DOOM (née MF Doom) picks his collaborators wisely. The rapper, revered for his aura of mystique and obscure sci-fi and comic book references, has worked with everyone from Thom Yorke to Madlib. His most recent venture is recording an album with hip hop’s latest upstart, New York’s Bishop Nehru. Until now, 18-year-old Nehru has only released mixtapes, but that hasn’t stopped him being lauded by the biggest stars of hip hop’s older and newer generations – with Kendrick Lamar offering him advice and Nas signing him to his Mass Appeal Records imprint.
Although DOOM and Nehru clearly share a taste of dusty samples and ’90s hip hop, the pair’s styles couldn’t be any more different: Doom’s flow is witty yet desultory, while Nehru’s is smooth and calculated. However, the anticipation for this album was high, given how different but talented both artists are – but would this contrast work well?
On listening, Nehru’s smooth flow rarely sounds at home on DOOM’s lopsided beats. But we need to cut him some slack: he’s still got another three years before he can drink legally. “Still the most amazing teenager making music since the cavemen,” Bishop struggles to rap on Coming For You, one of DOOM’s weaker and more monotonous productions.
DOOM produces the whole record, but he barely features on it vocally, only chipping in with three verses and a weak chorus on Om. The title of the record infers a joint offering, when in fact it barely feels like that at all – but rather, Bishop Nehru releasing a mixtape in which he raps over a load of unreleased DOOM beats.
Some of the beats aren’t even unreleased, but recycled – ie. dug out from DOOM’s trove of instrumentals he made for his Special Herbs And Spices mixtapes back in the early noughties. The production here isn’t progressive – it’s clear that this record took a lot less effort to produce on DOOM’s part, and the listener suffers as a result.
And when DOOM does feature on the tracks, say on Caskets, there isn’t nearly as much lyrical chemistry as would be hoped. Those with the patience to keep listening up to its fourth minute are rewarded as the beat changes into a lovely Miles Davis piano sample. It’s just a pity you don’t get to hear either of the pair rapping over it.
One of the things that makes most of DOOM’s records so successful is that the songs often consist of straight verses and no choruses. But that doesn’t stop Nehru from singing the choruses on his own tracks, even if he’s not the best singer either. On Mean The Most, a simple but catchy ode to a girl, Nehru sounds the most comfortable, though DOOM’s goofy horns give the song charm and work well in the verses. But the chorus needs a lot of work – it sounds rushed and corny with Nehru singing on it. The serious and introspective lyrics in the verses of So Alone are immediately discounted after Nehru once again sings the chorus out of tune.
Usually there’s room for a couple of mistakes on an album, but this is barely an album, with only eight actual tracks, many of which are less than three minutes in length. The rare moments of quality and clever wordplay save it from being a complete disaster of a record. “I am being idolised or am I just a pair of idol eyes,” Nehru raps on Om. Darkness (HBU)’s bass line sounds oddly familiar and fuses well with DOOM’s electronic horn samples. “This life is like a mystery, the king the world sent to me, the day I’m in the industry, next I’m ending history,” Nehru raps.
At this early stage in his career, there is nothing about Nehru’s delivery that separates him from the other hundreds of rappers who have tried soullessly to play a role in a ’90s golden era hip hop revival. But Nehru is young, and has time to grow as an artist. Yet the moments of promise he shows on this record are the most frustrating – it only makes you wish DOOM had pulled his metal finger out a bit more on production duties. This record is unlikely to be a breakthrough one for Nehru, but it’ll look good on curriculum vitae having worked with hip hop’s most respected names. For DOOM fans, it’s a let down.