“I just don’t understand how NehruvianDOOM sucks so much”
– my roommate
NehruvianDOOM starts with an ostensibly thuggish-sounding man’s voice demonstrating an “om” chant, which in Metal Fingers’ burnished phalanges is more of a glib joke about Orientalism than it is a meditative beckoning. Despite this intentionally pulpy staging of that all-encompassing sound, DOOM’s long-awaited project with newcomer Bishop Nehru plays out more like a myriad of tangentially related YouTube videos droning on simultaneously in different browser windows than it does a cohesive hum. And unlike DOOM contemporaries Freddie Gibbs and Madlib — who dropped the blissfully disorienting Piñata earlier this year — DOOM and Nehru make no attempt at splicing these pieces together in an affective way on NehruvianDOOM.
What is most confounding about this record’s overall underwhelming quality is that, sonically, it pulls from that same truly bizarre bag of sounds that DOOM has been successfully raiding for years, and lyrically, Bishop Nehru eclipses Joey Bada$$’s spot as king of 90s skatepark revival rap. But the execution feels uninspired at times and forced at others: lounge jazz-laced “Mean the Most” is bogged down by a tone-deaf chorus and rushed verses by Nehru; pulled-out and tenderized “So Alone” employs that same speed-it-up, slow-it-down technique used on “Tick Tick feat. MF Grimm,” but in this context, it sounds stalling rather than dynamic; and Lupe Fiasco-recalling “Darkness (HBU),” despite its sick throbbing bass line, sounds like it was lifted out of a dusty attic and slapped onto a portable turntable rather than cut specifically for this record.
NehruvianDOOM’s most promising asset is unfortunately its most out of place and most poorly utilized. On paper, Nehru’s lyrics are controlled and provocative, smart yet unpretentious, reminiscent of that lyrical rap that old-school hip-hop heads keep complaining has been missing from rap since The Blueprint: “Am I being idolized? Or am I a pair of idle eyes?/ I look into the sky and wise beam of light replies/ Telling me the rain’s coming in a sec/ I still question, if storming passed the rest then/ My mind gets to restin’ gotta stay deprived of the stressing” (“OM”); or “I’m moving with the all black tactic/ Black kicks, black jeans, black jacket matchin’/ I’m pulling 21s like I’m using black magic/ And they thinking that I am because the quality’s fantastic/ They told me I should focus on scholastics/ And others told me focus on elastic/ I’m using both of those as a tactic” (“Caskets”). Nehru is clearly a solid, versatile rapper, articulate and confident within his own established framework (slightly off-kilter yet still stable, ground tread by Earl Sweatshirt and his monotone tightroping). Yet at times he feels shifty-eyed, as if he’s waiting for cues that DOOM either missed or never factored in at all. His fervent vocal presence seems lost amongst DOOM’s characteristically haphazard and unfocused beats, and even on songs with both tight instrumentals and sick flows (like on “Darkness (HBU)”), there are some serious connectivity issues.
And then there’s DOOM’s part. While a prominent presence in its overall aesthetic through sample-manipulation and beat-flipping, DOOM’s vocal role here lies somewhere between a recurring cameo and a lazy master of ceremonies. When a classically mush-mouthed metal face does come in unannounced like an M.E.D. drop-in on a Quasimoto album, it works remarkably well in juxtaposition with Nehru’s conventionally compositional flow. In fact, these moments of mic-tossing (which works best on “OM”) salvage what often deteriorates into a dreadfully boring record after prolonged stretches of Nehru dribbling over DOOM’s fenced-in blacktop. With its high points as evidence of DOOM and Nehru’s collective potential, completely deriding each’s submission would be too assuming; what I suspect is going on instead is an intentional laissez-faire attitude that more often ends in collapse than it does in realized inhibitions.
This dropped-ball feeling that NehruvianDOOM exudes derives from how it handles and telegraphs (or rather how it doesn’t handle how it telegraphs) its supposedly unifying theme: reaching some kind of peace through intentional concentration. There are occasional and front-centered lines that reference meditation, but lyrically, it is progressively driven into more of a playground freestyle gig, backed by beats that most rappers would bat a stink eye at for sounding like muddied elevator music. But for all of its problems in execution, there are plenty of individual sounds here worth hearing (those musical accents that make a DOOM-affiliated project worth tuning into regardless), and Nehru’s work here shouldn’t be slept on; so glean what you can from it, and tune out everything else. Say it with me: “om.” Namaste.