meet the teen rapper working with hip-hop legends
At just 19, New York rapper Nehru has already worked with the likes of MF DOOM, J.Dilla, Madlib and Nas. There’s a reason for that. Welcome to Nehruvia.
It's the stuff of hip-hop dreams. A joint album with MF Doom; Madlib, Nas and J.Dilla as mentors; a world tour with Joey Bada$$; and support both for and from Kendrick Lamar, who named him the scene's "next generation of pure talent". Always writing from experience with intelligent lyrics, young Nehru isn't afraid to experiment with his style, proving his versatility on tracks with the likes of Disclosure. And while all avenues work, it's the seriously chill flow and smokey beat of new tune It's Whatever, taken from his forthcoming Magic 19 mixtape that really gets us excited. "He's an old soul that was built for this..." MF Doom once said of his collaborator "...a young master." Of course we agree. With the mixtape dropping any day now, it's onwards and upwards to the release of his album which (originally due to drop on Nas' Mass Appeal) is rumoured to have some big name features.
While he may have already achieved more in three years than many do across their whole careers, there's still a whole lot more to tick off his list. Having just returned from a radio interview in the city, when we call 19-year-old Bishop Nehru he's at home with his mum in Upstate New York planning an afternoon of reading up on the workings of the brain. We put his plans on hold to discuss the junk food music of today, his movie directing dreams and the real sound of NY rap.
What's on your list of things to do?
I wanna win Grammys. I understand that they're just awards that someone presents to you but I still feel like they matter.
And what do you think was/is the greatest era for hip-hop?
Honestly I couldn't say because I wasn't born in any of the other ones, but I like the 90s and I definitely like the current generation so it's probably between those. Now we have a little bit of both, there's kind of a balance.
You recently tweeted about people making junk food music. What is junk food music?
Music with no point, you know what I mean? The content is just nothing, it's just there. It's just a song. When I say junk food I mean that there's no meaning or feeling behind it. It doesn't make any sense, not even the lyrics make sense. It's just nonsense music. A lot of the stuff on the radio is junk food.
But lots of people seem to like that music... do you think that's because they don't know any better?
Yeah, I think it's just what's in front of them. You know, if something's in front of you and you feel like it's the best, why would you look to the side of you or behind you? People are so used to having music handed to them that they don't care to look anywhere else.
You're clearly into a variety of different genres yourself. Is there anything that you listen to that would surprise your fans?
Um, jazz and rock maybe? I listen to Kenny G style stuff… I listen to stuff like Lou Donaldson and a lot of Blue Note artists.
Nice. What do you think about regional distinctions in hip-hop... what does today's New York rap sound like to you?
I mean we could say 50 Cent back in the day was the greatest, but there are so many different sounds coming out of New York right now, you know what I mean? I feel like the new music that comes outta the city is more 808-heavy… I don't think there's really any particular sound that any area has right now because there's people from Atlanta that just sound like Future, you know? So is Future the Atlanta sound or the Future sound? I feel like in New York especially there are so many different type of personalities that you're gonna find different types of music. I guess in other places you can't really find a person who's more lyrical and tryna be deep with rap, and a person who doesn't really care for the lyrical side of rap but tries to make party songs. I feel like that's New York.
The blurring of regional sounds is down to the internet, right?
Yeah, of course. People are definitely just gonna make what they want to hear from the people that came before them and put their own twist to it. That's how everyone gets started. I feel like in the mainstream media anyway, the trap sound - and I don't wanna say trap cause it's not really trap is big. It's not acoustic instruments, it's electronic instruments - and electronic instruments and sounds are more popular nowadays than acoustic sounds.
How's your album looking?
Well the one that was supposed to be done with Mass Appeal is finished up, so I have that project and my Magic 19 mixtape. Both are pretty much all finished and waiting to be released.
How does it feel knowing that you've got that sitting there but you have to wait before you can put it out?
Honestly it's not really that big of a deal to me. I'll just keep on working anyway; keep on making more and more music.
What movie do you think your music would be the best soundtrack for?
I don't think I could come up with anything for the album yet cause I still haven't added the finishing touches. But the mixtape I'd have to say it'd be a good soundtrack to The Matrix. That's pretty much the theme of the whole thing and the inspiration behind it.
Sick. Someone has to redub the movie with your mixtape…
Yeah, just low key playing in the background.
You made your Nehruvia mixtape in 2013 when you were still in school. Now you're not, do you think your approach to making music has changed?
It's pretty much the same that it's always been. I just try to be as spontaneous as possible and create. I've heard that from the best of the best of artists. They just create and create and create and spontaneously make what they make. They try not to think too much about it, you know? I try to do the same.
Aside from music, are you still pursuing your interests in photography and directing?
I still take pictures but with directing, the only thing is getting a budget to direct. I still come up with great ideas and write treatments and stuff like that though.
What kind of films would you want to make?
I wanna make a psychological thriller.
You shared a picture of psychiatrist Frances Cress Welsing when she died. What did she mean to you?
Well she was just big on black people and all the stuff that we have to go through every day. She has a book called The Yssis Papers that's really good. She was just good on symbolism and breaking down a lot of stuff to make us stronger people. She's really big on the brain. I'd recommend that book.
What's the best advice that you've ever received?
I always get given the same advice so I think it must be the best: just do you. It sounds simple but it's a very good statement. Nas and Dilla told me that.
Finally, where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
Wow, so I'll be almost 30! I hope I'm a millionaire by then and that I've got my own house and my mom's house, and a lot of my dreams have come true.
Magic 19 is due for release 3rd June.
Text Francesca Dunn