Inspiration with insight. The pedagogy of enlightenment. All known as the tracks that spark a muthafu–the lyrics that template new directions. The Master of Ceremonies can become the peoples’ Muse of Creations in this aged Hip Hop Art. Yet they are disrespected today as mere Manipulators of lettered Contraptions making conundrums, milking conditions and putting a mic on complacency.
So to save the children via Hip Hop is to self create and the legend writes their history in advance. They place the burden upon themselves and act with talent, react with skill and counter-react with inspiration.
Napoleon Da Legend is more than the might and power of his name. An MC with the prized talent of vocal dexterity mixing with the developed skill of deeper word choice. All poised in a revelation of purpose–a journey to artistically intrigue thought.For now, we know the debut of the journey as his Awakening out of the matrix. A score of triumphant struggle and insight on wax. Here are some of the jewelz…
SUNEZ: Tell us your beginnings.
NAPOLEON: I was born in Paris, France and my parents are from the Comoros Islands which is in lower East Africa. They migrated to Paris before they had me. Comoros is a very impoverished island and there are not a lot of resources. In order to get that promise of a better life many will go overseas. A lot of them will go to France because French is like the second language next to Swahili. But my father had an opportunity. I woke up one morning early and was told, ‘get dressed. We’re going.’ My father wasn’t there. He had been gone for a few days. I didn’t understand. I was too young, about 4 years old. We hopped on a plane and when I’m waking up my father is pulling up in a car. We never had a car before. It’s a Mitsubishi or something. We were moving to America. I was like “Wow, ok.” I didn’t know how to speak the language. It was real culture shock. It was in D.C. so I grew up out here, learned the language slowly. Just by watching tv, having friends, going to school. I was listening to the radio rap but there was more of a mixture then. I remember listening to MC Hammer but then there would be “Rock Dis Funky Joint” by Poor Righteous Teachers right after. That was ill. At the time, I liked both. Until I saw it on TV with the Yo! MTV Raps I was never drawn to doing it. But I never thought of really pursuing it until I had some of my close friends doing it. They had karaoke machines, simple stuff. My boy let me borrow one and I got tapes form Sam Goody and started laying down songs. Go to little parties and pick up the mic and start to rhyme. I’d get good feedback and I was hooked. People are actually clapping. It was all new to me. At the time I didn’t realize it probably was a huge culture shock for my parents because they migrated twice. From Comoros to France and then to America. It was kind of hard on them so they ended up separating. Since about 16 [years old] I’ve been by myself. My father went back to Africa and my mom went back to Paris. I had my friends at least. My father passed away and I’m close to my mom now. I sponsor her so she could come back. She don’t live in New York but so she could come back to the states. Especially after losing my Pops I appreciate that time with my mother even more. I feel like I didn’t spend enough time with them so I take every chance I can get. Life is fleeting. You gotta hold on to the present. You’re not promised tomorrow. The power is in the now.
This is mostly in the D.C. area but I had gone to New York a couple of times. I was really into basketball and it was my thing. Me and my boys would go to New York a lot and I knew a lot of people in New York through basketball. I used to go to basketball camps. We’d come to New York, check Fat Beats, meet producers, get a beat, lay down a track. I was actually living in Brooklyn six or seven years ago. From back down in Maryland to Brooklyn then I went back. Like I explained on the album, at the end of 2011, it was a one day thing I just was feeling weird. I couldn’t really understand what was going on with me. ‘Am I depressed? What’s going on?’ I’m not right. I have no energy. I had a conversation with somebody about my music. I was making a lot of moves and they said I should be in New York. Then it clicked in my head that there was a reason that that person just told me that. That night I couldn’t sleep and I was like, ‘you know what, that’s my next move.’ I could never stagnate. I felt like if I was going over there visiting I was cool. I’m comfortable. But you gotta go outside your comfort zone in order to do anything grand at some point. Especially where I’m at in my life.
