There’s risk involved in trying to get noticed: Sometimes you don’t. Or, sometimes you do, but not in the way you were hoping.
Bishop Nehru is only 22 years old, but he’s been kicking around the independent hip-hop scene for some time, most notably as a sparring partner/protégé of sorts for MF DOOM. He has released a few EPs and mixtapes, guested on a few tracks here and there, and released a collaboration album with DOOM (as NehruvianDOOM), but Elevators: Act I & II is Nehru’s first officially-released album as a solo artist. Clearly, this is a big moment for him, and he knows it.
Not wanting to waste his big moment, he has made no secret of the fact that Elevators is a concept album, though a loose one. The first half of the album is called “Ascension”, and is (broadly) about his rise to fame. The second half is called “Free Falling”, and is about his inevitable fall. While the real-life Nehru is still in the midst of his first act, after all, what goes up must come down. The second act isn’t difficult to predict. To drive home the concept-album conceit, Nehru has a dedicated producer for each “Act”: the recently-omnipresent Kaytranada soundtracks Act I, while longtime collaborator MF DOOM graces us with his presence for Act II.
Kaytranada and DOOM both acquit themselves well, though DOOM’s side has a notable energy to it. Partially one could ascribe it to a hunger to get back in the game on DOOM’s part, though at least one of the beats has actually been kicking around for a while — “Again and Again” is pulled from DOOM’s “Metal Fingers” instrumentals, rearranged a bit and touched up for the sake of supporting vocals, but still an obvious retread. Even so, it’s one of the best beats on the entire album, so DOOM can be forgiven for wanting an old beat to hit a wider audience. “Potassium” has an insistent record-skip stuttered break in the beat that gives it some needed intensity, while closer “Rooftops” features some sampled saxophones that simply kill.
For his part, Kaytranada sticks mostly with the background, offering laid-back fare that runs counter to the complex and difficult work he’s offered to other rappers of late. Highlights are “Driftin'”, with its clipped snares and somehow-even-more-clipped woodwinds, and the slippery bass work of “Get Away”. “No Idea” might actually be the most emblematically Kaytranada, built as it is on a quick backward-masked sample.
What all this attention to the construction of Elevators does, however, is distract from Nehru himself. Nehru is a technically gifted rapper, and his talents shine brightest when the BPM gets highest. “Get Away” is fantastic, with its almost Chance the Rapper delivery perfect for the syncopated delivery of lines like “Making it through thick and thin / I ain’t really thinking about a friend / Why they come and go like the wind / Why they showin’ when I’m near a win,” offered not as a lament to friendship but a side effect of success. Nehru has energy here that will serve him well for the future. The same applies to his less optimistic tracks, where the speed turns into an intensity of emotions, as on “Taserz.”, where he spends one long verse fighting the odds but lets it end before it even gets to two minutes.
That said, despite the obvious care in putting the album together, Nehru has precious little to say, “Act I” and “Act II” are chock full of light-hitting punchlines and unabashed self-confidence, and while the producer switch gives the two halves a different feel, the message remains the same: Bishop Nehru is here and here to stay. There aren’t a lot of personal details or complex emotions, and there’s very little in the way of actual storytelling. It’s all wordplay and self-aggrandizement.
Elevators: Act I & II sounds good, and to its credit, it’s quite short, ending after a mere half-hour or so. Nehru knows how to turn a rhyme, and he knows who to call when he wants to work with someone. If he’s going to find his way to a classic album, however, he needs to dig a little deeper for something resonant, something that’ll connect with his audience. So far he hasn’t found it.