Saturday, December 17, 2016

2 In 1 --> Memphis Bleek

Well, I certainly didn't think I would be doing another post about Memphis Bleek, and the last time I covered him on this blog was a couple of years back when I talked about his discography, in somewhat brief terms. And before I get into this next "2 In 1" session, allow me to talk about Bleek for a bit. Like most of you reading this, I first heard him on "Coming Of Age" off of Jay-Z's classic "Reasonable Doubt," in what was quite frankly his best verse ever ("I'm out here slangin' and bringin' the drama/Tryin' to come up in the game and add a couple of dollar signs to my name"). Afterwards he continued to do additional guest appearances including the "Streets Is Watching" soundtrack ("It's Alright" has probably his second best verse ever) as well as Jay's "Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life", including a pretty good verse on the album's DJ Premier produced intro and almost stealing the show from Jay on the "Coming Of Age" sequel. You see, I never had a problem with Bleek and he's definitely not wack. When he was motivated, had the right production and even supported by a strong cast of MCs/guests, he tended to shine brightly, however, if those ingredients weren't presented, the results usually spoke for themselves. Even if history has labelled him as Jay's protege and nothing more, he held his in own when he needed to. Heading into 1999, I looked forward to his debut album, titled, what else, "Coming Of Age," which will start this session. Previously I did own his debut and sophomore album, "The Understanding" (which is the second album that will be covered here), so what I'll also be doing is deciding whether I'm going to add these back to my collection or not, based on my own revisit. Interesting I know. So, let's head back to 1999 as we begin this next session!

Release date: August 3, 1999

1. "Pain in da Ass Intro"
Your standard Pain in da Ass intro, with a clear "Goodfellas" influence, sets things off, leading us into.....

2. "Who's Sleeping"
Featuring Reb
Produced by Pat Viala

"Ayo, who's sleepin' on Bleek? Nigga wake his ass up!"

Zulema's "If This World Were Mine" (I love that sample) is used pretty good for this one. Simply put, if you were "sleepin on Bleek," it was time to wake up and it was his moment in the spotlight. Reb from the short lived group Diamonds In Da Rough comes through with the hook.
*3.5 out of 5*

3. "Memphis Bleek Is..."
Produced by Swizz Beatz

As the album's first single, not only was this a very good choice, but I recall really liking this one a lot back in the summer of '99. I thought Bleek held his own over the signature sound of Swizz, one of my favorite producers at the time. I also heard, not in '99 mind you, but years later that this was an apparent diss of sorts towards Nas because of some alleged similarities to "Nas Is Like." Smh, first of all, while both may have the same idea in theory, they are two totally different songs and there's no hint of any kind of diss found here (and yes, I'll briefly mention Nas once again when we get to "The Understanding"). This single right here is kind of an underrated gem and it shows Bleek in all his true form and glory.
*4 out of 5*

4. "What You Think Of That"
Featuring Jay-Z
Produced by Buckwild

Jay assists Bleek over a decent Buckwild production, tailor made for the radio, TV and the clubs. It didn't take off the way they probably wanted, in terms of the radio and videoplay, but it was good for what it was, even as Jay's verse wasn't one of his best considering the roll he was on. And apparently, this song had a sample clearance issue that prevented it from being released as the album's first single. (Oh, and MORE on this song later, trust me.)
*3.5 out of 5*

5. "Murda 4 Life"
Featuring Ja Rule
Produced by Irv Gotti and Mr. Fingaz

When I covered Ja Rule's debut album "Venni Vetti Vecci," on the blog, I talked about this song, which was also included on that album. My thoughts on this one haven't changed and I'll just use my direct quote from that review:

"This collabo, ANOTHER dope one, was also featured on Memphis Bleek's debut, "Coming Of Age," also released in 1999. It's bouncy but still hard at the same time."

*4 out of 5*

6. "You're All Welcome (Pain Interlude)"
Pain in da Ass with more words for us all, this time drawing influence from another gangster classic, "King Of New York."

7. "Stay Alive In NYC"
Produced by J-Runnah

"You gotta be a soldier to stay alive in New York City." Well I'm sure most MCs, then and now, would likely support that part of the hook. A good song from Bleek, however, I feel it could've had that much more effect had he tried to incorporate a form of storytelling here. It seemed like he was heading in that direction at certain points, but not all the way. Roberta Flack's "Love and Let Love" was nicely sampled as well.
*3.5 out of 5*

8. "You a Thug Nigga"
Produced by Irv Gotti

As somewhat of a sequel to "Thugged Out Shit" from DJ Clue's "The Professional," this was very good. I mean, lyrically Bleek is not breaking any new ground considering the subject matter, but he makes it work.
*3.5 out of 5*

9. "N.O.W"
Featuring Da Ranjahz
Produced by Dark Half

It honestly had slipped my mind that Da Ranjahz were still riding with the ROC at this point in '99, and I think it wasn't too long after this that they were no longer part of the crew. This song was ok and it came off more as a showcase for Ranjahz than anything else.
*3 out of 5*

