Five years ago, I boarded a plane from JFK to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport on the instruction that at some point between takeoff and landing the hip-hop artist MF Doom would text me from a secret cell-phone number and give me directions about how to meet him for an interview. The texts arrived in the form of a series of cryptic comments that played out as a treasure hunt across downtown Atlanta. They eventually led to a bar he’d turned into a super-villain’s lair. (The password for the doorman: “Villain.”) After a three-hour interview punctuated with pints of black-and-tans and whiskey shots, Doom rounded up his cronies (clad in stocking masks) and engineered an exit from the premises. At that point, the regular staff returned and acted as if Doom had never even been there.
That’s just how it is with Doom. He’s the self-styled super-villain of hip-hop whose scant public appearances always see him wearing a metal mask over his face. He revels in a role as the genre’s ultimate recluse, and at one point became infamous for sending impostors to perform for him at shows (while he presumably sat home and counted up the cash, as dastardly masterminds are wont to do).
Doom is off the grid to most, but somehow a just-turned-18-year-old rapper from Rockland County in upstate New York has managed to forge a bond with him to the point where they’re releasing a collaborative album together. The youthful rapper is Bishop Nehru; the album is titled NehruvianDOOM. Despite still being in his teens, Bishop has achieved the collaboration most of the rap underground lusts after.
The first spark of Doom and Bishop’s tryst shifts the story to London. Doom is presently in some sort of legal exile there, with his publicist confirming only that he’s “banned from the United States.” Bishop was booked to open for a show at the 100 Club, where Doom was performing with Ghostface. Part of Bishop’s buzz came from his Nehruvia mixtape, recorded when he was 16 and featuring him rapping over productions by Doom. “He was actually heading out the venue and we ran into each other like that,” recalls Bishop of their first meeting. “He said he liked my music, said it was dope, said he liked what I did over a couple of his productions and that he wanted to do some more work.”
Since 2009’s Born Like This, the London-based Lex Records has been Doom’s de facto label home. Tom Brown, the owner of the enterprise, says he was talking to Doom about increasing his production work for other artists. With Bishop already proving adept atrhyming over Doom’s beats, a formal pitch was made to the sprightly MC’s team. Once the two artists began to record together, the idea of a Doom-produced EP blossomed into a full collaborative album. “The first beats Bishop ripped for NehruvianDOOM were ‘Darkness’ and ‘So Alone,’ ” Brown recalls. “They sounded like another step forward.”
NehruvianDOOM is a stylistically seamless listen. On the surface, there’s an odd-couple element to the Doom-Nehru alliance: The former is a portly fortysomething who sports hip-hop’s proudest beer belly and describes himself in rhyme as possessing a “Brillo Pad beard,” while Bishop’s rise has been pinned to the interplay between his youthful outlook and consummate wordplay. But the nine songs that make up NehruvianDOOM portray Doom and Bishop as locked into the same creative groove.
Doom’s production embraces his signature blend of clanky and jutting drum patterns swaddled with sleazy, off-kilter samples. To this he contributes his endearingly slurry (yet sophisticated) rap flows, while Bishop relays his rhymes with the buttery fluidity of a veteran. When they interplay on a track, it’s like there’s a
preternatural force at work.
Bishop Nehru plays coy when asked about the details of his bond with Doom. “He’s a cool dude,” he says. “He’s like me, I guess, but he’s a super-villain, though.”
On the album’s concept, he’s mum, and becomes as evasive as his elder spar is reclusive: “Yeah, we pretty much went over the concept, but, nah, I can’t even say the concept. I want people to listen to it and figure it out.” Pressed on the issue, he becomes a little prickly. “Yeah, well, that’s sort of where people are fucked up at and they don’t understand that it’s called NehruvianDOOM. It’s a little bit of both, of me and him — like, you don’t normally get to hear me get crazy when rapping, and then you hear a song like ‘Casket’…”
As Bishop returns to calmness and closes the conversation with a curt, “But I don’t want to get into that,” you can imagine Doom looking on from his latest secret lair, letting out a cackle and giving a nod of approval. It seems his young protégé is learning the art of evasion well.