I’m not at a point I have a lot of things to build so I had to get out of my comfort zone to create them. I was always thinking backwards like, ‘my buzz and my music gonna be recognized so much that I’m gonna have to be in New York.’ That’s a backwards way of thinking. I need to make the step in order to manifest it. Instead of thinking that something’s gonna pull me and lure me in I could go. I used to come here a lot so I already knew a lot of people here. My brother Crazy Al Cayne is here, Black Ice, C Truth. So coming here I just hit the ground running. There was a transition with my living situation but I really needed to get this album out and tell the people this is what I’m doing. So I recorded my album right here in Brooklyn.
SUNEZ: Rewinding, the skills were there but not the beat choices. As you progressed to this debut from the Myth and the Legend and the Sugacayne Experiment projects your beat choices are sometimes familiar but they have all been so well chosen.
NAPOLEON: The Myth and the Legend was a project that I put together just to say that I exist. I was tired of going around having bars and songs. I had to put something just to say, ‘I’m Napoleon the Legend. I’m an MC. This is what I do.’ With my relationships now and people seeing what I’m doing I have the luxury of more choices with the beats.
SUNEZ: The Crazy Al Cayne project was really where your song writing abilities revealed themselves. It really shouldn’t be a “free” project.
NAPOLEON: We had to bring it out there. It’s part of the grind. Nowadays things go fast and you have to give them something to check out. So many people wanting the attention you have to get it out. Me and Al Cayne—we did it deliberately. I met him through Spittin in Da Whip. I was on an episode and to be honest I didn’t know what it was about. I thought it was an interview and he put me on the spot and I just went in. The episode actually ended up on BET’s The Deal. People see Cayne’s site they don’t realize what he used to do as a producer. He has hundreds of beats from the 90’s time. He asked me to do songs on his old beats. All of those beats were done in the 90’s during that golden era. That’s what gives those songs that feel. It actually helped my growth as an artist. How to put things together, concepts.
SUNEZ: You could hear decisions being made and over the course of ten songs it’s there. It all blossoms on Awakening.
NAPOLEON: And that’s why I called it that. My birth in so many ways. Last year the Mayan calendar ended so now it’s time to awake and this is my Awakening as an artist. It’s a blessing and a testament to my journey. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. I was told by a wise man, ‘nothing happens while you stay home.’ You gotta be out there to make the energy happen.
I’m an independent artist and did this project 100 percent independently. I learned from Myth and the Sugacayne Experiment to get to Awakening. This is how you piece things together, this is how you make something sound right. But I think you only really learn by doing. You could study books all day which is important. But if you’re not doing it or sticking your neck out you’re not really gonna learn. You do Kung Fu right? You have to spar, do the exercises, tone your body up. So these dudes be studying but they’re not doing anything.
I’m thinking one day I’m gonna get signed, get a budget, have videos done for me, buy me producers. I was just learning, discovering myself and thinking that’s how the game went. I learned that nothing is gonna happen until you do it on your own. When I did the project with Crazy Al Cayne he said, ‘I’m gonna shoot a video for every song on it. I gotta camera and I want to step up my video game.’ Some of these videos I shot three or four in a day. I shot “Napoleonic Language” and “African In NY” on the same day. One is shot in Brooklyn by Crazy Al Cayne, the other shot in Harlem by Cyril that night. Cyril used to produce tracks for me. He produced “March to Zion” for Myth and the Legend. I actually recorded that here but wrote it in Paris. He became a video director so things just happen.
I then met cats from Street Heat. We shot videos for “Jewelz pt. 2” from the Myth and the Legend. This other guy, Edson Florez. He hit me up when I was in Maryland. He was in VA [Virginia]. Now he got two videos from Awakening. He shot “Matrix and Holograms” and “Dancing in the Rain.” You have to have trust when you work with people. You gotta think like a quarterback and know when to throw the ball. Some people want to do everything on their own. I take insight from other people if that’s what you do. They have their expertise and I have mine. Same with producers. I’ve met many over the years. Unknown produced “Oxygen.” That was a beat from a long time ago he did for somebody else that I knew. I ended up acquiring it. I did a verse and the song was never finished. I linked up with Raekwon and he finished it. When he heard what I did to his beat he was like, “Word. You got the God on it? Here are some of my new beats.’ And he gave me “Matrix and Holograms.” I got another producer, really young. I’d seen him when he was a baby. I’m boys with his brother and cousin. He lives out in Africa. Dus did a lot of beats too. I ran into him at Rock the Bells. He had done things with Killah Priest. He did “Wise men” and “Truth Serum.” “African in New York” my man Baron (B Bass the Illest) did that. He saw me at a show one day. He was living in London at the time. Now he’s in Brooklyn. He said, ‘I gotta song for you.’ Most of these beats were already made but “African in New York” I requested.
