MF DOOM, true to the principles of comic supervillain construction, is a series of mysteries and mythology. He is a rich but ultimately unknowable integer, animated by righteousness and contempt, so dynamic, yet alone. Via collaborative projects with producers Danger Mouse, Madlib, and Jneiro Jarel, DOOM has proven his mettle as a villain, his ingenuity as a lyricist, and his dasterdliness as a songwriter. Now, the aging Palpatine requires a young, ambitious Anakin.
Bishop Nehru, DOOM’s padawan, like all sidekicks and apprentices, is the partnership’s mathematical variable; minor at his onset, and ostensibly destined to eclipse and succeed his benefactor. At 18 years old, he's a technically impressive rapper, a relatively plainspoken teen with quirky language, sure, but short on concept. His choppy Method Man-style cadences illustrate the standard ambitions of adolescence: (1) unfettered expression and (2) applause and acclaim for his candor. "They told me I should focus on scholastics/And others told me focus on elastic/I'm using both of those as a tactic/As I mix it with my passion for the rapping."
NehruvianDOOM, Bishop’s label debut, is a solo tape only if you squint; even the title betrays that this is a best-of-both-worlds collaboration tape for the most part, complete with DOOM’s penchant for sampling snippets of overacted dialog and b-movie fight choreography. Whereas Bishop jacked Preem and Dilla beats for his earliest releases, DOOM’s executive production of NehruvianDOOM means we're listening to a singular soundscape that, as fans will know, isn't really Bishop's own. As you appreciate just how distinctly groovy and deranged that sound is, the equation begs solution: 43-year-old MF DOOM + 18-year-old Bishop Nehru - 43-year-old MF DOOM = what, exactly?
Such an apprenticeship is a weighted compromise for any thoughtful, mature artist at such a tender age and marginal station. In contrast, in 2005, Kanye West crafted the entirety of Common's Be, which nonetheless sounds and feels like a Common album because we knew the man already. Common was 33 years old, six albums deep. Bishop, like his spiritual brethren Ab-Soul, is no slave to the legacies of Canibus and Lupe, and other seminary thesis rappers. (Soulo's more extremely imaginative, but I can't guess who's the smarter or better read of the two.) Yet the contours and marketing of NehruvianDOOM mean that we are, in some limited sense, hearing a DOOM album featuring a young man who offers promise more than profundity, a mark, not quite a fault, of his age.
The explicitly “Bishop Nehru f/ DOOM” collaborations (“Om,” “Caskets,” “Disastrous”) bear this out. There's minimal camaraderie (a la Jay and Bleek) or competitive reverence (a la Jay and early Kanye) here; the Street Fighter dynamic of “Caskets,” for instance, is tag-team rather than versus. In respite from the character and concept dabbling of MM...Food and The Mouse and the Mask, here we meet Standard-Issue DOOM: a capable mentor who knows better than to upstage the kid on his own project. Bishop’s own limp, barely chanted hooks on “Mean the Most” and “Great Things” mean we’ve got a pop-immune poet on our hands, not that I'd knock him for it. He's not vulnerable to 808s, his insular rhyming prioritizing hot lines over hot songs: "A walking diamond yet they treat me like feldspar/I'm not as common as you think," Bishop raps on "Great Things."
NehruvianDOOM is the canvas of a young man’s estimable rapping skill, no doubt. Unlike his mentor—a zany, vivid legend at such a late stage of his own saga—Bishop Nehru is capable of boundless growth and greater things. A vibrant pen set to blank page, yet devoid of plot. It’s the utmost question of Bishop’s direction: to don DOOM's mask, or graft his own.