Stealing Cars With Bishop Nehru

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    Photo: Emily Korn
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On a Saturday afternoon in Spring Valley, N.Y., Bishop Nehru walks out into the sunny, toy-strewn backyard of the modest house where he lives with his parents and says he doesn’t want to play trampoline sports today. Originally, the lanky 17-year-old rapper had arranged to spend the afternoon with me at Bounce!, a Rockland County fitness facility where you play games like dodgeball and basketball while jumping on a system of interconnected trampolines, presumably having more fun than you ever thought possible. But right now, he’s not feeling it. “There’s no one here, none of my friends,” he says, squinting in the light. “I just think it would be kinda weird to go by myself.”

That solitary quality has defined Bishop, born Markel Scott, since he began making a name for himself as 15-year-old whiz kid with a gravelly, old-school flow. Where the latest crop of young, boom-bap-worshipping New York rappers have been largely defined by their crews—Pro Era, Flatbush Zombies, World’s Fair, even the A$AP Mob, though their sound is decidedly different—Bishop is mostly set apart by his age, particularly the way it contrasts with his sophisticated ear for gnarled, soulful beats that harken back to the 1990s. With a name plucked from Tupac’s 1992 film Juice and an aesthetic drawn from an era that came and went before he was born, Bishop’s schtick can feel calculated in the way it seems to target a very specific type of regressive hip-hop fan, but the songs on his two mixtapes, Nehruvia and Strictly Flowz, both out this year, reveal a nimble lyricist with ambitions beyond pandering to purists.

After deciding that we weren’t going to make it to trampoline heaven, Bishop takes me inside the house to his room, an equipment-filled but surprisingly neat space that also serves as his home studio. An Illmatic poster hangs on the wall along with a hand-drawn picture of a cat, while a copy of Watchmen peeks out from under a stack of X-Box games and his MPC lurks in a corner along with a pile of records. He plays me some jazz songs he’s been getting into lately (Michael Henderson, George Benson) before settling on a Method Man track and firing up Grand Theft Auto V.

Within minutes, he’s cruising the game’s vividly realized streets in a stolen car, offering up critiques of the gameplay (“The cops are so hard to lose”) and laughing gleefully as he wreaks havoc on some oblivious pedestrians. Soon, he’s engaged in a rather mundane mission where he’s acting as the designated driver for a drunk friend who ends up puking out the window of the car. He lets me play for a bit but I quickly get shot by some hillbillies attacking a woman on the side of a road. “This is basically my day right here,” he observes.

After a recent gig opening for Kendrick Lamar in Brooklyn—which led to a much buzzed-about Fuse clip of the two hanging out together—and the announcement of an upcoming collaborative project with elusive underground icon DOOM, Bishop has suddenly made the leap from budding hobbyist to weary professional. With all the media requests and live shows, he’s placed school on the backburner, instead choosing to stay home and work on music, much to his mother’s chagrin.

“Now that I’m kinda rising up in the game, I’m at the point where I know what I want to do and I can make this my job,” he says. “It’s kinda difficult to balance it with school, ’cause school is to help you find your job, but I already have this job right here that’s doing pretty good. It’s hard but I’ll get through it.”