10. "Everybody"
Produced by Omen

Bleek makes some good points here, especially from an MC's perspective: no matter what you have, whether it's money, a dope flow or even being in the drug game, everybody wants a piece of it. Decent enough song, nothing more or less.
*3 out of 5*

11. "I Won't Stop"
Additional Vocals by Dark Half
Produced by Big Demi

This is appropriately titled to be sure, but at this point in the album, this really comes off as something that's been done before and better. Let's move on.
*2.5 out of 5*

12. "My Hood To Your Hood"
Featuring Beanie Sigel
Produced by Irv Gotti and Mr. Fingaz

The underrated chemistry between Bleek and Beans is on full display, back and forth style. Dope song.
*4 out of 5*

13. "Why You Wanna Hate For"
Featuring Noreaga
Produced by The Burn Unit

When there's a song about haters/hating, you won't find Noreaga too far behind, and songs like this were more than commonplace in hip hop circa '99. Again, it's decent, but nothing we haven't heard before.
*3 out of 5*

14. "Regular Cat"
Produced by J-Runnah

Bleek tries to go the introspective route with this closer. He makes his points, basically saying even with his status as Memphis Bleek, along with his upbringing, he's regular just like the next man. Good song.
*3.5 out of 5*

Overall, not much I can say about this album other than it's good, but nothing more. Bleek showed that he could hold his own on the solo tip as much as he could, but revisiting this again after not hearing it in so long, it's clear that the potential was there and for some reason it wasn't fully realized on this debut. There are a couple of good songs to be found, but the highlight is the Swizz produced "Memphis Bleek Is...," which honestly isn't saying much. The production was nothing spectacular, but good; the ROC would really step things up on the production end going forward, and lyrically it was about what you would expect from Bleek. "Coming Of Age" has been Certified Gold as of January 2001, so it was somewhat of a success for Bleek. Heading into his sophomore album, "The Understanding," will things improve or remain the same? We shall see. Probably 3 stars for Bleek's debut, however, I won't be adding this back to the collection. I'm good.

Before I get into "The Understanding," I want to go back in time for a little bit. Bleek's sophomore album was released a few weeks after Jay's "The Dynasty Roc La Familia," which I copped about a week or so after its release, and at this point, these two albums were in heavy rotation for me as 2001 arrived. And speaking of the "Dynasty" album, myself and others noted an improvement on the lyrical side when it came to Bleek, and that right there made me anticipate "The Understanding" more than I did "Coming Of Age." We're about to see if this joint has aged well or not.

 Release date: December 5, 2000

1. "Intro (U Know Bleek)"
Produced by Just Blaze

Is it just me or is this ONE INTRO hotter than anything on the "Coming Of Age" album?? It sure sounded like it. To open "The Understanding," Bleek comes through over a dope Just Blaze production, backed by a sample of Silver Convention's "Madhouse," almost as a slight throwback to the "Hard Knock Life" intro (and we remember how dope that was). I usually don't rate intros, but I'm making an exception here.
*4 out of 5*

2. "Do My..."
Featuring Jay-Z
Produced by A Kid Called Roots

Man, when I first heard this, I went crazy and it was so dope to me that whenever I bumped this album, it was the first song I played and it was on constant repeat at various points. Complete with a "call & response" hook and such an awesome track, this was another ROC anthem tailor made for the clubs and it worked so well. I was tempted to deduct .5 for the lack of a Jay verse, but I let that slide because the song is good. 
*5 out of 5*

3. "I Get High"
Produced by T.T.

Simply put, this joint here, no pun intended, is for the smokers, loud and abundantly clear, even as Bleek talks about how high he likes to get. It makes its points, obviously, and doesn't overstay its welcome.
*3.5 out of 5*

4. "We Get Low"
Produced by Just Blaze

I remember reading somewhere that this was nothing more than an updated version of "Do My." That may be the case, but with a clear cut Just Blaze twist. Very good stuff here.
*4 out of 5*

5. "Change Up"
Featuring Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel
Produced by Robert "Shim" Kirkland

Mr. Kirkland switches the beat three times here. Bleek and Beans represent with their verses..... but man, WHY didn't Jay drop a verse here??? And did he somewhat indirectly bury the beat by saying "y'all ain't gon have me rapping over the bullshit man?" Now, I could see this as a clever way of bringing us the next song, but I'm quickly deducting .5 here, no exceptions this time.
*3.5 out of 5*

6. "My Mind Right (Remix)"
Featuring Jay-Z, Beanie Sigel and H Money Bags
Produced by DJ Twinz

Ok, ok, I got a SERIOUS bone to pick with this inclusion, but let's get the positive points out the way first. This remix is dope, featuring equally dope verses from all involved; Jay kills this one, H Money Bags was set to be one of the first artists on Bleek very short lived Get Low Records imprint. It made a hell of a lot of noise at the time, no question about that. Secondly, WHO made the call to NOT have the ORIGINAL version of "My Mind Right" in this slot instead of having the remix as, I don't know, a "hidden bonus track" perhaps?????? That would've made more sense in my view. Even though "My Mind Right" was included on the "Backstage: A Hard Knock Life" soundtrack, there's no reason why it should've been left off this album and if you ask me, that was Bleek's best solo spot. OHHHH, and we're not done yet. Speaking of that original version, you'll recall Bleek throwing a not-so-subtle shot as Nas with the line, "your lifestyle's written/so who you posed to be, play your position." Even at this point in 2000, I knew who that was directed at. You see, going back to "What You Think Of That," in the hook (and I think Bleek has made this point before, to his credit), he says:

