Bishop Nehru sits calmly on the patio of the Drake Hotel. He swaggers through the Toronto venue and out the backdoor, where security has monitored him the entire night. At only 18 years old, the New York rapper is still legally underage. When most his age are focused on schooling, uncertain with their future, Nehru seems confident with his calling. That's likely why the teenager happens to be one of most promising in the scene.
A professional career spanning little over two years, Nehru has already collaborated with many of his idols. Having released projects with 9th Wonder, MF Doom and more recently, signing to Nas’ Mass Appeal records, it’s quickly becoming old hat for the prodigious emcee. In the midst of an increasingly demanding schedule, we were able to catch up with him to chat about young success, experiencing sensory crossover, and what it would mean to win a Grammy.
How's your time in Toronto so far?
I literally flew in yesterday for a show. I haven’t had a whole lot of time to check it out just quite yet, but I'm looking forward to it.
You already have a Toronto connection though. You linked up with Raz Fresco for “Mob Dizzle.” How did that come about?
Honestly, just through social media. I came across some of his stuff on YouTube and thought it was dope. After that I just messaged him, and the track came together.
How are you finding the energy in the city so far?
I like it. I keep hearing there’s a lot of pretty girls here, but I’m pretty shy. I’ll just stare in their face and they’ll probably think it’s hella weird. [laughs] I used to approach girls, but now that I’m 18, I’ve kind of stopped that. I don’t know maybe it’s puberty. [laughs]
You don’t need to approach them. Look at tonight. Those girls in the front row were crazy.
They were pretty annoying, to be honest. It was almost like heckling me. When they kept putting a flash in my face, I felt like an animal or something.
I was worried that they were going to jump on the stage. Does that ever happen?
Yeah, it happened in Boston recently. There was this drunk girl that went up and was touching my pants and stuff. She grabbed the microphone and started playing with it. I told her she couldn’t stay on stage unless she was dancing or something.
She probably would, too.
Yeah, that’s exactly what she did. [laughs]
I wanted to mention the video you did for “User$.” You went to Japan for that?
That was crazy. We planned it before we went out there. We touched down and filmed it on the spot. My only major direction was that it had to be a purple tint. Sound translates into color for me. When I heard the song, I knew I wanted the video in purple.
Do you experience that sensation frequently?
Yeah, definitely. I use it [synesthesia] to build my songs. In my head, the track itself is the canvas, the beat is the paint, and I’m the paintbrush. I put everything together. I experience it a bunch. When I perform “Lemongrass,” I always get a yellow vibe. When I get a bigger budget for shows, I want to show colors and songs the way it should be, the way I see them. That would elevate the show to a whole new level.
Is there a bad vibe color? I know certain people stray away from different ones.
I haven’t observed that yet, to be honest. I should try and pay attention to them more. That’s a good idea, actually. I know my favorite ones are green, black, and the new one is turquoise. I don’t know, maybe it’s a psychological thing?
Speaking of psychological, how do you think this amount of early success has changed you? Would you be rapping differently had you not received it all at such a young age?
“You’ll never be able to find what’s golden if you don’t experiment enough” – Bishop Nehru
Honestly, no. That’s another thing people aren’t aware of. I’ve been experimenting with my music since I was thirteen years old. I made albums back then too. Ironically, with my newer stuff, I’ve gravitated towards that older sound. You’ll never be able to find what’s golden if you don’t experiment enough. That’s what I’ve always done and what I keep trying to do. I stopped experimenting for a bit, and that’s where I think I've messed up.
You think you’ve messed up?
Yes. Only because everyone thinks I’m some '90s rapper now. That’s why I’ve been branching out with songs like “You Stressin” [a collaboration with UK duo Disclosure]. I want to do more things like that, just to show people my influences are more than just '90s hip-hop.
Do you listen to a lot of other music?
Oh, absolutely. I listen to funk, dubstep, punk. I also like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Incubus, and Radiohead. I listened to a lot of Green Day in the seventh grade. I used to dress like a rock star back then. I have that image of myself today. That’s why I get frustrated with people’s expectations, what they want me to do.
What else are you looking to do? You've stated that you'd like to direct more. Is that something that still interests you?
Yeah. I want to direct a psychological thriller. I want to do some stuff with metaphysics. I want to take some courses about that and learn more about the universe. I want to be a chemist, a controller of elements. I want to have my own laboratory. You know, everyone should do what they want to do. I feel like more people will start taking risks now that artists are pushing the envelope.
I have to ask about your album. We know Nas is executive producing. What can you tell us about it?
Not much. [laughs] I’ve had a plan for this album since I was a kid. I know what I want the “Bishop Nehru, executive produced by Nas” album to sound like. This album is driven by my inner child. I want to speak on things that I've experienced as a child, things I went through back then.
After you release the project, what’s the goal for the year?
I just want to win a Grammy, man. I’ve never won an award before. I say that in a lot of interviews, but it’s true.
What makes you want a Grammy? There’s been a lot of talk recently, about it’s dwindling relevance.
Once you have one, it’s a title. It doesn’t have to be album of the year or anything, I just want one. I heard Lil Wayne say this: "After you win a Grammy, there’s no more Lil Wayne. It’s 'Award-winning, Lil Wayne.'" Ever since I heard that, I wanted a Grammy. I want “Award-winning, Bishop Nehru.” It proves a point. No matter how people see the Grammys, they’re not going to become extinct. Things like that have a legacy. It’s almost like the NBA Championship. You have to go through some questionable referees to win the title.
You wouldn’t want to compromise your sound for it though, right?
No. I would definitely branch out more, though. If I make something that sounds like Future’s "Layup," it’s because I’m just feeling that way. If I made a song a day that was over any random beat and put it out, people wouldn’t have anything to say about me. They wouldn’t question me if I sounded “mainstream” or say I’m “selling out.” It was just be me. Just because you want to expand your sound, doesn’t mean you’re compromising your art. If we were scared to do that, art just wouldn't progress.