Hip hop is a young person’s game, especially in 2018. After years of back and forth between the old guard and new school, the winner is becoming clear; Joey Bada$$ is doing features with XXXTentacion, Drake is the reigning king of the genre, and Lil Pump has (allegedly) signed an $8 Million deal with Warner, the kids have taken over. For boom bap fans the future is looking bleak.
Yet not everyone under the age of thirty has abandoned the genre’s highly-mythicised golden age; in fact, there’s a whole gang of New York kids reworking its sound for a modern audience. Chief among them is Bishop Nehru, who at 21 is almost a mature MC given the genre’s current penchant for hyper-aggressive adolescents. Hand-picked by the lord of underground rap, DOOM, Nehru has been held up as the genre’s saviour for a few years now. It’s a role he has mixed feelings about playing as you can hear on his new album Elevators Act I & II.
Half produced by the masked villain himself and half by Canadian mastermind Kaytranada, it sees the young rapper flit between old-school jazz rap and more forward-thinking flows, torn between a love of the old school and a desire not to be pigeonholed as a revivalist. Released to the public on Friday it’s one of hip hop’s most anticipated albums of the year so far. Yet when we sat down with Bishop Nehru recently to discuss the new album, it wasn’t until we hit on the subject of screenwriting and storytelling that he lit up and began talking a mile a minute, enthusing about his plans for mysterious detective stories and psychedelic adventures.
It’s understandable really. Nehru has been fielding questions about working with DOOM and being a hip hop prodigy since he was sixteen. Whatsmore, much of the discussion around Elevators Act I & II has leaned heavily on its two producers rather than Nehru himself. They might be the bigger names but it’s his album, and it’s hard to begrudge the rising star a chance to talk about his own interests for a change.
Your new album is a collaboration with DOOM and Kaytranada, you’ve worked with DOOM before but how did the trio come together?
Bishop Nehru: A little while back, probably last year, I had a song with Kaytranada, and we’ve been in contact ever since. I was in LA one time, and he was out there as well, so we just linked up and got in the studio. We never really knew that we were going to do an EP, but we just got in the studio and made a song. After the song was done, I pretty much recorded that night and we liked the song a lot. And after hearing that song, we was like ‘we should do an EP’, so we started playing beats and stuff like that, and that’s pretty much how he became involved.
How was it working on this album compared to say a solo project? Did you kind of let go with your sort of vision in a way?
Not necessarily. Honestly, both of them just wanted me to make a project I was comfortable with, only with their beats. That’s the first thing Kaytranada told me just like ‘Yo, I’m just going to give you these beats and whatever idea you got or whatever vision you have, you just do the vision.’ He kind of just wanted to be on the side of it. He still gives his critique, of course, but he wanted it to be my project, and it was the same with DOOM.
One thing that comes across is that despite the big name collaborations, you do seem very independent.
Very. Yeah, that’s the thing that other people was asking at the fan session yesterday. “Is there any artist that I felt could’ve been on the project that didn’t?” And I was like, honestly no. I feel like I can hold down a lot by myself and if anyone was meant to be on the project, then they’ll be on the project. It wasn’t like there were people who were asked so, I just feel like I don’t go out of my way to get people on tracks. I feel like I don’t need to.
You can hear it when it doesn’t happen organically.
Exactly. I don’t want to force a collaboration. Even before we get in the studio, I would rather meet you and make sure we’re cool. Me and Kaytranada’s first song, we didn’t really just force it. We just listened to the beat over and over. It was more of a vibe. It wasn’t really like “Let’s get on this track, fans are waiting for this track!” I feel like those are the worst kind of tracks. Yeah, we gotta get together, the fan wants this. That’s where I feel like the best chemistry comes from – people who are actually fans of each other’s stuff.
Especially as well with guys like DOOM and Kaytranada, they have a sort of loose style in a way like I couldn’t really imagine them just studio session where they just for an hour and bang out a tune. Is it more of a jam when you guys make music together?
Well, the first session with Kaytranada, he just had the beat, and I sat with it for a bit. I think I had a verse that I wanted to use for it that fit perfect and then I wrote the second one right there on the spot, so it just flowed organically. When I was in the session listening to the beats, I was telling him like there were certain beats he was kinda reluctant to play because he didn’t know whether I was gonna fuck with them but I was like “Nah, bro. Play them.” There’s a bunch of stuff you probably wouldn’t think that I would definitely like. So it was this kinda organic vibe.
