Sometimes an artist is so wildly prolific and talented at such a young age that it can cause the listener to have a minor existential crisis. Bishop Nehru is one of those artists. He showed up on the hip-hop radar in 2012 at the age of 16. In those early stages he was heralded as the prodigal son of boom bap, but during the four years since then he’s proven himself to be much more, putting out six full-length projects, including a collaborative album with MF DOOM. Never shying away from sonic experimentation, his latest is the largely self-produced Magic 19.
If part of the fascination with Nehru came from his young age, as he matures, what will likely keep us around is his evolution into an artist who participates in every aspect of his creative output, from producing his own tracks, to writing and directing his own music videos. We talked to Nehru ahead of his Red Bull Sound Select show in Los Angeles on August 31 about creative visions, keeping his live show lively, and infamous serial killers.
As you’ve gotten more known and have more professional responsibilities, how hard is it to set aside the time to express yourself creatively when you want to?
I pretty much always have time to be creative. I took time when I was younger to understand the process of recording myself. I feel like no matter where I’m at, I can always record something. I can always get something laid down, at least an idea to take to the studio. I feel like I always have something I can do.
You have a production credit for almost every song on Magic 19. Would you say that you’re moving more toward a phase of having your fingerprints on every part of the song making process?
I’ve always been pretty hands-on with everything I’ve put out. It’s not really anything new, it’s just with Magic 19 I felt like it was time to finally do it on the production side and show that I could really produce my own stuff in a full-length project and have it sound incredible, or as good as I want it to sound. That just came from getting comfortable recording and getting comfortable with the things that I’m doing.
Would you say that it’s your preference to take on the production, or do you like collaborating with someone else?
They’re both good options. I don’t have a problem working with other people at all, but I definitely do enjoy just creating something from scratch that I can say is mine.
You’ve also written and directed some of your own music videos as well. How do ideas for music videos come into your head?
It’s usually something that comes to my mind while I’m writing the song. I then keep that idea in my head and continue to write the song based on the video idea. Pretty much from the get-go I have that video idea, it’s just a matter of making it fit the budget.
Have you had experiences where you’ve had to compromise or re-adjust the vision?
Yeah, a couple, honestly. There was even a video that didn’t come out at all because it didn’t fit the idea that I had. I’m pretty technical with the things I like in the video. Sometimes I have to compromise, but I just felt like for that video we couldn’t. I ended up scrapping a whole video. With certain things I just really see it being great, and I want it the same way I see it.
Would you be interested in doing a video for another artist?
I wouldn’t mind at all. I think that could be awesome.
Were there any music videos that were heavy inspirations for you?
A lot of Missy Elliott’s videos I liked as a kid, 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” video, Nas’s “One Mic” video. They obviously show Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” every Halloween, so that one. There’s a bunch, I could go on forever.
You’ve got a show coming up in LA, what can people expect from Bishop Nehru live?
A bunch of different moods, I like to switch it up. I can go from a neo soul vibe to like an acoustic, Nirvana Kurt Cobain chill vibe, to moshing. It’s a bunch of different vibes in one show and I’m thinking about doing some new music, so I may do that as well.
How has your live set developed over time?
I was always pretty comfortable on stage, because I just go out there and try to be myself and have fun. But it definitely took a while to learn how to command the crowd, being sure of myself when I’m on stage and actually noticing that these people are here for a show. Other than that, I think I’m pretty solid. I was never really nervous, I think that’s why I learned it pretty quickly.
Listening to Magic 19, I noticed you referenced the Chicago serial killer H.H. Holmes. That’s something that not everyone knows about. Do you remember how you came across that story?
Towards like 9th grade I was into, like, really weird, dark grungy things. I used to just look up random stuff. I’m really influenced by punk and punk culture. Punks used to go through dumpsters to make their own magazines and collages and things like that, so I used to be hella inspired by things like that and just look up a bunch of old, vintage, weird pictures that I could cut up and make into new pictures. [Holmes] was just a dude that I came across while looking into a black and white grungy Tumblr profile. It wasn’t like they had a story on it, it was just a weird picture. And it turned out a little while later there was a Netflix documentary that had that same exact picture. I ended up watching it and finding out that he was a weirdo, a guy that was like stuffing bodies in his house. I still do research stuff like that, I like to learn all types of different stuff.