SUNEZ: And you had the chorus in your head for it?
NAPOLEON: I wasn’t supposed to do it. It was a remake of “Englishmen in New York,” “Jamaican in New York” and this other guy who did “African in Paris.” I said I’m gonna do the Hip Hop version. I already had the melody. My man was supposed to come and do the hook cuz I’m no singer. But he never showed up. He flaked. So I’m like I’m just gonna do it. It came from the heart not me trying to be a singer.
SUNEZ: And it works!
NAPOLEON: Cuz it’s real. It’s my experience I was expressing through it. I never try to limit myself. If I have that idea for a song why can’t I just record it and do it. Alotta people want to limit. What people are gonna say didn’t enter the equation. The message was so strong it don’t matter. Do you care to tell somebody you’re hungry? You don’t think that person is gonna say you’re a diva. You don’t care. You’re expressing. When I’m saying I’m an African in New York you can’t say anything because it’s the truth. You can’t shy away from saying the truth. That’s how I approach my music.
SUNEZ: Tell me about the 3 MC features of Raekwon, Spit Gemz and Sean Price.
NAPOLEON: My boy Life had come back from Texas. He works with me with the music. He asked me if I wanted some connects and pitched Raekwon. I gave him a track, left a verse open if it could happen. We actually didn’t link up personally cuz Rae’s always on the move but he put it together. The rest is history. He gave me a lot of props as an artist and it really took me back. He said he was going after my energy and it was crazy to me. Raekwon is one of my favorite MCs period. Cuban Linx is probably the Hip Hop album I’ve heard the most in my life.
With Gemz, Dus, out of New Jersey, said he already had a track with him. He said he had this track with some MCs on it. He said some didn’t do well on it. He sends it to me and asks me to do my thing. Gemz’ verse was on it and me and Gemz had just linked up a few weeks earlier in Queens at Goblin Music Studio. I spoke to Dus and Gemz and told them I was keeping this one. Gemz is incredible. His style is original, lyrical. He has that natural aggression. It was perfect the way it came together.
With Sean P, one of Gemz’ boys hooked me up with that. I went to PF Cuttin’s crib to lay it down. I sent the joint to P and when I spoke to him he’s spitting me his rhyme on the phone. He was like, ‘I’m about to lay it down!’ With Price, what’s cool is that I knew we had something with that record. I told him I was doing a video for it and it just happened. It’s funny cuz he didn’t just want to do a video just rappin his bars in front of the camera. That sparked a lot of the ideas for the “Wise men” video. We wanted to do a crazy story to that. He’s a good brother, showed a lot of love, gave me a lot of jewels. I appreciate Sean Price a whole lot. With P, what I respect about him is he got to a point in his life and it took a lot of mastery—he is really himself. A lot of people put on masks and play games and are one way one day and different the next. Whether you put a camera in front of him or not or he is with Oprah, he’s always gonna be Sean Price. That’s what I respect about him. It’s ill especially in this game and business.
SUNEZ: What’s the responsibility of an artist? Of a Hip Hop MC?
NAPOLEON: I feel like our responsibility is to express ourselves through the art form skillfully when it comes to Hip Hop. But it doesn’t mean that every song gotta be on some jewel but sometimes you gotta put some stuff in there. I wouldn’t be following my purpose if I wasn’t sharing some of the stuff I’ve learned. Sometimes to be honest with you, when you are on your path and your purpose you don’t even have to think about sharing these things in the rhyme. You just say something and it belongs. It didn’t come from me. I’m just a medium. From the cosmos, the universe. It’s inspiration- in spirit- talking. Take it back to Africa with the griots.