Will there be live shows with all of three of you coming up?
Not sure about all three of us but probably could pull something with Kaytra. It might be a bit harder with DOOM though…
Yeah, he can be difficult to pin down, I’m sure. One thing I wanted to ask you about is I’ve seen you described as “the saviour of hip hop” and “the boom bap messiah”. How do you feel when people say stuff like that?
It’s cool I guess. Not really why I started to make music but I guess it’s a cool title, but I don’t really pay attention to stuff like that. I don’t wanna box myself into that, but I appreciate it for sure.
So you don’t really read reviews or stuff that people write about you?
Nah, not really I mean. The stuff that I read are more from fans; I don’t really care what the blogs or anything are saying. But I feel like they just go with the wind, to be honest, so whatever. The critique I take is usually from fans and stuff like that. I feel like that’s the most important critique.
Fair enough. How do you feel about hip-hop at the moment? For example SoundCloud rap or whatever you want to call it.
It’s cool I guess. I haven’t been listening to a lot of it. I feel like everyone has their own lane? Certain things at certain times.
What do you think your lane is?
Grammy rap. That’s my lane. The ones that win awards and like changes peoples lives forever, so that’s kinda like my aspiration. Not really SoundCloud realm, I’m tryna take it to like furthest extent I can.
So, outside of hip-hop, what else do you listen to?
A lot of psychedelic stuff, psych rock, stuff like that. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Incubus, not really a little Radiohead, Flying Lotus. I wouldn’t say ‘angry stuff’, but they come across angry. I’ve been listening to the Beach Boys recently. The Turtles are cool.
That’s quite a range.
Yeah, I just try to keep my ear with new music and everything. Or old new music that I haven’t heard.
Have you started working on any psychedelic-influenced stuff or are you just focusing on this album for now?
Nah, I’m always making stuff. I think I have probably made something psych; it probably wasn’t even intentional. I don’t really think about what I’m going to make; I just do it.
What are your long-term goals? You’ve got this album kind of in the near future, beyond that, do you see yourself making music or have you got other plans for the future?
I definitely want to get more into directing. I’ve always known that I wanted to get a Grammy, a video director award. I wanted to write novels, short stories, movies, short films. I’ve always known that’s what I wanted to do since I was a little kid. When I was in school that was like one of my big focuses, I was gonna go to school for directing & photography. So I want to do more in that field, but the first thing I’ve gotta do is win a Grammy. I won’t say I would cut off the music and jump into movies. I’ll probably be a lot more relaxed with music and happy with what I did for a little while before I try to do more short films and writing.
Is that because the music took off that you didn’t study it at school?
Right. I feel like it was a better opportunity to just actually direct instead of having to go to school for a year, so it was more like jumping into the game.
How much have you done regarding script-writing, film-making, that sort of thing?
Two years ago I actually started writing this one script, but I stopped because I saw a movie with the same title as it came out, so I was like ‘damn!’ What I really should’ve done was change the title. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m actually going to go back to that because it was a good concept. I was a little thrown off that somebody used the name. And I didn’t like the actors in the movie, so I was like “Damn, n*ggas gonna think I tried to copy this movie.”
Was the plot anything like it?
It wasn’t really like the same thing at all, but it was the name that threw me off, so I didn’t want these guys with the same name movie. But it was a little psych thriller idea. I don’t want to say the idea because I feel like somebody will take it. But I started writing a couple of things before I came out here, I was going to write some little synopsis as well another screenplay. This is the one that I think I’m going to settle in and write the script for and I definitely like the synopsis of it. I usually write a lot of synopsis out just to get creative ideas. Sometimes I would write a one-page story which is a little exercise I do. I’ll fill up the whole page of stories, and it has to end at the bottom just to test your mind to make a nice ending quickly.
Have you spoken to anyone about getting any of these made or anything?
Yeah, there’s actually a lady I know, and she was telling me to keep writing and when I’ve finished them to give them to her. I could definitely do it; it’s just music interferes with that right now so I can’t really sit and write the whole screenplay. I really want to do it, but I feel like when things take off with this, that’s when I’ll focus on more screenwriting and stuff like that.
I’ll probably do a detective series or mysteries or something like ‘Shutter Island’. Shit like that is what I want to do like long term.
Bishop Nehru’s new album Elevators Act I & II is out Friday March 16th.