Everybody who’s anybody knows that the best MF DOOM albums are the collaborative ones, because the music is organically built around the artists’ chemistry and shared love for the art form. That kind of music is probably what I love the most about Madlib and 9th Wonder’s catalogs too, and it’s interesting to note that most or all of this music comes from the underground where major label rules and desires are of no concern. That freedom is just one of many reasons why underground hip-hop is so much more vibrant than the mainstream.
Anyway, although NehruvianDOOM is mostly about DOOM’s collaborator, Bishop Nehru, I came in mainly looking for new DOOM music. See, I barely knew who Bishop Nehru was, and I was thirsting for new DOOM since I hadn’t heard anything from him since 2009’s Born Like This, his last solo album. Sure I’d seen a pretty good freestyle from Bishop, and the fact that he managed to impress DOOM meant something, but whether his written rhymes could carry an album of DOOM’s beats was a big unknown for me. I want to say that Bishop Nehru managed the task, but I can’t help but note that the songs I liked the least were solo songs, and the best tracks all have DOOM verses. So it’s a still a dope album, just one that could have been much better if different choices were made.
What’s most frustrating about Bishop Nehru is, to an extent, the same thing that frustrated me about MF DOOM when I first heard his music: neither rapper does much vocally to compel you to listen. Their voices and deliveries are extremely laid-back, making them a taste that’s hard to acquire. Case in point, it took me 2+ listens to begin to appreciate this album. Bad sequencing is partially to blame, but we’ll get to that later.
On NehruvianDOOM, the calm vocals are most irksome on two songs whose instrumentals are already too relaxed: Mean the Most and So Alone. The first is a love letter that just failed to do anything for me, and the second is a lament of wanting a close companion, but the beat is much too slow and sparse for anything but sleeping. In the case of So Alone, the sour taste of the beat is really unfortunate because, despite his calm delivery, Bishop is doing a lot in the lyrics and his topic is interesting.
In fact, on most songs Bishop’s raps are very impressive. He uses multisyllabic rhymes to great effect and he chooses and switches flows very well. On Coming for You, he ends his second verse with a lot of internal rhymes and interesting rhythmic choices where thoughts end as the beginning to a new line. Note the bolded parts to see how often and when the rhyming sound changes in the second half of that verse:
[…], like a wide-out, know I’m bout
to take off no DeLorean, it’s back to the future
and there’s no more ignorin ’em, Bishop here to make you hiccup
and your heart skip a, beat, he’s too deep
like steep drops, so he got, a long way to go
but the motion ain’t slow, so know he bound to blow
like lighters at the gas station, I never pumped on the
regular, is that why ya’ll hatin? It’s nathin‘
At first that sounded like nothing to me, but after coming to grips with the beat whose tempo constantly but slightly changes mid-verse, it became clear that Bishop is really spitting. His soft-spoken style masks the lyricism that he uses so proficiently, making repeated listens very entertaining.
When I complained about the sequencing earlier, I was alluding to the fact that the two sleepiest songs are up front on the album, and that, for me at least, the album doesn’t ramp up until track 5 of 9, the previously mentioned Coming for You. This makes it easy to get bored and give up before the album gets moving, which happened to me once. But while arduous, the payoff is worth that slogging. The beats pick up steam once the second half starts, and the rhymes that were already good manage to get a bit better, likely inspired by the instrumentals’ energy. After Coming for You starts this trend, Darkness continues it with a boisterous horn sample that MF DOOM uses so effectively while Bishop observes how life can be tough and unfair.
Only after establishing his own worth on these songs does Bishop let DOOM drop any verses. With DOOM’s best beats and both rappers competing for best rhymes, the last three songs are the best on NehruvianDOOM by a country mile. Bishop’s hook and DOOM’s verse on Great Things (about planning to be successful) have too many obvious clichés, and Bishop’s singing on the hook is terrible, but the beat and other verses easily get the job done nicely. Meanwhile, hearing both rappers trade off intricate verses on Caskets and Disastrous is exactly the perfection that I’d hoped for with NehruvianDOOM.
NehruvianDOOM is a fantastic album that must be allowed time to warm up and for you to warm up to it. While it has some definite missteps, I’m mainly disappointed that there isn’t more music like the great last half. It shows and makes good on Bishop Nehru’s potential, and I imagine he’ll only get better as he learns what music works best for his voice. Together and individually, I look forward to more music from these two.
*It’s interesting to note that these collaborative albums are usually shorter than average (30-40 minutes), but also much more cohesive. Doing albums this way reminds me of the way jazz greats worked together. More whole-album collaboration and shorter releases are two things I’d love to see more of in hip-hop.