Hailing from Rockland County in Upstate New York, rapper Bishop Nehru had already dropped a couple of well-received mixtapes before his stock rocketed with ‘NehruvianDOOM’, the superb collaborative album with MF Doom, the enigmatic veteran emcee and producer, released on Lex Records in 2014. The partnership stemmed from an unlikely chance meeting between the pair at London’s 100 Club, with Doom having earlier caught wind of Bishop’s potential via 2013’s sterling debut tape ‘Nehruvia’, a collection of raps over beats by Doom, J Dilla, Madlib and more. As Doom handled the production and left microphone duties to Bishop, ‘NehruvianDOOM’ – hailed as one of 2014’s best in what was a particularly strong year for the genre - confirmed the young rapper as one of hip-hop’s most engaging new voices.
His new offering, ‘Magic: 19’, serves as something of a prelude to his debut official studio LP slated to drop on the acclaimed Mass Appeal Records, the Nas-run imprint which has issued work by rap royalty such as Run The Jewels and The Alchemist. Such storied company offers a neat indicator of the overall direction of travel of Bishop’s new work: intricate, masterfully-delivered rhymes paired with state-of-the-art production that offer stylistic nods to hip-hop’s classic sound without trying to replicate its past glories.
Here, Bishop handles most of the beats himself, and deftly crafts impressively varied music from the off: on ‘One Of A Kind’, he stacks a contemporary double-time rhythm on top of a brooding, Lalo Schifrin-esque cinematic sample to a create a stark, menacing backdrop. On the flipside, ‘Highs And Lows’ is a much smoother proposition, its summery, laidback ambience and reflective themes are not a million miles away from the pioneering manifesto of ‘90s underground west coast mavericks the Hieroglyphics.
Thematically, there’s youthful braggadocio and swagger as expected, while standout banger ‘Cake Up’ talks of late nights spent honing his rhymes with a view to getting paid - a reassuringly familiar theme that’s weaved through rap’s discourse ever since the halcyon days of Enjoy and Sugarhill. ‘How It Goes’, meanwhile, builds on the earlier reflective mood, as we find Bishop sounding a note of resignation (“Days turn nights / Close friends turn foes / That’s how it goes…”) over an immaculate J Dilla-like backdrop.
The superb ‘Midnight Reflecting’ draws proceedings to a close in fine style. Producers Ricky Reasonz and GRiMM Doza assemble woozy jazz horns and intermittent space blaster sound effects for the Doom-like sonics as Bishop declares himself “dope like the powder”. Indeed, as is frequently the case on ‘Magic: 19’, the dreamy, hypnotic production provides a deceptively understated setting for Bishop’s barbed couplets: “Waiting for lightning to be striking / But only time it happens is when I’m in the lab writing / King of flows like Poseidon / Still they be sidin’ with these wack rap gods who really should try retiring.”
All of which ultimately suggests Bishop Nehru has an impressive run ahead of him. While his age (he’s still only 19), the central focus on rapping, and consequent lack of mainstream concessions has inevitably drawn comparisons to acclaimed Brooklynite Joey Bada$$, the music stocked here is altogether more skewed than the Pro Era figurehead’s straightforward retro leanings. Bishop’s output perhaps instead sits more comfortably alongside fellow Upstate New York outliers the Doppelgangaz, and the beguiling Beast Coast sound of Bada$$ affiliates The Underachievers and Flatbush Zombies.
Consider this a stirring addition to underground New York hip-hop 3.0’s continually evolving, off-kilter vibe.
Words: Hugh Leask
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