Along time ago, in ghetto far, far away (in Philly), The Last Emperor was born. Taking his name from the Bernardo Bertolucci film of the same name, The Last Emperor is a beast of an emcee. Armed with sharp lyricism, a wicked flow, along with a love of hip-hop, movies, and comic books, he has ripped microphones all over the world. His song "Secret Wars" became a modern hip-hop classic as he tells the listener of a fictional battle between hip-hop emcees and his favorite comic book heroes. He even goes so far as imitating the voices of some of the emcees with a precision. He bounced around from label to label. First, he was signed to Dr. Dre's Aftermath but his project was not getting the attention it deserved. Second, he signed to Rawkus, when the label was at its creative zenith. Since debt plagued the label, changes had to be made and there was a push for a more commercialized sound and eventually there was a problem of image over substance. Fans were left waiting. They only could listen to singles and the odd compilation track or collaboration. One collaboration that stood out was "C.I.A." with Krs-One and Zach from Rage Against The Machine on "Lyricist's Lounge Vol. 1". He collaborated with DJ Jazzy Jeff, Da Beatminerz, and Rza. Fast forward to 2003. The Last Emperor had tons of music that he wanted to release and Raptivism stepped up to the plate. In the late summer of 2003, the debut album "Music, Magic, Myth" was finally released. Prince Paul, Da Beatminerz, Big Tyke, Will Weston, Madsol-Desar and Ayatollah handled production. There are very few guests on the LP. Cocoa Brovaz are on "The Block Party", which is a re-vamped version of an old Stetsasonic song. The most poignant collaboration was "One Life", which features Esthero and Poetic from The Gravediggaz. Poetic died of cancer a couple of years ago but while he was in treatment, he was always hungry to rock mics. Poetic rocked an intense and poignant verse on "One Life". On a warm August evening in 2003, I had an in-depth conversation with The Last Emperor about hip-hop, the music industry, Philadelphia, Aftermath, Rawkus, films and much more. A lover of Star Wars films, The Last Emperor sees himself as a Jedi knight, trying to maintain and preserve the order and culture of hip-hop music. His light saber is a microphone while he uses the force of lyricism and the art of the emcee. The force of hip-hop is strong with The Last Emperor.Related Videos:
T.JONES: "What goes on?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Maintaining, man. I'm doing a lot of things in preparation for this LP to be released. I'm just toiling away at the things that need to be done upon this release."
T.JONES: "The debut album is called 'Music, Magic, Myth'. Tell us about it."
THE LAST EMPEROR: "The album 'Music, Magic, Myth' is obviously the full-length debut of The Last Emperor, which has been somewhat in the making for about over 5 years now. It's a full-length LP with myself obviously as the main emcee. It has production by people like Ayatollah, Madsol-Desar, Prince Paul, Set Free, as well as Da Beatminerz and several other up and coming individuals. The title 'Music, Magic, Myth' pretty much encompasses everything that I had hoped to tackle and accomplish within the genre of hip-hop. First, the music of hip-hop is the platform from which I speak. The magic element is sometimes apparent and sometimes, not so apparent with the art form. I really feel that something magical happens when an artist is able thoroughly convey all that they are and all of their experiences, all on one album. The listener finally gets a chance to receive this through the auditory canal. There's a certain magic involved much like going to see the circus or a magician do his show live. There's some sort of trance that can come over the crowd when the emcee does his show live, if he does an effective job at kicking his rhymes and releasing the beats the way they are supposed to be released. I think that there is something very magical in hip-hop in general since it is able to bridge all sorts of gaps whether it is ethnically or on a socio-economical level, or whether it just is socially, like when people are together at a party. In my opinion, when people are together and they are enjoying good hip-hop music, there is something magical about that. With the myth, developing the myth and some of the surrounding of who is the Last Emperor. What does this individual accomplish? What does he bring to the hip-hop realm? Also, I think there are some other myths that the world keeps in place. I tackle a few things on that note on songs like 'Animalistics' and 'Secret Wars', also 'One Life', dealing with mythology. So, those are the 3 elements that I hopefully put into this body of work and those are the 3 things that the listener can hopefully extract from it."
