Protégés could be wonderful or horrible in the hip-hop world. Dr. Dre struck gold by finding and introducing Eminem and Snoop Dogg. Jay-Z and Roc-A-Fella Records have unleashed hit record after hit record and many of their protégés like Beanie Sigel and Young Gunz are making a name for themselves. Ever since the beginning of Roc-A-Fella Records and Jay-Z’s first LP “Reasonable Doubt”, Memphis Bleek has been there. From his performance on “Coming Of Age”, Memphis Bleek has had an energetic flow and a young gangsta image. Jay-Z has so much faith in young Bleek that every time he announces his retirement (which is often), he tells us that Bleek will take the thrown. His debut LP “Coming Of Age” was a somewhat boring affair that had some minor hits like “Memphis Bleek Is” (produced by Swizz Beats) and “What You Think Of That”. Unfortunately, the guest appearances by Noreaga, Ja Rule, Beanie Sigel, Jay-Z and Da Ranjahz could not save the album as a whole. Just when people were about to write Bleek off, he came out with the incredible track called “My Mind Right” from “Backstage” soundtrack. Disbelievers were amazed and they began to believe. He made many collaborations with Jay-Z on “The Dynasty Roc La Familia” LP and also began a partnership with Beanie Sigel. Beans and Bleek began to record songs like “Who Want What” and the EPMD cover of “So What You Sayin”. The chemistry was undeniable whether you were a fan or not. Around this time, Memphis Bleek began to take shots at Nas too. His second LP “The Understanding” was a much more successful album due to the hit song “Is That Your Chick” which featured Missy Elliot, Jay-Z, and Twista. Other songs like “I Get High”, “My Mind Right (Remix)”, and the opening track “Do My” with Jay-Z were powerful and energetic Roc-A-Fella tracks that pleased fans. Just Blaze’s production began to bloom and Memphis Bleek continued. In 2004, Memphis Bleek returns with “M.A.D.E.”. With production by Just Blaze, Kanye West, Scott Storch, Art & Life, TT, Digga, and Shim, Memphis Bleek has released another typical Roc-A-Fella protégé album. Much tighter than “Coming Of Age” and much more commercially accessible than “The Understanding”, “M.A.D.E.” continues the same formula and adds more R&B hooks to the mix. “M.A.D.E.” stands for “Money, Attitude, Direction, and Education”. While Bleek may have money, attitude, and direction, the only education he has is from the street. Guests include Jay-Z, Lil Cease, Beanie Sigel, T.I., Tricky Daddy, Rell, Nate Dogg, Geda K, Young Chris and more. Just like Roc-A-Fella helped the Diplomats create Diplomat Records and Beanie Sigel create Criminal Records, Memphis Bleek is now starting Get Low Records. While Memphis Bleek and Juelz Santana are very much alike since they are both protégés of popular emcees on the Roc (Jay-Z and Cam’Ron), both Juelz and Bleek have been criticized for lack of lyrical depth. Bleek is not the most intelligent and his flow does not change often. He does, however, maintain his energy and he is improving. With top-notch production and a serious guest list, the formula remains somewhat successful. Still, a Memphis Bleek album will never be as good as a Jay-Z album.
A majority of the songs have some kind of guest appearance or collaboration. The best collaborations include the ones with Jay-Z, Beanie Sigel or other Roc-A-Fella artists. Produced by Just Blaze, “Hypnotic” is without a doubt the best track on the album. The slow, 6 minute long track has live flute improvisation by Brian Horton. While Jay-Z usually blows the others away on his guest spots, he starts his verse off with an unusual flow that seems somewhat forced. Eventually, he gets more comfortable and begins to rock the mic as usual. Beanie Sigel, who kicks the song off, has a remarkable delivery that is cool as a cucumber. “Hypnotic” is a perfect song to smoke and get high to (and the song is not even obvious about that). “Murda Murda” is the other exceptional track on the LP. The beat is simply mind-blowing as it bounces along with a Timbaland / Neptunes funked out groove. Produced by Scott Storch, “Murda Murda” uses an Ad Rock (from The Beastie Boys) sample saying “Chilly, chill!” after Jay-Z rocks the sinister hook. Even Memphis Bleek rocks the mic on the amazing track, which could have been on Jay-Z’s LP. “Just Blaze, Bleek, & Free” is a very cool track that works extremely well. Produced by Just Blaze and featuring Freeway, the electronic melody just sounds insane and is complemented by some mind-blowing scratching towards the end. Other excellent songs include “Hood Muzik” featuring M.O.P. (the newest artist signed to Roc-A-Fella) and “Everything’s A Go” featuring Jay-Z.
Bleek does do a good job on the songs where he is alone. The intro cut “Roc-A-Fella Get Low Respect It” has an energetic beat (produced by Coptic) along with an exuberant performance by Bleek. Unfortunately, before the beat comes in, another overdone play on the movie “Goodfellas” is used. The other solo cuts like “War”, “Hell No” and “R.O.C.” all show that Bleek can stand alone like he did on “My Mind Right”.
There are a handful of tracks that should have worked well but do not live up to their potential. One odd track that should have worked was “1, 2 Y’all” featuring Jay-Z, Lil Cease, and Geda K. Produced by Shim & E-Bass, “1, 2 Y’all” uses the exact same sample as Black Moon’s “Jump Up” but does not nearly have the energy or the power. With 4 verses, the song is just too long. “Round Here” (produced by Just Blaze and featuring T.I. and Trick Daddy.) is Bleek’s way of catering to the Southern hip-hop dollar. While the song does have the gritty down-South slow-burning bounce feel, it becomes just another collaboration. “We Ballin” (featuring Young Chris & Proof) is just another money song about flossing. While Jay-Z could have approached the song with a sharp wit and cleverness, Bleek only comes across average. Young Chris (who did an excellent job on Jay-Z’s “N*gga Please” from “Blueprint 2”) delivers a good performance. Nate Dogg is wasted on “Need Me In Your Life”. Some other singer performs on the track too.
The filler tracks are basically the ones that sound like watered down radio songs. “My Life” featuring Latif does have some introspective lyrics by Bleek but the beat the sung hook just make it sound very typical. The horrible “I Wanna Love U” featuring Donnell Jones uses an interpolation of “P.Y.T.” by Michael Jackson and just sounds annoying. “Understand Me Still” and “Do It All Again” both feature Rell on the hook and come right next to each other. Both do not sound unique or special in anyway except for Bleek’s attempt at being introspective and sensitive.
Memphis Bleek has improved with age and “M.A.D.E.” is an entertaining album due to his energy, the guests, and the top-notch production. Unfortunately, R&B hooks and bland collaborations water some of the album down. Lil Cease stops by on 2 songs in a row. Jay-Z is on 4 tracks too. Bleek’s previous LP “The Understanding” still had a somewhat glossy feel to it but was more powerful as a whole. Still, stellar cuts like “Murda Murda”, “Hypnotic”, “Just Blaze, Bleek, & Free” along with “Hood Muzik” may become future Roc-A-Fella classics. Sure, Bleek cannot hold a candle to Nas (who he was beefing with) or even his mentor, Jay-Z, but you have to respect Bleek’s energy and persistence. Any fan of Roc-A-Fella Records will not be disappointed in “M.A.D.E.” If you are Bleek fan, he does not disappoint either since we should know what to expect from him. It’s the same old formula, he does not break any new ground except for adding a couple of more R&B hooks (which was a mistake). With some excellent production and tons of guests, Bleek has made another decent album. Although it is not a classic, it is entertaining. Like Special Ed, Memphis Bleek has it “made”.