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Meet the 19-year-old getting props from MF Doom

Stream Bishop Nehru’s new mixtape “Magic 19” and read an interview with the emerging rapper who made his first beat when he was 12

Bishop Nehru is only 19 years old, but he’s already achieved a lot in his lifetime. The New York rapper has put out a handful of mixtapes and EPs, released a collaborative album with MF DOOM, worked with producers from Madlib to DJ Premier to Disclosure, toured with the Wu-Tang Clan and Joey Bada$$, received the Kendrick Lamar seal of approval, and signed to Nas’ label Mass Appeal Records – yet, speaking to him over the phone from his mother’s house, he still retains the same low-key approach towards his work as he did when he started rapping. “I never really told too many people I rapped,” he says, “I was never one to brag about my music in school. I just put stuff out whenever I felt like putting stuff out.”

Born Markel Scott in 1996, Nehru grew up in Spring Valley, a village in New York’s Rockland County. The relative isolation of his hometown goes some way to explaining the solitary quality that defines his music. “There are parts (of Spring Valley) that are really suburban, and parts that look like the city that are more fast-paced,” he says, “But for the most part, it’s pretty rural, really slow.” At school he focused on his music, learning to make beats in class and sharpening his knowledge at home with YouTube tutorials and by learning music theory.

Though inspired by artists like DOOM and Madlib, Nehru’s music is more than a mere golden age throwback. While he prides himself on lyricism and musicality – qualities that defined a lot of golden age hip hop – his vision is unique, and his music the sort of thing that could only have been made by a kid in his bedroom with music software and an internet connection. His new mixtape Magic 19 showcases the young rapper’s evolution even over the short space of the past year or two, demonstrating an even tighter lyrical focus, a willingness to play with different flows, and stranger, more spaced-out beats. Listen to it below, and read on for an interview with Nehru.

When did you first start making hip hop?

Bishop Nehru: I was always interested in rapping. I was always interested in writing as well – it happened through that, a lot of it was poetry I started to put on beats. In middle school, I wanted to learn how to make beats. I had this class with a teacher named Mr. Arnold. It was pretty much an electronic piano class, but we did film scoring, we were taught how to use programs to make our own beats, how to set up a keyboard. I took most of the stuff I was learning home and tried to expand on it.

And beatmaking was the first thing you did?

Bishop Nehru: I made my first beat I think when I was about 12, and then I stopped for a little while as I wanted to learn about music – actually knowing what everything in the program means outside of the program. I think that’s why I got really into production. It was a very vast and open field. You could make a beat and use it for a film score, or make a beat and use it for the background of your own music video. And I liked it. I really do enjoy making beats.

“I never really told too many people I rapped. I was never one to brag about my music in school” — Bishop Nehru

What were you listening to that inspired you early on?

Bishop Nehru: As far as making beats, there was RZA, DOOM, Madlib too. But I didn’t really try to sound like them – I liked the way they flipped their samples or how they’d loop it. I listened to all kinds of rap, a bunch of different people – Nas, Doom, 50 Cent, Eminem, Wiz Khalifa… Big Sean, J. Cole, Kendrick before they got big. Tyler, A$AP – all these dudes I literally watched become huge.

Is it fair to say you’re attracted to music that’s a bit more technical?

Bishop Nehru: I don’t really think of it like that – I just make music, that’s honestly how I look at it. When I was in middle school, I was listening to rock. I listened to hip hop since I was a kid obviously, but as soon as I got old enough to pick my own stuff I wanted to listen to, I started drifting towards funk and rock and jazz, because it had a certain theory behind it. When you go back to hip hop, the theory of it – and I don’t want to say that the theory of hip hop is simple – but the programming is usually just verse-chorus, verse-chorus, verse-chorus, maybe bridge, then that’s it. That’s the end of the song. In jazz, you’ll have intro, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus, bridge two, bridge one again... (laughs) There’s so many things to keep up with; different time signatures. In hip hop it’s the same 4/4, 2/4, you know what I mean? There’s rarely that 3/4 that somebody raps on. It’s more universal, so when I was coming from listening to rock stuff, I was like ‘Wow, this stuff is way easier to understand, it’s way easier to vibe to.’ I wanted to incorporate both.

What was the first thing you wrote?

Bishop Nehru: I wrote one of my first raps in the first grade. I had my own notebook and I used to bring it to school with me. My mom saw it one day and told me not to bring it to school anymore. That was the earliest, I believe.

Why didn’t she want you taking it to school?

Bishop Nehru: I guess she didn’t want anyone to know her son was writing raps in the first grade – probably a bit inappropriate. I mean, that didn’t stop me!

Coming from a fairly small town, how did people end up hearing your music?

Bishop Nehru: I never really told too many people I rapped. I was never one to brag about my music in school. I just put stuff out whenever I felt like putting stuff out. I was putting it up on YouTube, Soundcloud, posting it on forums. A couple blogs in the US and UK started picking up on stuff – it was pretty much all blogs.

“(MF DOOM) told me most importantly to keep being me. He told me if you know what you want to do with your music, which I do, then keep going” — Bishop Nehru

How did DOOM hear you?

Bishop Nehru: Someone from his camp said they were looking up people who used his beats, and they found my stuff. They were already onto my music, but they didn’t know I’d rapped on DOOM stuff, so I guess that’s how it happened. They told DOOM and when I saw him at the show he was like, ‘They told me you rapped on some of my stuff, I heard it and it was dope.’ It just happened from there.

What was it like meeting one of your heroes?

Bishop Nehru: It was like meeting anyone else, I guess. I don’t wanna go crazy and make him feel weird. I just had a normal conversation, like you would anyone else. We just talked about the music.

Did he give you any helpful advice?

Bishop Nehru: He told me most importantly to keep being me. He told me if you know what you want to do with your music, which I do, then keep going.

What can you tell us about Magic 19?

Bishop Nehru: I started working on it a while ago, but I still like the songs and decided to put them out while I finish this album. I think it’s really gonna show progression, and I’m still getting better. I think it’ll be dope.