NAPOLEON: Well, you look at artists like Bob Marley, it’s spiritual. Music was his religion. You see him on stage. He’s in a trance. He’s expressing, he’s manifesting. People look at music from a very superficial level. From a business standpoint. I don’t think about entertainment when I get on the mic. I got to a point where I don’t care, where I can do anything. It doesn’t mean music can’t make you move or dance because it has rhythm. Still, often, if you’re thinking on an entertainment aspect you’re trying to manipulate something and not expressing something with total honesty. There’s a difference and you can tell the difference when it hits your mind. Some people can’t because they’re not really aware. They take everything in because they have no filter, like I said. It could hurt them at the end of the day or make them do things they don’t want to do. I think there’s a difference when you touch somebody’s soul and you express that. It comes out stylish when you say something ill, when you drop a jewel. My rhymes come out like that normally. People are like, ‘you rhyme a certain way.’ That’s how it comes out. I’m not thinking I’m gonna do this syllable then that syllable. I just hear words like that and they come out of my brain like that. The more cerebral with the rhyme I get I don’t like. I like it to just come to me. I try to get a level of inspiration when I express even when I perform.
SUNEZ: What becomes the inspiration?
NAPOLEON: I went to a point where I wanted to do this because I was so in love with the Art. I was just trying to get better, see what’s going on. When I was studying, I was seeing words and just how and what I could rhyme infinitely. I had a conversation with Sean Price and he said, ‘once you know the fundamentals you can do anything.’ It’s like basketball I used to play. You learn how to dribble with your right and left. Little shots with your left and right. Then you can do the Rucker Park moves. Some want to do the Rucker Park moves before they can square up and shoot. Once you learn the fundamentals—it’s like Neo in The Matrix. He had to learn the rules at first. How it works and then he started flying and everything. Once you understand the rules, the rhythms and everything to the music, the words-how they work, then you can break the rules and it doesn’t sound bad. These kids today break the rules before they learn the rules and it sounds horrible.
NAPOLEON: I mean you get lucky sometimes [laughs].
SUNEZ: Constructs to the rhyme? What aids it? What provokes it’s birthing on the page to the tape?
NAPOLEON: I have yet to really understand, to be perfectly honest, where it comes from. I could have something happen to me or have read or heard something. When I write the rhyme it just ends up in the rhyme. Part of me is like a sponge absorbing everything around me. I could even hear a term I’ve never heard before but it’ll come in a rhyme and make sense. I’m just going with the flow. Just like the mutants in X-Men that have their gifts. Let me just accept that gift and just do my part which is let the right [side of the] brain do its part and my left [side of the] brain is gonna promote whatever I gotta do. Cuz that’s the entertainment part because I gotta get that music out. This is my livelihood. This is my path and it takes work. I wish I could put more into the rhyme. The reality is that we live in a certain system where you have to earn your living to get by, to have shelter, to have clothing, to look presentable. So you have to grind hard. That’s part of the game. Also the struggle makes the rhyme so much iller because you have to master your emotion. That’s where I think MCs, it’s not just what you say but how you say it. So I bet you could give a rhyme to KRS-One and give a rhyme to someone regular who’s not an MC—and it’s an ill, dope rhyme. But KRS-One’s rhyme you’re gonna feel it. Some other dude rhyming it you’ll be, ‘it’s corny, it’s wack.’ There’s a lot of things that go into that. When you live it, it’s felt in the music.
SUNEZ: There’s an Ice-T line [“And every fucking thing I write/is gonna be analyzed by somebody white” – “Ice M.F. T” Home Invasion LP 1993] where he said his words will be analyzed by somebody white. I remember interviewing him a few years ago and telling him there is at least one brother that is analyzing your work. It’s interesting that I have spent years analyzing rhymes and there is no better analyzer than the artists themselves. [laughs]
NAPOLEON: [laughs] We used to break down rhymes too. We used to listen to other MCs that were dope. I love that point you made cuz I say that in the outro. We are creators, we are creative. When you know that, that’s when your life starts to change. Through the rhyme I feel like I create my own reality. Where does the rhyme come from? It comes from my drive, my ambition. I want to do things. My rhymes are my wings. They are gonna make me fly around the world. Everytime I write a rhyme I am throwing an idea out there. This is what I want so it has to be ill.
