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The Last Emperor: Music, Magic, Myth

Album: Music, Magic, Myth
Label: Raptivism

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On "Let's Ride," a track off the new Music, Magic, Myth, onetime Aftermath signee The Last Emperor reaches out to former boss Dr. Dre, urging the legendary producer to lace him with some beats to prove that their split was amicable. Last Emperor can't be faulted for trying to curry the favor of one of rap's biggest superstars, but his chances of hooking back up with N.W.A's sonic mastermind seem as likely as Dre re-forming the World Class Wreckin' Cru for a tour of gay nightclubs. Which isn't to say that Last Emperor isn't a creative, skilled MC. His problem, commercially at least, may be that he's too creative: It's hard to imagine a bottom-line, street-oriented producer like Dre throwing his weight behind a college graduate who rhymes about superheroes and comic books, and who named himself after a Bernardo Bertolucci film. Rawkus similarly dropped him, but Last Emperor seems to have found a good match with Raptivism, a small, adventurous independent label more likely to appreciate his charm. Music, Magic, Myth contains idiosyncrasies aplenty, as on the endearingly goofy faux-medieval intro and outro to "Animalistics," where he borrows the symphonic pomp from Wu-Tang Clan's "Triumph" and pretends he's a series of dangerous animals before concluding that humans are the deadliest creatures of all. Eclectic but cohesive, the album shows an ingratiating willingness to take chances, as on "The Block Party," where a spare drumbeat and lively turns from Cocoa Brovaz give the track an irresistible old-school house-party vibe. Though he's a stellar storyteller, Last Emperor is predictably upstaged by the late Poetic on the eerie "One Life," where the Gravedigga raps with urgency and pathos about the cancer he knows will take his life. Like nearly all rap albums that run longer than 70 minutes, Music, Magic, Myth could use some editing, but at least Last Emperor fills the bloated running time with intelligence, ambition, and ingratiating eccentricity.