T.JONES: "Do you have a favorite song on 'Music, Magic, Myth'?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "I would have to say probably my personal favorite would be 'Animalistics' though probably the one I am most proud of and feel most passionately about is 'One Life', a song I recorded with a gentlemen by the name of Poetic, formally of The Gravediggaz. On this song, he discusses his fight with cancer. A fight that he unfortunately succumbed to about 2 years ago. So, to have him, first of all, on the record and having him being someone that I grew up to and have been influenced by, but then, to have him tackle such a relevant social, health, and personal issue that affects the lives of so many people across the board, and for this to be one of his last recordings, was just really special to me. My personal favorite is 'Animalistics' but the song I feel most passionately about is 'One Life'. Poetic was a real special dude and he left me with a lot of things knowledge-wise, that I'm still using to this day. There are certain jewels that I have yet to unlock but I'm sure that in given time, I will unlock them. I still feel like he's with me. He guides me in many ways."
T.JONES: "How did you get involved with Raptivism Records?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Around 1998, or early 99, Raptivism approached me about a project they were putting together called 'No More Prisons' that dealt with the prison industrial complex in this country and the overall judicial system putting people in prison and the irregularities that need to be corrected. They stepped to me about doing a song and the result was a song that I recorded with a singer named Vinia Mojica. That was my first introduction to Raptivism. After going through different label deals and having a certain amount of music that really wasn't doing anything, Raptivism reached out to me a year ago. They were like, 'Hey man, listen. We understand that you have a certain amount of music that you are not doing anything with. If you would like to complete an entire album, we would like to facilitate that and give you a home in which you could do so.' They reached out to me about a year ago but there was already somewhat of a relationship."
T.JONES: "Your name, The Last Emperor, came from the film of the same name by Bernardo Bertolucci. What was it about that film that you liked and inspired you to take the title as your moniker?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "What I enjoyed about it was that this young individual has this task of holding a traditional imperialist Chinese culture. He had to hold up all that imperialist China had to offer from its art, to its political system, to him being king of a specific region. He held those things up with the onset of a changing political system, the onset of communism, the onset of Western ideology, and people from other places. He was beginning to take part in Asian politics of that time. Unfortunately, this gentleman, in a misinformed sort of way, was groomed into being the last emperor. He held the moniker and held the title but was pretty much a figurehead. As he grew, he tried to grow into whatever it meant to be a last emperor but simultaneously, changing political environment. Unfortunately, as we see towards the end of the film and the latter portion of his life, he was unable to do so. He ended up in prison and things of that nature. What I wanted to do, from a hip-hop perspective, was to complete the task and to do what he couldn't. I wanted to uphold the tradition of hip-hop, the morays, the values, and everything that traditional classic hip-hop seems to represent yet simultaneously be able to weather the storm of changing political system, which obviously affects hip-hop. Politicians that say the content of the music affects young people and the decisions that they make and crimes that they get into. Whether it is economic changes in hip-hop, it sometimes forces the artist to approach the art form from a different perspective or another. I just wanted to do what Pu Yi couldn't. I am from the perspective of a young person coming from West Philadelphia who grew up in the hood. Many people tell us early on that we are not going to amount to anything. I wanted to show people that even from poverty, we could be great as well. Through hip-hop, I can be great. I can be The Last Emperor of West Philadelphia. That's where I got the title from but the irony of it is and the way it evolved, people personalize the title. I was talking to a person from France a few weeks ago and he said that when he hears the name The Last Emperor, he had visions of Napoleon. If I was to talk to somebody from Rome, they may have visions of Marcus Aurelius. If I talk to someone who is Ethiopian, they may have visions of Haile Selassie. So, I think that as I evolve in the art form and that as people hear the title and personalize it however they may wish, it sort of represents at least a look into all of our pasts, no matter where we come from. We can trace back all our history and it is all rooted in high culture that had rulers. It was always the responsibility of those rulers to either use their power to oppress people or try to have as much of a democratic society as possible and treat people fairly. If nothing else, it makes people personalize it and look back at their past."
