs] I’ve put together three or four projects. I have my solo album, Understandable Wishes that I produced myself and I also have Nehruvian Groove, a side project where I’m going to put a mad amount of songs into one compilation. I just have a bunch of ideas and different genre concepts that I want to expand on a little more.

In your mind is Bishop Nehru you or is it an alias?
Both. I would say it’s me because… it’s sort of like the [band] Gorillaz. I use it to talk about my life but I don’t want people to think all the shit I say defines me as a person. I have likes and dislikes. When I rap I feel like I rap about things that rap fans want to hear in music, and what people who like music want to hear as a whole. With Bishop he’s the part of me that is- how would I say it- is user-friendly as possible; who tries to express himself as cool and collected. And I would say my other alias, Roland is the part of me that’s raw, like that’s when I really feel like I’m expressing myself to the fullest extent. I have like a bunch of personalities. I don’t know I’m weird.

Don’t be normal, that’s the way I see it.
I just try not to fuck with labels. I feel like labels destroy humanity as well like calling somebody crazy when they may just have a different way of thinking you know what I mean?

Jabbari Weekes is a writer living in Toronto who also hates labels - @daysandweekes