The Cliff Notes Version of the saga behind The Last Emperor: A West Philly b-boy makes moves in his hometown in the early 90s, but emerges as a standout on the mic and in the classrooms at Lincoln University, the nations first historically Black college. He shuts down ciphers in campus dorms, proving that he is a fine enough emcee to grab the attention of Andre Dr. Dre Young, a recent Death Row Records defectee. Over time, the union crumples. Last Emp keeps it moving with songs like Secret Wars and revered underground collaborations. He eventually seeks haven over at Rawkus Records, where his project sits away from his blooming fan base still fiending for his demos.
Trapped amid distribution issues at Rawkus, The Last Emperor finally gets to release his long awaited debut opus tentatively titled, The Last Emperor -Music, Magic, Myth. Through it all, aint a damn thing changed.
AllHipHop.com: Tell me about the new project with Raptivism.
Last Emperor: Its Raptivism in conjunction with my own label Red Planet. They just presented and opportunity to distribute my stuff. Its a unique situation on my part because Ive already dealt with two major deals that ended up in me just sittin on labels for a certain amount of time and not feeling free to put out stuff when I wanted to. Ive had somewhat of a history with Raptivism in 98 I recorded a song through Raptivism in support of political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal. Here I am.
AllHipHop: So tell me about your new album coming out in August.
Last Emperor: The tentative title is The Last Emperor -Music, Magic, Myth. Its going to be about 14 songs strong. Ive got producers like the Beatminerz, Prince Paul, Mad Soul, Set Free, Ayatolla, and a few other up and coming individuals.
AllHipHop: You have done some collaborations with some well known hip-hop artists. Will we see any of those on your album?
Last Emperor: I have a singer by the name of Estero. Shes done work with the goodie mob. She is a very talented singer out of Canada who some people may already be aware of. Shes on a song with myself and a gentleman who is no longer with us by the name of Poetic from the Gravediggaz. I believe this is the last song, or among the last songs he recorded before he passed. Its a particularly meaningful song to me because he actually describes his bout with cancer and I think this is perhaps the only track where he literally, head on, talked about his ordeal. I also have a song with the Coco Brovas , formally known a Smith N Wessin that will also be on the album. I also recorded some stuff with another singer known as Tekitha who did a lot of the earlier Wu-Tang stuff.
AllHipHop: Your earlier songs had consciousness and politics mixed in the flows. Is that the angle youre going to come from on your album?
The Last Emperor: Absolutely, I pretty much dont stray from what I feel my fans as well as myself expect from me. I just try to be all encompassing of what Im going through in life and whatever my experiences are. So definitely a lot of the imaginative stuff that people are familiar with along the lines of Secret Wars or Animalistics and things of that nature and other songs that are imaginative that people have come to expect from me. Were not straying away from that at all. This also places me in the position of a protector or in some instances a warrior. You can uphold and uplift the art form and the people who embrace it and are affected by it, or you can take the other position that we see unfortunately many times out here. Many artists just want to make money or want to exploit the art form or exploit women or whatever the case may be. I have an obligation to defend an art form that was already existing before I got here.
AllHipHop: Do you feel like the game is being sabotaged by the popular hip-hop artists?
The Last Emperor: I think that as with any other industry, once hip hop made the transition from being something that was completely in our own neighborhood and environment and something that we had free reign and control over, to the board rooms of America and these large corporations it became industrialized. That industrialization is going to bring out certain things in people Those who may have a certain love for the art form but arent really approaching it with their hearts and start exploiting their own individual talents. Ill put it to you this way, our current president Bush shortly after September 11th , pretty much came out and said that he would look towards the entertainment industry, Hollywood and I would imagine the music industry to help combat what he felt was kind of going against the grain of American politics. So, that could range from a film coming out that would express a certain political ideology that he prefers, or it could be certain musical entities that do whatever the government may dictate. Now, I say that to say some information that Ive been aware of leads me to strongly believe that even within hip-hop we have conspirators who are specifically placed to make certain records, to sign certain artists, and to do certain actions, which will ensure that our community stays in certain conditions. This is an extremely powerful mode of expression that can get people to do things on a massive scale. Lets say the most popular hip-hop artist would support a political candidate. If they can influence every hood across America to wear a certain sneaker or to buy a certain chain, they also would have the power to get American youth to support political candidates or to vote to not vote, the list goes on.