T.JONES: "What were some other movies that affected your life?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Anyone who knows me knows that the Star Wars series affected my life the most. I actually tend to pattern what I do and my life in general from those films. What George Lucas attacked in Star Wars, a sort of generalized religion with the force, was something that the rest of the world could seek benefit from. Whatever it is that we're into, whether it is Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, when we all get to the root of these things, they all seem to be based on one basic premise and one basic foundation. For George Lucas to tackle that in a religious way and a sci-fi way was really dope. On top of that, my role as an emcee, I see as being a Jedi. Many people ask me what I think about emcees getting commercial radio play and I think that these dudes are talented as well. Much like the order of the Jedi, you can be a Jedi but you also can fall into the dark side and become a sith-lord. Now, anyone who knows about the Jedi and the sith knows that they are equally trained in the force but the Jedi use their power to uphold good in the galaxy while the sith use their powers to manipulate and oppress people for their own personal gain. Being an emcee and a rapper is like that same dichotomy. An emcee is always wholeheartedly seeking to uphold the order of hip-hop while the rapper, who may still be talented, only rhymes for personal gain. The battle between good and evil in Star Wars applies to hip-hop. My room is off the hook. I have figures. It's like my past time other than hip-hop. Actually, if you check out the last edition of Star Wars Insider, which is like the bible of Star Wars, they did a piece on musicians who make Star Wars references in their music. I'm listed as one of them as well as Mos Def and Redman.
T.JONES: "You know Natalie Portman?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "I actually had a chance to speak with Natalie Portman over the phone a couple of years ago. I was really psyched about that. She was real cool, man. She's into hip-hop to a certain extent! Actually, I got introduced to her through Esthero, a singer who is on my album. Esthero is really good friends with Natalie. I get Natalie on the phone and I'm trying to pick her brain about inside Star Wars stuff but they are all contracted to not talk about it. She couldn't tell me a lot but the opportunity to talk to her was dope. She's real cool."
T.JONES: "Do you have a favorite Star Wars movie?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "I would have to initially say 'The Empire Strikes Back' but 'Attack Of The Clones' was deeply action packed. I suspect that this 3rd episode, which many people are saying is going to be the darkest of all of them, will probably be the best one yet."
T.JONES: "What took you so long to get this album out? What was the story? You were on tons of different collaborations, mix-tapes, and labels. What happened?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Basically, I went through 3 different label deals."
T.JONES: "First you were signed to Dr. Dre's label Aftermath Records. What happened with that deal?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Initially, I was signed to Dr. Dre's Aftermath Records in 1997. When I got there, it was with a certain understanding that my album would come out in a certain amount of time. I thought that the rate of production and work that I would partake in would be somewhat frequent. When I got there Dre couldn't be as hands on with my project as he initially alluded to. I was pretty much the low man on the totem poll at Aftermath. So, at a certain point, I had to say to myself, 'Well this is not really satisfying to me or the rest of the empire in terms of how rapidly the music can be placed'. I was kind of limited even at doing side projects. So, that first deal kind of went sour. At a point, Dr. Dre sat me down and said, 'Look, realistically speaking, the album may not come out for another 3 to 4 years. If this is something you could live with or a reasonable scenario, cool. If not, and you feel that you need to go somewhere else, I can respect that as well'. I opted for the latter. I really dug the potential of what could have happened at Aftermath but I didn't feel that my project was getting the right amount of attention. I opted to leave. The parent company, Interscope, kept me for about a year. The situation was, I was given an A&R and this was his first experience, being an A&R in music at all. So, that didn't work. For the second A&R I got, it was his first experience dealing with a hip-hop act. Prior to that, he dealt with acid rock and things of that nature. It kind of created a riff or a clash. When we ironed out everything, I got dropped from the label. This was around late 98 or early 99. If you studied what was going on with a lot of labels around that time or the American company in general, you would know that there were a lot of companies folding and downsizing. I looked at that situation like I got downsized if I worked for Enron or something. They let me go because resources were scarce. After I got out of Interscope, I sat around for about a year as a free agent. I did as many projects and collaborations as I could."
