“The time for a new warrior is at hand.” So states the intro of the Last Emperor’s debut LP on Raptivism records, Music, Magic, Myth. The Prince Paul-produced intro launches the album with a fantasy skit in which a kingdom is crumbling under the attacks of wack emcees, and Last Emp, West Philadelphia native and Overbrook (Hip-Hop) High and Lincoln University graduate, is called upon to save the day. And although Music, Magic, Myth is certainly no disappointment, it may not be the game-changing album that so many underground emcees like Last Emp boast of creating. An undeniable coup for Last Emp it is not, but we are indeed reassured that he is fighting the good fight of trying to keep creativity and intelligence in hip-hop.
Chances are that if you’re an underground hip-hop head, you’ve known about Last Emp for years, either from his touring with Lyricist Lounge, his collaborations with other artists, or from the cult jam “Secret Wars” that pits emcees against comic book superheroes. That’s why it may be so surprising that Music, Magic, Myth is his full-length debut. Over the years, Last Emp has run through a series of record deals that never came to fruition, including one with Rawkus. Now that Last Emp finally has his chance to shine, we are left to judge if it has been worth the wait.
Music, Magic, Myth commences with a pair of hard-hitting but forgettable tracks, which are limited in their deviation from the modern hip-hop formula that we’ve become accustomed to: heavy beats and run-of-the-mill boasting in “Who’s that?” and “Some Love, Some Hate.”
On “Prisoner,” however, Emp refreshingly takes on a more contemplative tone, reverting to old-school story telling techniques. With a raspy hard-edged voice that at times sounds as though he may be channeling Rakim, Last Emp discusses hardships of street life, a theme that continues through the tracks “Repetition” and “One Life,” a cleverly put together jam that layers carefully measured lyrics over soulful signing by Esthero, acoustic guitar and mournful strings.
Music, Magic, Myth, which includes collaborations with the likes of Ayatollah, the Beatminerz, Madso, and even a track produced by Stetsasonic’s Daddy-O, hits some other highlights with “Meditation,” in which Last Emp does some free-association-type rhymes with a staccato flow that features furious lyrical burst punctuated with dramatic pauses. “Anamalistic,” another key track, showcases the characteristic imagination that seems to be Last Emp’s trademark, as Emp imagines himself morphing into different animals to destroy rival crews.
With a barrage of diverse rhyming styles and varied producing credits, Last Emperor has put together an album that may not revolutionize hip-hop but will likely provide a breath of fresh air on the ever-stale scene. Although the album may find criticism from the finicky underground community for having too much commercial appeal, “It ain’t no tellin’ how the public might act,” as Emp states on “Who’s That?” Last Emp will likely enjoy the same cult obscurity that seems to be the wages of original artistry in the today’s hip-hop industry.