"Where my niggas at, where my bitches at?
I love these streets what you think of that
My whole team rocks, we don't speak to cats
I'm gon ball till I fall, what you think of that"

There was also an allegation that Jay also threw some shots at Nas during "What You Think Of That." Continuing on, during the opening verse of "Nastradamus", Nas comes with:

"I need an encore y'all, you should welcome me back/You wanna ball till you fall I can help you wit that"

Now, with hindsight being 20/20, do I think Nas took a shot at Bleek here? Not quite, but I could see how someone could make that determination. Was Nas biting Bleek here? Bias aside, I don't think he was and it's another case of people taking things out of context and running with it, which probably led to Bleek's aforementioned line in "My Mind Right," and the rest was history as they say. As it stands for this remix, I'm giving it a "4.5 out of 5," minus .5 for not including the original version on the album. I'll do so below.



7. "Hustlers"
Featuring Beanie Sigel
Produced by Jose "Lace" Batiz

In more ways than one, the ROC crew always claimed the hustler status. Even though we have heard many songs like this, even as 2000 turned into 2001, when you bring less of a cliched perspective to a subject like that, it can result in a good song, which is what Bleek and Beans give us here.
*4 out of 5*

8. "All Types of Shit"
Produced by Eddie Scoresazy

"All types" is the running theme throughout this song, as Bleek makes it clear he has it all, does it all and then some. Decent song.
*3 out of 5*

9. "PYT"
Featuring Jay-Z and Amil
Produced by Robert "Shim" Kirkland

Look at the title of this song and tell me you DON'T know what this song is about. I dare you......

Well, this is a joint not necessarily too soft for the fellas, but the ladies would like this one more I think. An ok song for what it is. A word on Amil, if I may. With all due respect to her, outside of her contributions to the classic "Can I Get A..." and the joint "4 Da Fam," I honestly never saw the appeal. She clearly never added much during her tenure at the ROC, even if she was intended to be the "first lady" of the label. Her debut album, "All Money Is Legal," bombed, and it was clear that after her one appearance on the "Dynasty" album, her time at the label was at its end, which is what happened.
*3 out of 5*

10. "Bounce Bitch"
Produced by Lofey

I get what Bleek was going for here, but I honestly could've done without this one. I recall skipping this one quite a bit when I bumped it back in the day. Let's move on.
*2.5 out of 5*

11. "They'll Never Play Me"
Produced by Just Blaze

This was a good song, but revisiting it, I feel Bleek could've took a chance by incorporating the "double time" flow over Just Blaze's production. 
*3.5 out of 5*

12. "Everyday"
Featuring Carl Thomas
Produced by EZ Elpee

Complete with the Carl Thomas feature, this was definitely a joint for the ladies. All about having fun and trying to see tomorrow.
*3 out of 5*

13. "Is That Your Chick (The Lost Verses)"
Featuring Jay-Z, Missy Elliott and Twista
Produced by Timbaland

I must not have bumped this one in such a long time, because I honestly don't remember Twista being on the version I copped in December 2000. Needless to say, Bleek, Jay and Twista do more than handle the thumping, upbeat production courtesy of Timbaland (Missy was on "hook duty").
*4.5 out of 5*

14. "In My Life"
Produced by Just Blaze

Backed by a well placed sample courtesy of Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is", Bleek closes the album in the introspective form that was slightly missing from "Regular Cat," even coming with the line "I'm still that regular cat from the street" (a call back to "Regular Cat"). Very good song as Bleek reflects on his own life (past and present day 2000) and those in his life who are no longer with us. 
*4 out of 5*

Well, Bleek joins a list of hip hop artists whose sophomore albums were better than their first. I can say that "The Understanding" was the album that "Coming Of Age" should've been and then some, almost like we got the "freshman version" of Bleek in 1999, but one year later, he had matured as an artist, and yes, that same improvement displayed on the "Dynasty" album was present on "The Understanding." Sure, there's a little filler to be found in the middle of the album, but everything else is largely good and represented a slice of the Roc-A-Fella sound heading into 2001. I'll go with a solid 4 star rating for Bleek's Certified Gold sophomore album and even with that rating, I'm 50/50 on whether I'm going to add this back to the collection or not. 

Post-Understanding, Bleek released "M.A.D.E." in 2003. I may still have this album in my collection somewhere, and I recall liking it, but didn't really bump it all that much; a revisit may be in order, but not as a blog post right now. Two years later he returned with "534" and based on the feedback I've heard about that album, the best song was "Dear Summer," which didn't even have Bleek on it (it was a solo spot for Jay). Is a revisit in order for that? Let me know!

Even if Bleek never again reaches his prime years of the ROC, I still want to give him props for his contributions to hip hop since '96. Thank you Bleek!

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