Labels and artists alike loathe the technology advances that are readily available in our dot-com culture, file swappers, in a few isolated instances, have actually worked in concert to assist a few artists—ex: Last Emperor. Through lost deals with Rawkus, Hi-Rise, and Dr. Dre’s AfterMath imprint, Emp’s “vaulted” material has nevertheless been widely accessible and in turn provided him an invaluable lifeline. Without it, he would have surely been added to the long list of promising emcees that were for whatever reason forgotten; name one other emcee that has been fortunate enough to get his library of unreleased material (over two-discs worth of studio material) chronicled by mixtape DJ’s without the aid of at least one studio LP?
Though fighting an uphill battle to match the cerebellum swelling catalog he previously mustered (which includes standouts “He Lives” feat. RZA, “The Umph,” “Echo Leader,” “Secret Wars,” “Nile Nutrition” and “Mystery Man”) Emp finally makes his long overdue solo-bow, with the dazzling and monotonous Music, Magic, Myth. Proving to be just as cathartic as ever, Emp flashes his storytelling prowess on “Repetition (Over And Over)” and “Tiger Trail” where Ayatollah’s subtle arrangement of sitars and airy flutes meshes nicely with Emp’s powerful vocals (blink and you may miss the cutup snippets of Public Enemy’s “My Uzi Weighs A Ton” on the hook).
While Music, Magic, Myth is largely a hit and miss endeavor that is occasionally hampered by flimsy hooks (“Some Love Some Hate”) and outdated production (“Who’s That”,”The Incredible Man” and the malnourished lead-single “Prisoner”). Emp proves to be more effective over more subtle, down tempo nods that enable his powerful voice to take precedence. With “One Life” feat. Poetic & Esthero, Set Free’s wandering violins and rain soaked backdrop sets a chilling mood for Emp to ponder the transitory flux of the hereafter “is it like purgatory the story described by the Catholics/or nirvana that Buddha sought in both theory and practice.” Sadly, “One Life” is punctuated by a posthumous appearance from Poetic (R.I.P.), as his cryptic verse captures the essence of a man who had already come to peace with his debilitating battle with colon cancer: “me and death is playing chess.” Also, proving that hip-hop’s cross pollinization is not strictly reserved for blockbuster rock/rap unions, house music maestro Armand Van Helden affixes tender acoustic guitar strains to the yearning “Shine” where Emp reveals in the possibilities of a blooming relationship “be the master of your happiness too keep it whole/be the spouse come and live in my house give me a home/would you accept it as sacred/or hate it leave me alone/or love it like Mike Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones.”
Though Emp may lack the consistent production and commercial flamboyance that separates good emcees from mainstream superstars; it’s a welcome departure to hear an educated emcee delivering concise theses (“Single Mother” & “Meditation”) on relevant topics that include more then just the rudimentary lures of gun busting. And while Emp’s turbulent label problems are now seemingly righted, it does not prohibit him from exorcising a few ghosts, as he closes one chapter and looks to open new one’s with “Hold On”—”so whassup Doc/now that the young boy grew/would ya finish the album we intended to do/show em there’s no animosity between me and you/throw the Las a couple a tracks for album two.” How about it Dre??
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