Age can be a deceiving thing, particularly in hip-hop. 16-year-old New York rapper Bishop Nehru is part of a new wave of young East Coast rappers who are rejected the ultra aggressive maximalist style of contemporary rap sounds like trap in favour of something sweeter, more soulful and old school. Despite his musical kinship with the likes of Joey Bada$$ and other Beast Coast affiliated acts, Bishop Nehru is very much a singular character. Incredibly assured for his age and blessed with a wonderful easygoing glow Nehru is making classically tinged rap for the 21st century.
As Ill Communication chats with Nehru on the phone while he is chilling at home in NYC, his ease is striking. Despite only being 16 he has already been making music, beats and rhymes for two years. Nehru takes his forename from Tupac's character in the film juice while the surname is the name of India's first prime minister. This desire to subvert hip-hop norms is already present in the choice of name, "Yeah, I like it better," he says. "A name with a meaning is better than just a random name."
Indeed, Tupac is one of two strong influences for the young rapper. "He's certainly an inspiration," he explains with warmth in his voice. "Tupac was an inspiration to me more in life than in music though. My biggest musical inspiration is Nas." The citing of Nas and his legendary East coast masterpiece is an apposite one. Bishop Nehru's debut mixtape, Nehruvia, released late last year is a collection of songs that share that record's vision and style.
Nehruvia is defined by a love of a classic and almost effortless hip-hop sound. The copious use of J Dilla and Doom productions and beats help to create the timeless feeling of hip-hop built on musical and socially conscious foundations. Nehru rejects merely defining this as an old school approach though, for him the term golden age is far more appropriate. He goes on to explain what drew him in to this classic sound: "I'm not sure I think everything from then just flowed; even if there was like an aggressive beat it was still mellow. It was just simple you could just sit back and listen to it. The beats now are for more energised people, I'm more mellow, that's what I like about it. I don't want to say I'm more mellow than energised but the mellow side of it appeals to me more than the energised side."
This mellow nature manifests itself in his peerless ultra smooth flow and rhymes that float along with almost effortless cool. As opening statement Nehruvia sounds like it was put together with minimum of effort, a theory that is partly correct as Nehru explains: "I don't want to say the whole writing part was effortless but the beginning of the writing was easy because I had topics for it that I wanted to write about specifically so it was just like filling in the blanks. That part was easy some of the time. The part that wasn't easy was finding words that rhyme and getting it to sound the way that I wanted it to sound. I didn't really stall or have any trouble with it. It just took longer than the other parts."
Lyrically, the songs here deal with life on the NYC streets as a young rapper, "As far as moral wise or plot wise it was just a lot of things that were going on inside of me that I felt could help my personality and the way I feel," he outlines, before adding, "just like therapy basically."
Perhaps, the thing that is most striking about Bishop Nehru is how utterly assured he is and his conviction in the merits of his own work. He sees his music as something of a reaction against contemporary rap. When I ask him about where he sees the state of rap in 2013 he is withering in his criticism. "I don't like it at all," he reveals bluntly. "I think it'll be more interesting to see people embrace the golden era sound rather than the trap sound. I think the golden era sound brings a positive message which trap music doesn't have.
It would be incredibly easy and naïve to define Bishop Nehru by his age, despite being so young he is already a considerable rapper who has developed his own musical identity, which builds on his affinity to older sounds. "I don't really think of myself as 16 when I'm making music," he says. "I don't want to say I don't like it because it got me where I am but it's kind of an odd topic because I just want to be treated like the oldest rapper in the world."
Things have already started moving swiftly for Bishop Nehru; a few weeks ago, he made his first trip to the UK to support Ghostface Killah and MF Doom in London. This conversation took place before he made that trip but the excitement in his voice was palpable as he discussed the prospect: "I'm stoked for that, I can't wait to go. The performance is going to be dope," By all accounts, dope was an understatement.
Capitalising on his early success 2013 is becoming a busy year for Nehru who promises a forthcoming new mixtape Strictly Flows and a debut album before the years out. Even more intriguingly, he promises more collaborations with Ras Fresco, a producer who provides one of the outstanding cuts on Nehruvia in 'Moon & Stars'. Beyond this, the ultimate goal for Nehru is simple: "For me I just want to do the best that I can do, win Grammy's y'know? Awards, stuff like that."
You can visit Bishop Nehru by heading here. Nehruvia is out now.