SUNEZ: What do you learn from the audience? What’s the interplay of exchange and feedback do you get from them?
NAPOLEON: It’s kind of like what comes first, the chicken or the egg, when you know what you’re doing. Once you are doing the right thing you’re gonna get some feedback that’s positive. It comes to the point where even if you do something that’s without jewels you’ll get a different audience that will say that’s dope. Whatever direction you go if you have a certain level of presence and skill, different people are gonna like it. So it comes to the point where I think for me it was important to take the positive feedback and good motivation because sometimes you need something external. But not to let that define me because if you’re too focused on what other people say you start to change and that’s when it can throw you off balance. I feel like I know best where I have to go with this and what I have to create. So I shouldn’t be scared. Like I said in the rhyme the other day, “my rhymes like a chandelier/ damn near” because sometimes it’s over your head. I wouldn’t be afraid to be over their head if I’m trying to make a point. You might get it five years later. That’s fine with me. And it depends on the song too. If you have a different style beat it might take you on another realm where sometimes you want to give people instant gratification, the punchlines and all that crazy stuff but sometimes you gotta do something different.
SUNEZ: And you did that with “How I Feel.”
SUNEZ: I heard the beat and was like, ‘Ahh, fuck what’s going on?!’ But by the end I played it again because it was hot. Anyone else I would have deleted it but it’s as if you were rhyming on the melody or something else. Those verses now need that beat.
NAPOLEON: What’s interesting is that song was one of the last ones I did. It was nothing planned. Sometimes I throw on beats – I gotta whole bunch of beats – and I heard that one and thought let me freak that. There’s a whole lot of these swag rappers and it’s easy. That stuff is easy and I’m gonna tell you what it is because I got flavor too. I said, “From the down South, no, but I deep fry mics/M.S.G. to MCs” I’m tellin you what’s good with me. You’ve gotta be able to play with it. That was me making a statement. This is how I feel. You don’t like it? It’s okay, that’s how I feel.
SUNEZ: The album’s is detailing what we are awakening from. The matrix, what we, the Gods, call that 85% mindset, the submissive, sheep mindstate. In that last outro, you talk about the power of the people. You even manifested one of the degrees in there, “Will you sit up at home and wait for a mystery god to bring you food? Emphatically no…” But, really, how does the power of the people manifest? What is that power if everyone is disjointed?
NAPOLEON: That’s the lie, the illusion. That is the matrix. There is no separation between us. We’re all connected. You’re a manifestation of my reality and I am of yours. Everything that surrounds us is what we create. These feelings like hunger make us feel like we’re separate. ‘Yeah, I gotta eat cuz if I don’t, I’m gonna die.’ If I take food from your plate I could justify that because I’m hungry. That’s fear telling you that you have to react like that. The truth is the universe always provides and abundance is all around us. In economics we’re taught about scarcity and that gives things value. When you feel like something is scarce then you’ll want to pay a lot of money for it. But there’s abundance all around us. There’s plants, fruit everywhere. Like where I’m from in Comoros- very impoverished. Often the poorest country in the world. But people don’t starve there. There are trees with pinefruit and lots of food growing. That’s one of their blessings. There are issues. Don’t get me wrong. Yet if done right they won’t starve because they could live off the land. Me and C Truth, DJ of radio show Thermal Soundwaves in Harlem. Those skits are me and him having a convo. We were talking and the power of the people is that there is no separation between us. Yet they put us in competition where we lose our strength. It’s a zero sum game of winners and losers. But that’s an illusion that if you do good I’m losing out. If they put that idea in my head I’ll feel jealous. In reality, if I’m doing good, you’re doing good. As C Truth said,’ your world is only strong as your weakest link.’ If my brother is doing wrong that’s part of my world. Then I can’t be to my fullest potential. We all have our purpose to aid each other. That’s why we’re here. We’re not always here to fly solo. Also, it’s not that simple because in order to help others you must help yourself. If I’m weak I can’t be good to anybody. That’s when you take care of your body, your environment, the energy you keep around yourself. You have to be strong to share with others. We’re so much in a slave mentality that we’re looking for others to do for us. We’re looking at governments, companies and that is what you’re dealing with. But how about looking at yourself and what you can do for yourself. So the power is with us 100 percent. People complain about radio not playing this or tv—I get it. But why focus on that when there’s real things going on. Like journalism with you- Sunez Allah. There’s real MCs, real directors. Everything that we need is right there. You guys are just being lazy sitting on your couch absorbing these images and sounds when you’re not doing a minimum of research. You gotta move in order to create a movement.
