After a difficult career beginning which saw Philadelphia rapper The Last Emperor spend unsuccessful periods with both Aftermath and Rawkus Records, he finally released his debut album “Music, Magic, Myth” via Raptivision Records in 2003.
From the over the top intro, which depicts The Last Emp as a warrior destined to save the nation of hip-hop from an “invading army of whack MCs”, you will realize this isn’t a standard rap album. His creativity is certainly his strongest point, as shown on a number of successful concept-based songs such as “Animalistics“, “Tiger Trail” and best of all, two bonus tracks titled “Secret Wars“, in which he puts some of his favorite rappers up against famous comic book characters in an epic 16 minute battle that is amongst the most creative concepts I’ve heard.
On other tracks such as “Prisoner“, “Karma” and “Let’s Ride” he focuses on more serious issues such as poverty, social injustice, life in the hood and politics. On “Hold On”, he explains the label difficulties surrounding his time at Aftermath and how Dre was only interested in socializing while Emp wanted to work on the album (which probably explains why Dre is taking over 10 years to make one record).
The highlight of this album comes on the brilliant “One Life“, thanks to the incredibly poignant guest verse from rapper Too Poetic (of Gravediggaz) who raps about his terminal cancer which killed him just a few months after the recording, over the beautiful acoustic guitar loop and eerie strings.
The production (which is handled by the likes of Prince Paul, Da Beatminerz and Ayatollah) lives up to the high standard set by the lyricism. It covers a wide range of styles and influences due to obscure samples featuring a wide range of instruments. From the boom bap drums on “House Party”, the jazzy “Do You Care?“, guitar riffs on “The Incredible Man” to the layered chanting vocals on “Meditation“, the beats perfectly match the mood of the lyrics.
Perhaps the only fault of this album is its length. Running at over 90 minutes (including bonus tracks), it can be hard to stay concentrated to any album for that long. Although none of the tracks are actually bad, it may have benefited from cutting out a few of the less memorable ones in favor of a more concise experience.
Despite its somewhat excessive length, “Music, Magic, Myth” manages to stay interesting thanks to a wide variety of subject matter and Last Emperor’s intelligent lyricism, making this underrated gem a must listen for any hip-hop lover.
Best tracks: One Life, Animalistics, Secret Wars Part 1, Meditation