AllHipHop: You have had some label troubles. You were most recently signed to Rawkus and you also had a deal with Aftermath. Do you think that your views on the industry contributed to what happened with those labels?
The Last Emperor: Somewhat, its only been recently that Ive been comfortable enough to discuss some of these things. Some of the things I was aware of in the Aftermath and Rawkus days, but I wasnt as vocal about them. Only like in song they would understand that I have a certain political understanding so we know hes going to talk about certain things in his song. But at that time, I didnt feel like anyone was threatened by that. I think the situation with aftermath was Dr. Dre coming off the whole situation with Deathrow trying to establish himself as a strong solid entity within the genre of rap, he put out a compilation that didnt do too well. I signed shortly after that. It was like Dre acknowledges and respects cats that are lyrical to a certain extent which is why he went and signed Rakim. Thats something I can say about him that he does have a passion for people who are actually lyrical. I think at that point, he was dealing with a lot of turmoil in his life between Suge Knight between trying to get Aftermath off the ground because it was really just a fledgling company when I was signed. He had his hands in a lot of things and it was a lot of uncertainty which really affected the way that he interacted with me. It was like, ok I got this kid out here in Cali and I want to work with him but I really dont know what to do with him just yet.
AllHipHop: You made it out to Cali and what happened with the deal?
The Last Emperor: Well, we recorded a few things and I think that he just didnt know what to do with me honestly. The time that I was out there, it would be a few studio sessions that I wasnt made aware of and I think while he was recording that last Chronic album. I was signed and Eve was signed at the same time, and even a young lady from EnVogue [Dawn Robinson] was signed as well. I think we all departed around the same time. Even when it was time for me to leave he respected the fact that I wasnt really a trouble maker I had valid reasons for wanting to leave which was I wasnt really working like I came out there to work.
AllHipHop: What happened to the Rawkus Deal?
The Last Emperor: Once I got to Rawkus, I think none of this stuff actually hurt me because I understand the nature of cooperate America. At the end of the day , its not going to work with a suit and tie but Im still bound to a corporate entity. So whatever they dictate, it obviously has an effect on me. If I was ever hurt, it was the Rawkus situation more than at Aftermath because they shot straight from the hip. They told me that it may be 2 years before my project ever came out. That wasnt acceptable but at least they let me know this. With Rawkus, this was a label that I really respected because of the artist that they had like Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Pharoe Monch. I thought it was the ideal situation for an artist like me which is the only reason I decided to sign another deal with a semi major label. Unbenownced to me Rawkus, at the time of my deal was in severe dept and it was affecting the way that it treated the artists. It began to focus on what the artist looked like. I arrived with an album that was completed and instead of addressing when my album was coming out, these dudes are telling me that they need to get me into a gym and get me a personal trainer and other stuff that has nothing to do with the music. That really hurt me because I thought Rawkus was the one place where the music came first and everything else was an added bonus.
AllHipHop: Was that an attempt by Rawkus to boost sales to get out of debt?
The Last Emperor: Absolutely, Even these labels have to answer to a larger cooperate entity. If your like a few million dollars in debt, thats when the ills of man will come out and people who seemingly had principal and integrity unfortunately threw that out the window for capitol. That precisely what happened. It started being more about money.
AllHipHop: Do you have any regrets?
The Last Empeoror: It was all a learning experience. Because of the circle that Ive traveled in, I have relationships with cats who do hardcore gangster music to cats who do conscious music. Ive been on both sides of the spectrum. I think that, I still havent fully understood why these things have taken place. But I still have no regrets. I feel like at the end of the day, Im in this to sharpen my skills as an artist and as an MC. So dealing with these situations has let everybody know that on the mic, Im something to be feared. Weather you deal with thugged out gangsta hip-hop, Ill take it to you on that note, or if you want to get conscious, Ill take it to you there too. But the sword can be place to anybodys neck on either side of those topics.