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Memphis Bleek

534

(Roc-A-Fella; US: 17 May 2005; UK: 16 May 2005)

If you’re standing completely in someone’s shadow, I’m not sure if it’s the best idea to have that shadow-caster take over the third track on your new, semi-comeback album.


On an unrelated note, Memphis Bleek brings Jay-Z in to star on “Dear Summer”. Hova raps a good-bye letter over a smooth Just Blaze beat. It’s a good track, but not the best. Jay-Z’s far from retired, Bleek is not out on his own yet.


Is that out of the way now? Yes? Good.


Bleek is back, and while he’s not dropping anything too original, he’s got enough spit (and, fortunately, production power) to make the album work. Don’t stress yourself over this one, he’s not going to tax your brain and he’s not going to amaze you with his rhymes. What Bleek brings is what you’d expect: a steady if uninventive flow and straightforward lyrics.


The producers lead the way on 534 (named for the place where Bleek grew up). First single “Like That” features Swizz Beatz working a sample of “Everybody Plays the Fool”. The introductory horn riff sets up the party vibe that most of the album holds. The moment’s solid, but it’s also the type of thing we’ve heard often enough (cf. Talib Kweli). Swizz Beatz keeps the song moving and all Bleek has to do is stay out of the way, which he does. Throw in a few screams and you’ve got a chartmaker.


The screaming returns to good effect on “First, Last and Only”, one of the brainless anthems that gets you shaking. The track gives M.O.P. the guest appearances, but it’s the “fi-yah!” yells that keeps this track going. Don’t try to look under M.O.P.‘s rapping or the shouting, because you might see how limited the bass line and horn part really are. But why would you stop to do that? Are you analyzing this stuff.


Keep it rolling with “Get Low”. I’m into this song the same way I’m into American Idol, half-seriously and half because I know it’s ridiculous. I didn’t come to judge, I came to enjoy, and this track’s got it. Almost a parody of club rap, the song revolves around naming who’s “in the motherfuckin’ house”, and it’s using the title of one of crunk’s biggest hits. Kind of hard to get wrapped around, so don’t try.


Other tracks don’t fare so well. “Smoke the Pain Away” suffers from both its inane lyric (read the title? you’ve got it) and its forgettable production (in this case by young hotshot 9th Wonder). Name me five things less interesting than yet another song about the benefits of smoking up. 1) Method Man or Redman doing the same song. That’s enough.


Likewise “Hater Free” brings down the album. Bleek has trouble getting any kind of flow going here, probably because what he has to say means so little. Don’t hate, don’t have beefs. Nice message but, sound like you mean it, Bleek.


If you’ve got this album, I doubt you’ll sell it back. There are enough fun tracks here to make it worth the shelf space. The real question is will tracks such as “Like That” convince people that there’s reason to pay attention to Bleek. For no apparent reason, I want this guy to succeed, but I don’t see that he’s getting it done. There’s too little intensity and purpose in his delivery, and too much redundancy on his disc. Nothing wrong with it exactly, but it’s just not an album’s worth of excitement. At this point, I’m not sure if Bleek can do better, but maybe he can. Maybe instead of going back to 534 and comfortable beats, he should break away from his roots.

Rating:

Justin Cober-Lake lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife, kids, and dog. His writing has appeared in a number of places, including Stylus, Paste, Chord, and Trouser Press. His work made its first appearance on CD with the release of Todd Goodman's first symphony, Fields of Crimson. He's recently co-founded the literary fly-fishing journal Rise Forms.


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