The Last Emperor has been quietly making a name for himself in hip-hop music. So quietly, in fact, you would at times be hard pressed to hear him at all. Calling him a "word of mouth" MC would be putting it lightly. If you were lucky enough to hear his well bootlegged "Secret Wars" track, where he pitted hip-hop all-stars against each other in a surreal comic book fantasy and simultaneously imitated each rapper named, you already know he's the shit. If you managed to cop his stellar "Echo Leader" twelve inch (for the non sci-fi geeks out there, it's a Star Wars reference) or hear him rap with Zach De La Roche and KRS-One on "C.I.A." from "Lyricist Lounge Vol. 1," then you probably had high anticipation of his Rawkus Records debut. A debut that was over four years in the making. A debut which to the disappointment of underground rap fans worldwide never took place - which in my own opinion greatly damaged the credibility of Rawkus as one of rap's leading indie labels.
Fear not intrepid reader, it's Raptivism Records to the rescue! It may not have arrived faster than a speeding bullet, but it's certainly more powerful than a locomotive engine and capable of leaping tall rap cliches in a single bound. "Music, Magic, Myth" is a trifecta that speaks to the Emperor's disappointment with a lack of creativity and spirituality to be found in today's hip-hop. Emperor's epic introductory skit pits him as the sole champion of righteous lyricism, defending the homeland of Hip-Hop against an army of whack MC's. Coming from just about any other rapper, this might seem pretentious and overblown, but the Emperor tweaks it just enough to be slightly camp while at the same time making a serious statement - like Chino XL he has finally arrived and is "Here to Save You All." He wastes no time getting to the point on the Madsol-Desar produced "Who's That?":
"Last Emp! Vocabulary dropper
My rap book - magic like Harry Potter
Rough writer, much like a magician
I'm kickin magic spells that put the females in position
And when they ask what my rappin is under
Tell 'em to use words, like magic and wonder
Tell 'em to use words, like passion and hunger
Tell 'em I got an album that'll crack through the summer
And when it hits, the pitch at a certain rate
You got to admit, I don't spit, I regurgitate
Over beats that'll increase the verbal murder rate
Beats that will make you dislocate your vertebrae
The ground shakes when I hear that drum
Here I come, tell them where I'm from
I'm from West Philadelphia, Transylvania
Body slammin rappers like Wrestlemania"
All of Emperor's trademarks are on full display. His oratorical skills are attention grabbing, comparing more than favorably to both the octave of Nas and the gruff delivery of Canibus. And like those hallowed East coast icons, Emperor's gift for wordplay involves a myriad of different techniques. At the most basic level, the Emperor plays with similies and metaphors that will make you smile, chuckle, or nod your head in approval of when you recognize the reference. On a deeper level, Emperor weaves multiple rhymes in and out of his lines and uses techniques to freak flows in and out of sync with a great sense of timing. While some rappers are great on paper but lousy in front of a mic, Emperor's speaking emphasizes words the right amount at the right time to not only bring his emotions into the mix, but to bring yours along too as he paints a verbal portrait. This is high praise, but through years of dues paying in the underground, Last Emperor has earned every bit of it. The Ayatollah produced "Tiger Trail" exemplifies all these qualities:
"I prowl like a tiger, growl like a tiger
Let a nigga come around, pounce like a tiger
Deadly rhymes I announce and pounce when I write them
Wild out in my own house when I write them
I mean, he's way cool, he breaks rules
Gets cash in bundles, but he's paid dues
Wild type of dudes, wild type of crews
Run wild in jungles, caged up in zoos
Most niggaz feel it, some niggaz fear it
Eye of the tiger, come come, catch the spirit
Any man come near it, track down and kill it
He attacked the village, ransacked and pillage
Scarp for your life, strap on your knife
Bring a gat if you like, just earn your stripes
When attacking the mic, sike, you can't get close
I kidnap bitch-ass rappers and slash they throats"
When paired with great beats, Emperor's "Music, Magic, Myth" ascends to lofty heights. You'll know you've heard the perfect blend on tracks like Set Free's "One Life" featuring Esthero and Poetic, Ayatollah's "Karma," "The Great Pretender" by Prince Paul and even surprises like "Shine" by Armand Van Helden - a famed house music producer. You might think that would be an odd mix, but it stands as one of the album's brightest notes - a smoothly lilting mix where Emperor professes his desire to annoint an Empress:
"Now if I loved you, would you love me back?
Would you confess that I was the best that you've ever had?
Would you allow me to hold you, show you exotic lands?
Well there's no need to look any further, you got your man
Was is it that you desire, Your Highness? Ask, I'll listen
Somewhat above the average thug, a man of vision
Let me be your knight in shining armor, a man with riches
Be the genie in your magic lamp and grant your wishes
Play the starring role, be the leading actor
Let me be, the Marc Anthony to your Cleopatra"
There are so many highlights to this album, it would probably make this review twice as long to mention them all. That said there's no possible way to ignore "Meditation" by the Beatminerz. This song actually sends a cold chill down my spine each time the church-like vocals echo their transcendent chant over the introductory rhythm. Only producers the caliber of the Beatminerz can achieve this effect musically, but only rappers the caliber of The Last Emperor can pair writtens with it and produce art worthy of any painting by Michaelangelo or composition by Mozart:
"Deep concentration, mental penetration
Hits me off the paranormal psychic information
Imagine every b-boy and girl in third world nations
United becoming one through pure hip-hop meditation
Watch me closely, as I separate the spiritual from the ghostly
Test the Emperor, get struck down like Obi Wan Kenobi
I am hip-hop - Behold Me - but no one ever told me
That corporate America would attempt to overthrow me
Secretly plant and grow me, light me up and try to smoke me
Got me thinkin I'm a Godfather like Vito Corleone
As an underground artist my days and nights were lonely
Signed a contract like K-Solo, now everybody knows me
Righteousness oppose me, wicked women don't approach me
I am a player-hater so Craig T. Nelson couldn't coach me
I flipped "Animalistic" and the critics tried to poach me
Turned a crew of battle-cats into pussy-cats like Josie"
Emperor freely trades in more pop culture references than a Dennis Miller rant, so it's often necessary to rewind to catch every line. It's certainly not painful to do so though, as Emperor truly believes in creating masterpieces whether they be deliberate and somber, lightning fast and brutal, or transcendentally beautiful. There are only times when Emperor is held back due to beats that fail to match the caliber of his awesome mic skills. Don't misunderstand, nothing on this presentation is whack, Will Weston's "Do You Care?" just seemed slightly short of all that, and "Let's Ride" is an effective Beatminerz track that's still simplistic compared to what they're truly capable of. Still, this album clocks in at an amazing 76 minutes, stretching both the limitations of an album's length and the mind of the listener vibing to Emperor's every word. As if that wasn't enough, a bonus disc containing both parts one and two of the underground hit "Secret Wars" is included, as well as the boombastic song "Here We Are" where Emp brags that he "cold stomp through your hood like a mastadon." Any venue where Emperor performs should indeed be feeling earthquakes from every lyrical step he takes, so it continues to both shock and amaze me that as an artist Emperor is so soundly slept on. This is your wake-up call. "Music, Magic, Myth" may not be hailed by the mainstream as a classic for years, but I'm not willing to wait that long. I'm dubbing this one ESSENTIAL for all true hip-hop heads.
Music Vibes: 9 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 10 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 9.5 of 10
Originally posted: March 30, 2004