Artist: Memphis Bleek
Label: Roc-A-Fella Records
Rating: 8 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
With the (alledged) retirement of Mr. S Dot Carter, its blatantly obvious that all eyes will focus on the rest of the Roc-A-Fella roster, interested to see if they can fill the massive void left by the departure of the Jiggaman. The target of most of these stares will no doubt be the more experienced and most well-known of the clique – Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek. But Beans seems to be more intent on handling other business before he gets back into the studio to work on his own material – most importantly, he has an attempted murder charge hanging over him which he has to fight – but he’s also been focusing on bringing through the State Property Cats, and mentoring Freeway and the Young Gunz as they continue to attract fame and media exposure.
And so its been left to Memphis Bleek to step up to the plate. Perhaps a little too harshly judged in the past due to constantly sharing tracks with the infinitely talented Jay-Z, Bleek’s new album “M.A.D.E.” (Money-Attitude-Direction-Education) sees him display a more well-rounded set of lyrical skills, in addition to a suite of beats that Jay-Z surely should have commandeered for “The Black Album”. The usual suspects, – Kanye, Just Blaze, and Scott Storch, as well as a few others – have really seemed to pull out all the stops for this one. Its really a more mature lyrical performance from Bleek that grabs the attention though – the wisecracking, crack-slanging youngsta from “Coming of Age” and “The Understanding” is largely absent from this album. A two year hiatus while he cared for his brother following a serious motorcycle accident, sees Bleek return to action thoroughly focused on the important things in life.
As already mentioned, Bleek has spent his whole career being overlooked as Jay-Z received all the acclaim, and even on this joint, Jay-Z is never far from the thoughts – mainly because you constantly find yourself wondering how Shawn would sound over this beat or that beat – yes folks, “The Black Album’s” beats really affected me that BADLY. And when the lukewarm efforts on there are compared to the likes of the warm horns of the opener ‘Roc-A-Fella Get Low Respect It’ there’s really no contest. Coptic’s golden production sees “M.A.D.E.” get off to a sparkling start, with a Curtis Mayfield sample laying the foundation for Bleek to not only welcome us to his new album, but also to his new label – Get Low Records.
A Just Blaze hat trick follows, and illustrates his talent and versatility as a producer. First up, ‘Everything’s A Go’ sees Bleek step into the booth for the first time with the guy who’s throne he’s trying to sit in – and his hungry showing as he trades verses with Jigga over old Stylistics loops certainly indicates that he’s worthy of at least an effort at sitting in the big seat. Things then go all southerly, with Just Blaze’s work on ‘Round Here’ providing a mellow pimped out track for Bleek and guests T.I. and Trick Daddy to go to work on. ‘Just Blaze, Bleek & Free’ meanwhile does exactly what the ingredients suggest – JB lays the track, and Memph and Freeway spit the facts in an outing that comes off as a close cousin of Freeway’s ‘What We Do’.
Things continue with the middle-eastern vibe of ‘We Ballin’ where Bleek and The Young Gunz spit the standard flossing rhymes over a Scott Storch twinkly keyed mid-tempo mellower, before a Just Blaze and Kanye West one-two do some real damage. The forner , ‘Hypnotic’, is a Just Blaze classic – a chilled out mix of live guitar, a mesmerizing flute, and Bleek, Beans, and Jigga doing their thing – you can also smell the smoky lounge bar. ‘I Wanna Love U’ meanwhile is Bleek’s attempt at the commercial hit, and when Kanye is behind the boards and in this kind of form, he can’t really go wrong. Yes of course for the hook he bit Michael Jackson harder than a seven-year old with the alcohol wearing off, but Donnell Jones really goes for his, and the simple addition of him crooning “Love You” at the end of every Bleek bar takes this into the stratosphere. This joint fucking bangs. Simple as.
‘War’ sees Memph and Just Blaze again revisiting old terrority – both in subject matter, and in beats – as Bleek talks about “you fuck with me and the Roc, we go to war yadda yadda yadda, I got crazy troops etc etc”, JB manages to recycle Freeway’s ‘Flipside’ beat and still make it sound young fresh and new. This one has club banger written all over it. Not so, ‘My Life’ – here’s one of those examples of Bleek showing the more mature side of himself. Over a minimal set of kicks and a lamenting guitar provided by TT and E.Bass, he provides a little more background info on his days as a youth in Brooklyn and how he rolled with his boy and eventually argued and split from him.
The obilgatory ladies track follow – ‘You Need Me In Your Life’ sees Bleek in seduction mode over a sugary Art & Life joint, that goes into teeth-rotting mode once Nate Dogg’s syrupy hook comes into the headphones. The jury stays out on this one.
There’s no doubt about ‘Murda Murda’ though. Probably the strongest track on the album sees the holy trinity of Bleek, Beans, and Jigga throw down over a Scott Storch banger. And it has SCRATCHING!!! How better can it get? As the cut up Beastie Boys sample gives way to the menacing chorus, this shit has banger written all over it. The trio all seemed to have stepped up lyrically to really do justice to the beat too with Bleek managing to more than hold his own with his mentor.
After another Just Blaze thumper, ‘Hell No’, Bleek shines the light on one of the new additions to the Roc roster. ‘Hood Muzil’ sees craggy ol’ gunclappers MOP do their usual rowdy shouting and bawling on how they’ll fuck you up, and suck Bleek into thinking he has a set of swingers too. Its standard fare though, and probably one of of the weaker tracks on here. ‘Understand Me Now’ though pulls things back into focus – the slow-paced beat allows Bleek to express himself clearly on how he now feels about the business following the stress of the last few years –
“Y’all don’t understand me still
I never enjoyed success but my family will
And I’m alright with that. I’m alright with that.”
As stated earlier, this is a much more mature Memphis Bleek, who has clearly re-evaluated his life and made several highly important changes to bring his family back to the forefront of his existence. Both the sentiment itself, and the execution of this track are to be commended. Soul-stirring stuff indeed.
Zukhan. Make a note of that name. I’ll tell you why – his masterful work with this Johnny Bristol sample to provide both the hook and the title of ‘Do It All Again’ will no doubt see him being compared to Kanye – of that there’s no doubt. But there’s subtle differences to his production techniques – no sped up samples for one. As for the rhymes? Well here Bleek shares mic time with Lil Cease and Geda K, and surprisingly I’m most impressed by Biggie’s former right-hand man. Cease has definitely improved – in skills, in delivery, in confidence : its an eye opening transformation from the moon-faced clown who put out the shocking “Wonderful World of Cease-A-Leo” a couple of years back to a lukewarm reception. The transformation continues on the following track, ‘1, 2 Y’all’ where the same trio are joined in the studio by Jay-Z who easily outshines the three of em, but again Cease impresses. Bleek meanwhile hold his own again.
Its fitting that having supplied the majority of the heaters here, its down to Just Blaze to round things off. Again he’s recycling, and again he’s getting away with it cos the shit still sounds dope. For ‘R.O.C’ think ‘Roc The Mic’ – the same bounce is there throughout, as Bleek spits his way through the new unofficial label anthem, to the conclusion of the album. And the verdict?
Well peoples – this is good. Really good. Better than “The Black Album” – not lyrically of course, because despite his improvement and new focus, Bleek is still no Jay-Z. But the beats! Jesus, the beats are hype almost the whole way through. Why Jigga let these get away is anyone’s guess. You really should pick this album up – Memphis Bleek may just help to fill the gap while we wait for Beyonce to take her claws out of Shawn enough to let him consider picking the mic back up.