T.JONES: "Then, you signed to Rawkus Records. What happened with that deal?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "After about a year of being a free agent, Rawkus Records reached out to me. I had previous experience dealing with them on 'Lyricist's Lounge Vol. 1'. I did a song on that album titled 'C.I.A.' with Krs-One and Zach from Rage Against The Machine. So, I went to Rawkus. Anyone who knew about Rawkus during that era would know that I had to respect a lot of their artists at the time. I respected Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Pharoahe Monch, Kool G Rap. It just seemed like the ideal label for the sort of hip-hop that a person like myself desired to put out. Again, because of economical things in the music industry, I came to find out that Rawkus was a couple of million dollars in debt. That forced them to change their whole approach to the records that they want to put out. They began to tell artists that they wanted to compete more with what was going on with mainstream radio and the mainstream acts that were out there. They didn't want to be viewed as the underground backpack hip-hop label. They began to change their approach dealing with certain artists. Obviously, I was one of the last artists to climb aboard the Rawkus flagship during that time. They would tell me things like 'Your album is good and a hip-hop oriented album but we need something that is going to compete on a mainstream level.' I made certain concessions like tightening up production and doing 6 more songs that I thought were good and doing what people traditionally thought of The Last Emperor. It was clearly a more polished and developed sound. It still wasn't to their liking. We began to have certain contractual discrepancies. I was supposed to come out 6 months after signing to Rawkus. 6 months turned into 8 months. 8 turned into a year. Instead of giving me a concrete answer to when my album or single was going to come out, they would tell me 'We'll figure it out but we have to get you a personal trainer so that your abs and your pecks are nice and tight.' This is literally verbatim. The administration at Rawkus actually told me this. Everyone would flip when I would tell them that story. Rawkus would also tell me things that I heard on Interscope, a more mainstream label. So, after wrestling between music and imagery, I decided to leave. I did not tolerate something like that on Interscope so I certainly wasn't going to tolerate it from Rawkus, which in the eyes of many people, was the authentic hip-hop label. That hurt me more than Interscope. After about a year on Rawkus, around late-2001, I parted ways with them as well."
T.JONES: "In your opinion, what label would have released a better album? Aftermath or Rawkus?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "On a personal level, it's kind of hard to say. It's kind of like a 50/50 split because if Rawkus held true to their original blueprint and mantra, allowing artists to be themselves and put out authentic hip-hop, that would have been a very tight situation. The early work that came out of Rawkus like the Pharoahe Monch album, the Black Star album, Talib Kweli, Mos Def was all classic material. I think that if I had been given the same opportunity there, it would have been another classic album. Just the same, if I stayed on Interscope and been under Dr. Dre's tutelage, and had him really be hands-on and see the album through, that would have been an equally as powerful album, if not more powerful, considering his production talents and the work that he has done with Eminem. One thing I can say about Dr. Dre is that no matter how anyone may feel with his affiliation with gangsta rap, the sound quality and overall production and scope of a Dre-produced album is very tight and high quality. He has experience with working with lyricists from the days of D.O.C. from the 80's. I thought it was phenomenal that he had the ear to get this young cat from Texas and give him a classic album in 'No One Could Do It Better'. When I saw him do the same thing with Eminem, Snoop Dogg, and 50 Cent, it makes me think that if we had the opportunity to go into the studio and worked like we initially promised each other, it would have really been a tight album. It would have been an East Coast lyricist matched up with one of the hottest producers from the West Coast. When I signed, it was shortly after the death of The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac. Dre and I saw it as an opportunity to bridge the gap between the whole East Coast and West Coast thing that was going on. There was still a lot of tension. Given both of those situations, it would have been a good thing for either one of those albums to come out."
T.JONES: "On the 'Lyricist's Lounge 2' compilation you and Rza were supposed to have a song there called 'He Lives' produced by Prince Paul. It was even labeled. What happened?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "A lot of people shared that sentiment. One time, these young dudes ran up on me in the mall in Philly one time. They literally wanted me to give them their money back. It really broke my heart again because it was a really tight song. It was great to work with Rza and have him contribute in a Wu-Tang sort of way. We recorded the song at the 36 Chambers while all of the other Wu members were around. Method Man and Raekwon were there. The feeling of the song was really tight. In the final hour, Rawkus didn't want to pay Rza what he deserved to be apart of that song. The paperwork wasn't complete for that song not to be on that album. Again, Rawkus wasn't doing what they needed to do. They didn't see it as it being that beneficial for that album."
T.JONES: "Do you go into the studio with pre-written rhymes, lyrics and themes or do you hear the beat first and write then and there?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "It goes either way. It depends a lot on the producer. Sometimes, they give me beats that I write to. Still, I like to come as prepared as possible. As an underground artist, we really don't have a lot of time. Time is money when you are dealing with studios. You want to come to the studio as prepared as possible. Sometimes, there are situations where the producer says, 'Just come to the studio and we'll work right then and there. You and I will brainstorm and come up with something'. It can happen that way but 70% of the time, I come with already written rhymes where the producer gives me a beat a month ahead of time. They tell me to write to it and when I finish, I come to the studio with something prepared."
