New York’s Beast Coast scene – collecting the likes of DyMe-A-DuZiN, Flatbush Zombies, The Underachievers and Joey Bada$$ – is as characterised by the youth of its protagonists as it is the nostalgic nature of the ‘90s-recalling beats they bump.
But if the above are relative saplings compared to the artists they’re looking to for inspiration – Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, Nas, J Dilla, Jay-Z – then Bishop Nehru is a certifiable seedling.
When Clash meets the 16-year-old in London, the night after he’s shared the 100 Club stage with DOOM and Ghostface Killah, he persistently toys with a small sprout of facial hair, teasing it towards a more rugged look. He’s the kind of kid, on first impression, who’ll need his older-looking mates to keep him in liquor for some years yet.
But while Nehru’s appearance exudes an endearingly youthful naivety, his music to date certainly doesn’t. It’s a rounded, mature sound: part modern, part official Queensbridge murderers. His mixtape of late-2012, ‘Nehruvia’, has won fans aplenty, critics drawing parallels with both Bada$$’s ‘1999’ and Nas’s immortal ‘Illmatic’.
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Bishop Nehru – ‘Misruled Order’ (from ‘Nehruvia’)
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“‘Illmatic’ is the best rap album of all time,” says Nehru, who takes his musical moniker from the Tupac movie Juice (the character Bishop) and India’s first prime minister (Nehru). “I can listen to that all the way through, every time. If I put it on, I just don’t stop a single track, you know?”
Yeah, we know – ‘Illmatic’ is featured on Clash’s top 10 hip-hop albums of all time. Like ‘1999’, ‘Nehruvia’ moves to instrumentals drawn from more famous rap-game players. Bishop rhymes over DOOM beats on ‘Lemon Grass’, and both ‘SweetLips’ and ‘Welcome’ are J Dilla productions.
“Dilla has definitely left a legacy in hip-hop,” says the teen of the late James Yancey’s work. Clash suggests he is to rap what Brian Wilson, or The Beatles, might be to rock. “Brian who? Seriously, I’m not being funny, I’ve never heard of him. Also, why do so many people love The Beatles so much?” Ah, youth.
But Bishop isn’t short of some excellent hip-hop material in his own collection – Nas aside, he’s got “all the Wu-Tang stuff… And Black Moon, too. The first Black Moon album, ‘Enta Da Stage’, I think I got some of my sound – the jazziness, the smoothness – from that.”
DOOM has been a significant influence, too, so meeting him the night before got the young rapper buzzing. “It was amazing… I couldn’t look him in the face at first. And then he shouted me out on stage, and signed my vinyl. We just kicked it off. He said he was a huge fan of mine.”
Fraternising with the likes of DOOM and Ghostface: it makes an interviewer wonder what collaborations might be in the pipeline. “I’m working on some EPs, with some pretty big names, but I can’t really talk about that. After that, I’ll have my album, ‘The Book Of Mutrow’. I’ve almost wrapped another mixtape, too, ‘Strictly Flows’. I wanna get a lot of music out there.”
His enthusiasm is palpable, and infectious with it. When he gets talking about the future, his face splits into the broadest of smiles. When he laughs it’s genuine – there’s no room in Bishop Nehru’s mindset right now for cynicism. Right now, he’s part of a movement that’s revitalising the east coast – the Beast Coast – hip-hop scene.
“It’s kinda competitive,” he says, of New York’s current crop of rising rappers. But it seems like healthy competition, too – certainly amongst those distributing their material online. Bishop, as someone who’s grown up with the internet always there, can’t imagine why you’d do it any other way.
“Some people in New York still don’t get it. They’re walking around the streets, handing out CDs. And that’s just not necessary, you know? It is a lot easier to connect to people through the internet, so that’s all you need.”
And should you need ‘Nehruvia’ in your iTunes collection, here’s where to head.
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Bishop Nehru live at London’s 100 Club
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