Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, Ja Morant and Russell Westbrook, Draymond Green and Dennis Rodman. Each of these are comparisons that countless basketball fans have made, connecting a player in the present day to a legend in the past. While this may seem like a harmless statement, it actually has an interesting effect on the player being compared to a great. It sets them up with near-impossible expectations and standards instead of letting them be their own player. Players like Andrew Wiggins have been labeled as failures for not living up to their expectations; however, when fans and analysts are expecting you to be the next Kobe Bryant, it should not be too surprising when these standards are not met. 

Yet, why bring this up? This is an article on music, no? The same thought process can be seen in the world of hip-hop. Several young rappers and emcees have been stamped with a certain label at the beginning of their careers, forever damaging the perception of said artist. It puts these artists in a box, not allowing them to truly grow into their sound. Some artists are able to grow outside of this “box”; prominent faces in the music industry like Travis Scott, Earl Sweatshirt, Kendrick Lamar, and J. Cole have all grown away from their initial comparisons. However, more often than not, young artists that get stuck with a label are never really able to shake it.

Why is this a negative, though? Being compared to a legend in any sense should be a compliment, and that is not wrong, entirely. As previously mentioned, with these comparisons come expectations, and with expectations comes disappointment. To elaborate, when a young artist is compared to a great that came before them, through the press or the fans, people start to expect a certain quality and style of music. The artist can approach this one of two ways, try to play into the narrative and attempt to try and give the people what they want and expect. This is a risky strategy, if you fail and it is not up to par with what the audience wants then you look like a fool and a wannabe. If they succeed then they are only delaying the inevitable, unless this was their goal before the comparison was even made. If they planned on having the same style as said legend in the first place, then this can be quite beneficial to their image and boost their numbers. The other strategy can be just as risky, where they choose to stray away from this label and either keep their style moving or go deeper into their creative void to shake the comparison. This either leads to disappointment from fans and critics alike or praise for being able to master their craft. Yet, these comparisons are often negative. One of the clearest examples of this is New York rapper Markel Scott, better known as Bishop Nehru.
Scott showed promise from the start of his hip-hop career, releasing his first mixtape Nehruvia at the age of 16. While this tape did not gain much traction, one standout track “Fickle Mind$” got some publicity, sitting at 2.6 million views on youtube. This was enough to start getting recognition from the higher-ups in the game, most notably legendary emcee MF DOOM. This eventually led to a collaboration between DOOM and Scott when Scott was only seventeen years old. NEHRUVIANDOOM was released in October of 2014 to mixed reviews, and while this looked like the start of a promising career, it was the start of Scott’s doom. 

Ever since every Bishop Nehru release has been instantly compared to MF DOOM. Even though he was just making the music he naturally made, critics were expecting the next MF DOOM when what they were getting was the best Bishop Nehru. Take his full-length solo debut Elevators: Act I & II, for example, a good album full of impressive rhyme schemes, effortless flows, and great production. When looking at this for what it is, it is a good record, one could even argue great; however, listening to it while expecting something similar to that of Madvillainy or MM..FOOD they are only setting themselves up for disappointment. This is where the problem makes itself known, as instead of just realizing that Bishop Nehru is its own entity and more than just an MF DOOM fan that can spit a sixteen, they criticized him for not being MF DOOM. He has become so associated with MF DOOM that Pitchfork opens up their review on Elevators with “You probably know Bishop Nehru as the promising protégé to MF DOOM’s sinister sensei” (Nguyen). This minimizes everything that Scott had earned up to that point down to one collaboration. Pitchfork continues to be close-minded, saying, “…he probably would have been better off taking DOOM’s lead and largely dispensing with the idea of a chorus”(Nguyen). Even in constructive criticism, all they can really do is compare him to DOOM once again. While this seems to have only affected one release, it continues.

Scott’s next major release Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts was panned by critics, and in fairness, it is not a great project. However, what if the critics were to blame here? Now I would like to be clear here, this is entirely inferred; I am in no way trying to speak on behalf of Scott. By the looks of it, Scott was tired of being compared to DOOM and decided to try and make something far from that sound. The start of this could be seen around nine months before the release of his latest album. 

An EP by the name of The Real Book, Vol. 1 is the most experimental Bishop Nehru has gotten up to this point. The beats primarily consist of bass lines, strings, and guitars but with the signature, Nehru rapping. This EP gained zero traction but it is a sign of Scott trying different things to maybe stray away from these comparisons. On his latest album, he is trying to appeal to all fans, having several different styles across the project and it just does not work. The project feels directionless and incoherent. Are there good songs on the project? Sure, but the problem is that they do not work together. He is trying to balance lyricism while also doing melodic rap and it does not work in his favor. Assuming that this was done in an attempt to prove that Bishop Nehru is more than that young kid who made an album with MF DOOM, it is a truly unfortunate story of a very promising young artist.

In all, while comparing fans’ favorite rappers to one another might seem harmless, make sure to take them with a grain of salt. These comparisons can become quite harmful to the image of the artist and can even seriously damage their careers. Learn to take music for what it is instead of bringing in unnecessary comparisons that take away from what the artist has created.

Jack Sanders
Jack Sanders

Creator and author of Sunset Scripter