T.JONES: "How did you hook up with Prince Paul?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Around the time that I first got a deal on Aftermath, Dre and Aftermath asked me what producers I would like to work with. Before I pursued a contract or decided to do this professionally, I had a 3-part trilogy of albums in my head. I knew that with my rhymes and the song structures, there were certain producers that could bring the best out of me while complementing the style. I knew I wanted a skit oriented album and who better to do it than Prince Paul. He's pretty much the pioneer of having skits on albums. Look at the first De La Soul album and the Gravediggaz album along with his solo albums that he did during the years. That's how I got with him, through mutual friends in the industry. I got a number on him, reached out towards him, gave him a call. We sent him the music and he was feeling what I was doing lyrically. Even when I didn't have a deal, he treated me like an older brother. He would give me advice and allow me to work out of his home studio. He made a commitment to record with me even when I wasn't doing it professionally."
T.JONES: "How is working with Prince Paul is different from working with Da Beatminerz? How is their production style different?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Da Beatminerz totally live up to their title. They mine for beats on a daily basis. I'm sure as we speak now, Mr. Walt and Evil Dee are home, working on beats. It's a constant thing, where they are always looking for new and innovative beats. Prince Paul sometimes likes to wait for an emcee to come along. Sometimes, he likes to get your vocals down first before there is even a beat. He will sometimes, actually build a beat around your vocals. Da Beatminerz are kind of like the other way around. They will build a beat and challenge you to develop a rhyme style or pattern to complement that. Even though Prince Paul and Da Beatminerz both work from opposite ends, they are both dope in their own right."
T.JONES: "What was the last incident of racism you experienced?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "It doesn't happen very often. It's more subtle than overt. A lot of times, I have a habit of brushing it off. When I encounter somebody who does that, I sometimes kill them with kindness and politeness. I'm kind of trained to do that. The last time it was overt was a couple of years ago, shortly after the O.J. Simpson verdict. I had a regular job then, working at a restaurant, coming home late at night in a section of Philadelphia that was predominately Caucasian. There were 4 dudes in a pick-up truck that drove past me. They stopped at the light and asked me what I thought of the O.J. Simpson verdict. I didn't say anything because it was late and night and these dudes were visibly drunk. They pulled off, called me a 'n*gger' and kept going. That was years ago. Since then, I can honestly say that I haven't experienced much of that."
T.JONES: "Abortion - pro-choice or pro-life?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "I'm actually pro-choice. I come from a community where abortion is unfortunately very frequent. I know young women who were pregnant at 13 or 14 years old. It's not an isolated incident. I know a lot of people pregnant at that age. I joke with my friends that I actually know a 30 year old grandmother. I know a girl I went to junior high with who had a kid at 14. When she was 28, her son had a kid at the same age. It's kind of common. I do favor life but I am pro-choice."
T.JONES: "Death Penalty - For or against?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "I am against the death penalty. It's clearly dis-proportioned. We can take a state-by-state study in terms of the crimes of people on death row. I just think it is not proportioned. The judicial system is not very balanced at all in terms of minorities. We are sometimes given stiffer penalties for the same or lesser crime. I'm clearly against the death penalty."
T.JONES: "Where were you on Sept. 11th, 2001? How did you deal with it? How do you think it has affected or will affect hip-hop?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "I was home in Philadelphia. I was half-asleep. My mom called me from her job an she said, 'You got to turn on the news! The World Trade Center has been hit!' Like the rest of the world, I turned on the news and viewed the calamity. In general, the United States approach to homeland security is very extreme. If you have any views contrary to what is considered the norm or what is beneficial to the United States government, you could be classified as spewing terrorist ideology. Shortly, there will be a second part to The Patriot Act, The Patriot Act II, which will place stricter and more rigid definition to what is pro-government and what is anti-government. In terms of hip-hop, certain artists that tend to be outspoken in terms of political issues will really become much more under the microscope. George W. Bush said that he will be looking towards the entertainment industry in terms of cracking down on anything that seems like it is terrorist in its ideology."
T.JONES: "How has your live show evolved? What is your favorite part of your live show?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "I think that my live show has evolved because I now understand that when people come to see a live show, they obviously want what they hear on wax but they want more than that too. I benefited from the fact that I did more live shows initially before I even had records on wax. Since I came up through the Lyricist's Lounge, it trained me to be able to perform live without even having any records out. I couldn't rely on an audience that already knows the words to my songs. Some artists have that audience so they are up there, doing the words. For that artist, it can sometimes be a no-brainer but for me, I had to slowly rely on the words that I was rapping right then and there, be in time with the beat right then and there because I didn't have a record out. I think that I have gotten a lot sharper with that and much more efficient. I also want to give the audience a little more too. If they want to hear the album, they can go buy the album and listen to it. I want to give them something extra so, in between songs, I like to give them rhymes that they haven't heard before and scenarios of skits that they never heard before. I want them to walk away saying to themselves, 'I really had a magical experience like I went to a Siegfried & Roy show or saw Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. I want them to really walk away with something to talk about."