SUNEZ: But isn’t Hip Hop supposed to be pure competition?
NAPOLEON: I’m not trying to down a brother. Like when I did “How I Feel,” my real problem with swag rap is it’s always saying, ‘I’m better than you. You suck. I got your girl. I got more money than you.’ So this is my take. We’ll do it on some rap
NAPOLEON: I came up doing battles. I didn’t have songs. I just spit. It helped me develop. There’s a positive aspect to it. It’s like going on the court. One on one. There’s a winner and a loser. You shake hands and go home. If you’re just trying to destroy them you’re not leaving them with anything. If you put pressure on me through that verse then I have to write a better verse. It’s not clear cut.
SUNEZ: The young generation of rap are often of the negative part of that mindset.
NAPOLEON: There’s a lot of brainwashing that goes on in the lexicon of Rap. These words and images. It forms their behavior. You don’t have it and you will now do anything to get it. It’s nothing dignified to the path to that. We do the work and go through the journey it’s a more dignified route. It’s a lot more fulfilling. You get something too fast it could be taken away just as fast. You will burn out real quick and not know how it got taken because you never worked for it. You got it with no effort. You can’t skip the steps whether it’s rap, martial arts or basketball. What you gonna rap about? Money? First of all you can’t rap. Second of all you ain’t got the money. Rap about what you’re going through. One day if you have the money you’ll be able to say how. There’s a context to it. When the bling bling era came in the late 90’s everyone rapped about the money. I could at least listen to it if I know that’s how you’re living. But you guys are on some wishful thinking. It sounded stupid to me. You gotta hate yourself if you’re lying like that.
SUNEZ: It promotes lying.
NAPOLEON: It’s not artistic. I could say things that aren’t realistic as far as my style. On “God’s Whisper” I talk about larger than life things. But that’s artistic because I’m creating my own world. They can’t create their own world cuz it’s lying. It’s really not true.
SUNEZ: It’s not meant to be a creative world. It’s what they’re supposedly doing now.
NAPOLEON: Exactly. You’re just using it to fool people to get money. It’s like impressing a girl. You pull out a key with a Lexus sign on it. You rented it for the day. You put it on the bar then Boom. Trying to fool somebody. And pity the fool for believing that he got that.
And some cats in that era were the toughest guys in the world and they’ll get you killed if you touch them. That’s ridiculous too.
SUNEZ: Sometimes it’s the creator’s fault. For example, lots of bullshit gangsta rap is inspired by the greatness of Kool G Rap.
NAPOLEON: It’s a choice you make every time you make a song.There might be an emotion I have and put it on a record. You just have to know when it’s authentic or just trying to fool somebody. When I did “Dancing in the Rain.” I jumped on it and I was angry. I don’t know where it came from but anger’s real. So you keep it there because there is something I want to express. So I do understand it too. It’s not clear cut. Sometimes I know when somebody says I’m gonna bust a cap in your head I know they’re not gonna do it. It just depends on the level that you’re doing it.
SUNEZ: And how that’s level balanced to the right equality?
NAPOLEON: I read books but a lot of my education coming up came from Hip Hop. I learned about the game, about life, how to deal with life. You have to filter it though, because alotta Hip Hop is just what someone feels. But I learned a lot from it. Whereas nowadays, for the kids it’s harder from what’s being promoted out there. To get anything from it could be dangerous because there’s a lot of venom and poison. A lot of times when you’re young you don’t have that filter. If you don’t have the right mentors and stuff like that. A lot of these rappers don’t know and they were kind of like my mentors without having to be there. Listening to Public Enemy and X-Clan and others I learned some things. They wasn’t teaching me that in school?! Without them I wouldn’t have been exposed to that.
SUNEZ: Word is bond my brother.