By Grant Brydon
It’s a grey, wet evening in Manchester and the streets are filled with people. The cab drivers’ explanation is the soccer game set to kick off soon, but the cat-emblazoned t-shirts and Supreme caps suggest otherwise. Earl Sweatshirt is playing a sold out show tonight, and the doors should have opened a while ago.
Upstairs in the Manchester Academy, New York’s Bishop Nehru sits in what feels like a very narrow doctor’s office waiting room as he prepares to warm up the crowd ahead of Odd Future’s prodigal son. Despite having released two critically acclaimed mixtapes that attracted the attention from Nas, Kendrick Lamar, and Wu-Tang Clan, Bishop is a quiet kid who speaks without a hint of arrogance. He’s got an album in the works with the legendary and elusive DOOM, and he hasn’t even celebrated his 18th birthday yet.
As the doors finally open and the crowd begins to pour in, Bishop takes a moment to chat about his latest release, working with his idols, and his career so far.
How are you feeling about the reception to “You Stressin’,” your latest single? Could this be your breakthrough single?
I guess it’s great, it’s made what the B-List? It’s made its way up the radio charts so far, so I’m happy for it. I don’t know if it will be the breakthrough. Time will tell! [Laughs]
I heard that at the Birthdays show yesterday, everybody was looking forward to hearing that one. Disclosure was an unexpected collaboration. How did that come about?
It was what they actually sent over. It wasn’t too crazy or anything, so I was willing to work with them to see what they’d come up with.
Have you been spending a lot of time over here to work on Nehruvian DOOM?
Working with DOOM this is my third time over here, but I’ve been over four times so far. In one year. So I’ve been back and forth. I’m getting used to it more and more. At first I didn’t really like it—the food and stuff like that. I still don’t really like all of the food, but there’s some things I’m starting to open up to.
What is it that you’re struggling with food-wise?
The portion size for one. It’s way smaller here. The way things are cooked and how well done they cook it, I guess. It doesn’t really taste the same.
Rappers tend to go to Nandos when they come to the UK. Have you been there?
I’ve never tried it. The first time I came here that’s where everybody was talking about, going to Nandos, but then when I seen the food I didn’t wanna try it!
How close to completion are you and DOOM with the album?
We’re like 95%. We’re real, real close to finishing up.
And is the plan still to make it seven tracks long?
Roughly. I think I just want to keep seven because it’s a number I favor. I think with skits and stuff it might extend a little longer, but I want to keep it to seven. I want to use one of the beats from Special Herbs, but the rest of them are all original beats and new content, so me and DOOM just worked really well as far as doing this.
Are you rapping and producing on there?
Nah, I didn’t produce anything, but it’s me and him both rapping. I kind of wanted to just rap on this one. I did add like little post production stuff but not like a whole beat or anything.
That was like ten years ago, so I must have been like seven. It’s crazy that ten years have passed so fast.
You first discovered DOOM because of an episode of The Boondocks. What was it that made you go back and check out his back catalog and what did you get into first?
My older cousin Dwayne has all The Boondocks season. When it first came out he was the only I knew that was really watching it, so he showed me a couple of episodes and let me borrow it then he bought me the second series for my birthday.
There’s one episode that he showed me called “Let’s Nab Oprah,” where Ed and Rummy go to rob Oprah. And there’s one scene where Huey’s about to try to stop them from kidnapping her, and her bodyguard Bushido Brown just comes out like, ‘You’re not getting in here, nobody’s going to see Oprah.’ And then Huey’s like, “Nah, I’m trying to save her.” Then out of nowhere “Raid” starts playing in the background. I was like, “Who is this?”
My cousin told me who it was, it’s MF DOOM, from the Madvillain album, and then at the end of the episode it actually shows the album. So I went and looked up that, and then I went back and found a whole bunch more stuff. Like, “Holy shit! This guy’s discography is the shit.” That was like ten years ago, so I must have been like seven. It’s crazy that ten years have passed so fast.
You’ve cited your influences as Nas, DOOM, Wu-Tang Clan, and 2Pac, and now you have co-signs from three of the four. How does that feel?
It’s really hard to explain. It’s just a moment, you know?
Do you think it gives you more confidence in your work?
Yeah, it does—confidence recording. When I go into a song I actually know that people are listening because they think I’m good. Before, I didn’t really have that. I was just being my own judge.
To me, a rapper is just a person who can rap. There’s no vision behind it. There’s nothing you can really feel.
You’ve spoken before on being “a hip-hop artist” rather than “a rapper.” What is the difference to you?
To me, a rapper is just a person who can rap. There’s no vision behind it. There’s nothing you can really feel. They aren’t trying to make a person figure out or understand anything. I think that’s the difference between rappers and hip-hop artists.
You’ve said that you’d like to have a career like Tyler The Creator. What is it about his career path that interests you?
He just does what he wants to do. He just does what makes him happy, and a lot of people don’t do that. They do whatever makes their parents or whoever happy. There are others who are like that, like Kanye. He’s doing what makes him happy as well. Pharrell… I just want to be happy, really. That’s just something I want to do. I want a career like Jay Z. He had to put in work first, but then at the end he’s kinda just chilling now. Everybody is watching him chill right now. That’s a pretty solid career. I think I want a career like Kurt Cobain right now. [Laughs]
You made a jazz album before you started recording your rapping. Were you already interested in making hip-hop at that point?
They were kind of around the same time. I was writing first but I wasn’t recording. I just started the jazz stuff so I could learn how to make beats and do my own thing. So that was just kind of an opening way for me to get used to keyboard learn how to set stuff up and connecting and wiring, mixing and stuff. I had to learn that side of things so I guess the jazz project was to get myself into producing. After that was when I really started rapping and recording, once I felt that I had a good enough understanding.
You have to teach yourself the music part, and that was the part that I was interested in learning before I just jumped into rap, because there’s a lot of people that do that. A lot of older hip-hop people that I know, including my dad, take offense to that.
What made you choose jazz as an intro to making beats?
Because to do jazz you have to know the notes. You have to teach yourself the music part, and that was the part that I was interested in learning before I just jumped into rap, because there’s a lot of people that do that. A lot of older hip-hop people that I know, including my dad, take offense to that. I remember when I was younger there was an argument going on about how people from our generation showed no respect to how people back in the day did it. So the whole thing got twisted, and I remember hearing that.
You also included an early hip-hop recording, “Angels,” on strictlyFLOWZ. What was the idea behind that?
It was just an old track, I just put it on there to show the progression. Those lyrics are really old by the way. But at the same time, everything on strictlyFLOWZ is old lyrics—they’re like two years old now. That’s what people don’t know. When people see me bored by the stuff I’m doing right now, they’re like, “Why’s he so bored, what’s he taking about, this tape is amazing.” But they don’t know it’s been out for a year or two.
It’s quite common for artists to end up releasing music that’s a couple of years old and presenting it as new.
That’s what happens when you’re really in love with music, when you really like making music. It all just stacks up. Then after a while you have all this music, but you can’t put out a 50-song tape, so you just slowly put them out on different projects. At least that’s what it is for me. I just love making music, so I just keep making it and making it.
Unless you’re Lil B.
Finally, you’ve described strictlyFLOWZ as a parody tape. What is it you mean by that?
You gotta figure it out. You gotta see how it fits. Which means you gotta wait until… I dunno, I don’t wanna say. It’s gonna fuck up everything so I’m just going to hold out. People are going to be interested, so just wait and see.