T.JONES: "Word association time. I'm going to say a name of a group/emcee and you say the first word that pops in your head. So, if I say 'Chuck D', you may say 'Revolution' If I said 'Flavor Flav', you may say something like 'crack'. Okay?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Right. (laughs)."
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Lyrics."
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Underground.'
T.JONES: "LL Cool J"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Longevity."
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Bling bling."
T.JONES: "50 Cent"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Hardcore."
T.JONES: "Phife Dawg"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Rhymes."
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Chicago."
T.JONES: "George Bush"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "War."
T.JONES: "What collaboration are you most proud of?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "I'm really proud of 'One Life' because I had an opportunity that I got to work with Poetic. I remember his first single back in like 89 called 'God Mad Me Funky' and how impressed I was with that. I never imagined that I would get a chance to work with him especially after he went on to be with The Gravediggaz, one of my favorite groups of all time. When we recorded the song, he went to Chemotherapy earlier that day. I told him, 'Yo, man. If you don't feel like coming, we can always do the song. It's not more important than your health.' I told him to stay at home. He ended up popping up at the studio anyway. We did it and his verse was done in one take, which is the same take we hear on the song. He was a trooper through and through. Throughout his whole ordeal, he had to deal with pain and all of that but he was always a very humorous person up until the last time I saw him. He really made emcee-ing his life's work. He took it so seriously. I think that is the collaboration that I am most proud of. Also, the young lady that we had singing on 'One Life', Esthero, out of Canada, I had been a fan of hers for about a year prior to working with her. To work with both of those individuals was incredible. Aside from 'One Life', the 'C.I.A.' track with Krs-One and Zach De La Rocha from Rage Against The Machine was a collaboration that I am very proud of too."
T.JONES: "What has been on your turntable or in your CD player recently?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "I don't purchase a lot of new hip-hop. I am kind of stuck in the golden age like stuff from 1986 to 89. I listen to a lot of Original Juice Crew cuts. I also listen to a lot of Boot Camp Clik. They are one of my favorites. There is something about the feel of that music from the BCC that just gets you through the day. Aside from that and beyond hip-hop, I love The Doors. I'm always listening to them whether it be a Greatest Hits compilation or 'Morrisson Hotel'. I'm listening to a lot of bossanova and jazz and stuff from Brazil. I listen to Stan Getz and Sergio Mendez."
T.JONES: "What do you think hip-hop needs these days? What is it lacking?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Hip-hop itself or authentic hip-hop, if I can even make such a claim, is very much in tact. It's diverse. The only thing that I think authentic good hip-hop is not getting is its share of radio airplay and video play for those artists who do traditional hip-hop. I think industrialized rap music, what we see on video shows and hear on radio, lacks versatility and diversity. Most songs on mainstream radio and video shows deal with one of three things. Either they are talking about going to the club, how much material possessions they have, or degrading women. Every song literally deals with those things."
T.JONES: "How do you think that you have matured, evolved or changed as an artist?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "I think that I learned that no matter what goes on, whether it be label situations, sometimes a lack of work, that I have to be really serious about my craft and really develop my skills a as writer. I am an emcee professionally. I am on stage but I also try to develop myself as a writer. No matter what is going on, I continue to write rhymes. There's a protocol that goes along with being a recording artist whether it be dealing with other artists or fans. It was kind of hard for me to grasp initially. I think that I have matured by the fact that I am now able to be a well rounded artist and a well rounded writer."
T.JONES: "If you could remake any classic hip-hop song, what would it be?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Wow! I would probably remake Big Daddy Kane's 'Raw'."
T.JONES: "What do you do when you are incredibly stressed out?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "When I am incredibly stressed out, I work out. I listen to some good music, not even necessarily hip-hop. Maybe, I'll smoke some weed."
