Travelling with The Last Emperor pt.2

Still hanging with the Emperor in DJ Static & NatiLL’s studio the conversation got deeper.
Last Emperor touched on political issues as well as the underlying themes in his music, but he was nowhere near done talking about mythology.

How did you come up with the name, The Last Emperor?

Initially I saw the Bertolucci film of the same title, that chronicles the life of Pun Yi who was the Last Emperor of Emperialist China, and I always wanted an MC title that’d stand out, so I wasn’t known as MC this or Kid that, but I wanted a name that stood out and almost forced me to do something great. After I saw the film I looked at the life of Pun Yi who came to pseudo-power as a child in an emperialist culture, and in his life he had to deal with the change socialism. What I wanted to do is what he couldn’t, I want to maintain the tradition but at the same time be fresh and innovative. As a young Black kid growing up in the ghetto, there’s a chance you wont amount to much. So I wanted to be able to say that I was the emperor of West Philly, and that’s really how I look at it now. When I go around the world now I realise that each region has had its own emperial rulers at some point, good or bad. People ask me if I’m trying to be Marcus Aurelius or Napoleon or even Haile Selassie, and I say no, but it’s good if I can get people to look at their own culture and wonder about the rulers nomatter if they’re from Rome, France, Ethiopia or even here in Scandinavia.

Do you see the paradox in the fact that you’ve endorced socialism in your rhymes, which is ultimately a leaderless society yet you’re called The Last Emperor.

Yes I see the paradox, but the world is full of paradoxes. I clearly have no power beyond my music to influence people. I can’t tax them, tell them when to work or go to war, but as a ruler I feel that I’m living in greatness. And that’s what I want to tell people, even if you can’t influence people in one way or another, you’re royalty in your own right.

Do you have an oppinion on the current American ruler, George W. Bush?

I think that the president’s stance in this war is one that is very harmful, not only to us as Americans, but to people across the globe that are going to die from the situation in Iraq. I just hope that if he does stay in office someone makes him realise the long-lasting effects military intervention has on a country. He should have concentrated more on diplomacy and actually talking to these people. He could even use hip-hop as an example of cultural exchange. I mean, here we are, two people clearly of different ethnic background but we’re united for one cause due to hip-hop. Our ideas of the world may differ, but we can still sit down and talk like civilized human beings and that’s something George Bush could learn from. 

Surely a lot of Danish readers will be interested in learning how you came up with the verse for „(Copenhagen) Claiming Respect,“ since there are so many mentions of Norse mythology and even Danish fairytales...

To be perfectly honest my first encounter with mythology, and specifically Norse mythology which is our subject of discussion was another one of my passions, comic books. I remember growing up and as a 7 or 8-year-old I read Marvel comics, and there was a character named Thor who Stan Lee and Jack Kirby sought to be a part of the comic-book universe. They had other characters who started out as mythological figures but transcended to be comic-book characters, such as Diana who becomes Wonder Woman. I’ve heard Stan Lee say that mythology is the way he comes up with the basis for comic-books, since they’re modern a way to explain certain universal human experience. But specifically with Norse mythology I began to coach myself on people such as Thor, and when I went to school they explained how Thor was part of the pantheon of Norse gods, and I was like wauw. In high school they taught us about regional differences in mythology and I thought that was really heavy, that they have people like Thor, Odin and Loke who are parallel to Greek mythology Zeus’ offspring and Isis and Osirus of Egyptian mythology. Some of the stories of power of devinity are even very similar.

Then when I came to Scandinavia it all seemed foreign in the sense that I hadn’t been exposed to the people themselves, but I saw a common thread with the people whose ancesters created that  mythology, since to me it was no different from Egyptology to me, which I can very much relate to as a person of African-American decent. So I took that common human experience and what I had already learned in college and talked to people of Scandinavian heritage. Even though I, myself, clearly am not Scandinavian and it all came full circle: the entertainment of the comics, the information I learned in school, and the interaction with the people here.

Was the line about “Throwing dirt on The Emperor’s New Clothes” intentionally put on a Danish song?

Growing up that was one of the H.C. Andersen stories that stuck out in my mind, and one day I was lucky enough to find myself in a region where all these experiences would be applicable. I don’t know if it was something devine, but I just decided that this would be a great way to use these experiences.

Secret Wars, Animalistics and the mentions of mythological figures are fictional, but do you approach the songs with a more serious nonfictional subject matter like “One Life” in the same way?

In a sense yes, because I like to make every song that I do have an underlying theme. Even if it is fictional where Marvel characters battle MC’s, like “Secret Wars” I wanted to show people that if rappers could come together as a collective like they do in the song, we can go up against any outside army. A song like “One Life” deals with Too Poetic who was a good a friend of mine and who unfortunately died of cancer and also features Esthero, a very talented singer from Canada. In that song I tried to let him explain his bout with cancer. His message is that even though he was dying of cancer life here is so short, that you have to make use of what time you have. He came to the studio after he had just received chemo therapy and was in pain. I called him and said “look man, I don’t want you to come”, but he still did his verse. I had a hotel room in Manhattan where he stayed ‘cause he was feeling very sick. I sat with him for a while, as did Esthero, and the experience really showed that he wanted to fit in as much possible in the time he had.
The underlying theme in that is that life is precious, and I try to make those universal underlying themes for the songs, so even if it’s done for an entertainment purpose or deals with a heavy topic I want it to be able to come of age with a message behind it.

Does the show you’re bringing to Aarhus reflect that attitude towards music?

Absolutely, because I think the show is very indicative of all that we spoke of tonight, and the variety of songs that I bring address all that stuff, including my world travels, the mythology and the more serious subject matter. That’s what I try to bring whereever I travel, so people leave with a message as well as having been entertained. When I travel here I think people in Europe have shown great appreciation for the music and the sound, but also for the person that’s doing it. When I travelled here for the first time I was a bit scared that the people wouldn’t understand what I was saying, but I actually think they understand a bit more of it than people in my own enviroment. Just that most people here speak two languages says something about the education level, but I think hip-hop has also helped a lot of people here get a furmer grab of the English language. I feel more comfortable each time I come here.

You’ve been exposed to some of the Danish scene before, and since we’re doing the interview in Static & NatiLL’s studio we’ve also listened to their stuff, have you seen any development in the sound that’s coming from Europe now?

Absolutely, every time I come here I see progression. If you had played me the Static & NatiLL songs somewhere else, I wouldn’t have known they weren’t American skillwise, ‘cause it sounds like music I normally listen to at home. That speaks volumes of the universal power of hip-hop. Politicians and world leaders haven’t been able to bring people together the way hip-hop has, and I think it’d be arrogant of me to dictate that someone should speak the best form of English to be good. I hope people who rhyme in their own indigenius language will someday be just as respected as artists from the U.S.

What can we expect from you in the future?

You can expect a very, very adventurous follow-up to “Music, Magic, Myth” later this year. I’m playing around with a couple of titles so I don’t want to reveil anything yet. But people who are fans of the Star Wars saga like myself know that Phantom Menace was kinda cool, an all right movie, but the follow-up Attack Of The Clones was much more adventurous and that’s how I want my album to be, still dealing with serious topics but as I said much more adventurous. Beyond that; look for the Last Emperor/Beatminerz album out next year!

30/08/2004 - Lagt online af PTA

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