Review Summary: At it’s best, the quality of ‘Music, Magic, Myth’ reaches that of groups like A Tribe Called Quest. Unfortunately it is far too inconsistent and has far too much filler to be interesting for it’s entire running time.
‘Music, Magic, Myth’ is the debut album of The Last Emperor, the recording name of Jamal Gray. Gray produces and raps on most of the tracks, with the exception of some guest artists. The Last Emperor makes a nice change from many rappers by being totally modest - he never proclaims how he’s the toughest rapper ever, but instead focuses here on creating a quality mellow alternative hip-hop album.
The completely over-the-top and ridiculous intro shows that the album is not meant to be taken completely seriously, creating a light-hearted and mellow atmosphere. While the entire album remains this laid-back sound and sense of humour throughout, it is very inconsistent musically. The Last Emperor doesn’t seem to know what direction to take his music in. Most of the songs are deep, intelligent and sometimes quite atmospheric rap, but there are much more simple ‘pop’ rap songs that don‘t really fit with the rest of the album.
The more ‘pop’ songs are definitely the weaker tracks here, with sparse beats that aren’t quite catchy enough to remain interesting for long, and end up sounding overly simple. Luckily, the deeper songs are more than good enough to make up for the large amount of filler. These songs are much more experimental with The Last Emperor using all sorts of obscure samples, replacing the sparse beats with a more densely layered sound with at times guitars, flutes, synth and strings. It still remains quite simple, but the different samples keep it far more gripping, and give it far more variety.
The best song on the album is arguably ‘One Life’, which really shows The Last Emperor’s talent in using unorthodox samples to create totally unique and brilliant hip-hop. ‘One Life’ is rapped brilliantly by guest Too Poetic from Gravediggaz
, about his fight with cancer. If there was a contest for the most beautiful rap song ever, this would definitely be a strong contender. With a simple acoustic guitar loop, backing vocals, saxophone and violin coupled with Too Poetic’s heartfelt emotional lyrics and vocals, ‘One Life’ is a genuinely heart-wrenching song. Other highlights are ‘Prisoner’ with it’s menacing yet catchy bass-line and rising synths and ’Do You Care’ with a fantastic jazzy piano loop.
The Last Emperor’s rapping is not spectacular, but definitely impressive. The emphasis is definitely on his lyrics. While they are well-written through the entire album, he covers so many topics that at times they end up sounding disjointed like the inconsistent music. At times they’re deep and introspective, and at other they’re just bizarre, especially in ‘Secret Wars’ where he raps about battles between superheroes and his favourite MCs. The lyrics are however humorous throughout and don’t go near the theme of violence explored in a lot of hip-hop.
The biggest problem with ‘Music, Magic, Myth’ though is its length. With the bonus disk included it is over an hour and a half, and over an hour without. With the amount of filler it is a wonder why The Last Emperor didn’t simply remove half of the songs, creating a much more concise and consistent album. As such, it is best to listen to a few specific songs, but not the whole album at once.
At it’s best, the quality of ‘Music, Magic, Myth’ reaches that of groups like A Tribe Called Quest
. Unfortunately it is far too inconsistent and has far too much filler to be interesting for it’s entire running time.