T.JONES: "What are some major misconceptions that people have of you?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "I think that some people think that because of my title, I am walking around like some high exalted ruler and demand to be treated as such. In reality, I'm a down to Earth type person. I am a regular Philly neighborhood type of guy. I've had a lot of real hood experiences. I think one of the biggest misconceptions of me is that I take this big grandiose approach to my life."
T.JONES: "What artist would you like to collaborate with in the future?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "As far as emcees are concerned, I would like to work with someone like The Genius (Gza)."
T.JONES: "You know, I always thought that you and C Rayz Walz would make a dope collaboration."
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Oh yea! I know C Rayz Walz! That would be dope! Actually, I think that is gonna happen because actually, we know a lot of people in common. There were a couple of singles that came out years ago on High Rise Records where I was on one song and he was on the other. We always talked about collaborating so, I'm sure that would actually happen.
T.JONES: "You worked with Cocoa Brovaz on 'The Block Party'. How did you hook up with them and what was that collaboration like?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "The way I hooked up with them was kind of like just reaching out to them. After I got out of college in 1995, Lincoln University in PA, I moved to Brooklyn, NY about a year later with a good friend of mine, who ended up being my business partner. Now, he has a cousin who was once a member of The Decepticons, who were a pretty big unit out of Brooklyn in the late 80's. The Cocoa Brovaz, and the majority of the Boot Camp Clik were ex-Decepticons. We always bumped into each other in the street in Brooklyn. Once I became an established recording artist and got on Rawkus, we really began to link up. It was 50% industry links and 50% street links. I just reached out to them. Daddy-O and Prince Paul, formally of Stetsasonic, always wanted someone to remake and approach 'Go Stetsa 1' and they thought that it would be unique if me, and Tek and Steele could do that song over."
T.JONES: "What advice would you give to a young emcee getting into the music business?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "No matter what happens or what kind of deal is thrown your way, remain true to your craft and keep developing your craft. Instead of going out and seeking a deal, opportunities can come to you if your craft is that sharp. Stick to your craft, stay on top of your game, and develop it to a point to where it is undeniable."
T.JONES: "What producers would you like to work with in the future that you haven't worked with yet?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "I would like to work with Pete Rock and Marley Marl."
T.JONES: "Was there a point where you were going to give up?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Yeah, all the time! Truth be told, every time I go through a bumpy period there is always that notion in my mind where I ask 'Is this the right thing for me to be doing? Should I throw in the towel?' I heard someone like Dmc from Run-Dmc say that if he never became an emcee and worked at the post office, he always would have his little book of rhymes and be a rhyme writer. That's the same way I approached it. There are times but at the end of the day, I'm a rhyme writer at heart. Rhyme has had an affect on our culture from the time that we are little. Our parents sing us nursery rhymes to help us go to sleep. Rhyming and poetry is very much a part of our culture."
T.JONES: "What kind of styles do you see hip-hop changing into? What do you see in the future for hip-hop?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "I think rhyme patterns are going to continue to be more intricate. Rhyme patterns is like studying linguistics. I have talked to people who study linguistics and they say that hip-hop is an excellent example of the dynamic of language. Hip-hop evolves and beats and sounds will evolve as well. It's sort of like numbers. You can never stop counting so, you can never stop putting together beat sequences. I think that language and rhyme patterns are the same way. Things are going to get more intricate. I'm almost afraid to hear what emcees 20 years from now may sound like."
T.JONES: "What are some of the future projects or collaborations you are or will be working on?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Nothing in the immediate future. A lot of my energy has been placed towards putting this album out. People are always calling me sporadically but I'm not at liberty to discuss that. But hey, whoever wants to work with me, I'm down as long as they are fresh. I will bring something fresh to the table as well."
T.JONES: "A friend of mine wanted me to ask you this, where can you can 'Secret Wars' 12-inch on vinyl?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Wow! That's a good question, one I don't really have an answer for. If you go to www.thelastemp.com there may be some more information on that in the future. Off the top of the dome, I don't have a clue."
T.JONES: "What do you want on your epitaph (your gravestone)?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "I would like 'Here lies a gentlemen who saw more in the world than what was in his immediate surroundings and went out to embrace the world.'"
T.JONES: "Any final words for the people who are reading this?"
THE LAST EMPEROR: "Peace! The album will be out in August! I hope that everyone enjoys it! Thank you for the continuing support!"
Thank you Last Emperor!!!
Interview by Todd E. Jones aka The New Jeru Poet
"One Life" f/ Poetic & Esthero
"Do You Care?"
"Secret Wars Part II"
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