Raise your hand if you happen to know a rap artist. Not a famous or popular one, mind you, just any rapper who actually raps on a regular basis. More than likely, in this new age of hip hop, a lot of you actually raised your hands, which is ridiculous, because you're reading these instructions off of a computer screen and you know I can't actually see you, right? Anyway, with the advent of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites, it has become easier than ever to get your music out to the world, and a small percentage of those folks will actually grab the ear of someone who is actively working in the music industry, who may feel charitable enough to give them an actual shot at recording a single or an album for a label of some sort (please note that I did not say a “major”), and the chances are pretty great that you know at least one of these aspiring artists who is convinced that the Interweb will help get them the exposure they so desperately need to
make money become successful as an artist. Now look back at your friendship with the artist. If you are even remotely good with a pen and can flow well enough to indicate that you are aware of the presence of any given beat, the odds are very high that you will score a guest spot on your friend's album as one of his trusty weed carriers.
It's a rite of passage for a rap artist: once you become a known entity, you put your friends on. Simple as that. This has happened in most musical genres since the dawn of time, but it is more noticeable in hip hop, since damn near every single album you purchase these days includes a cameo from some guy or girl that you wouldn't give two fucks about otherwise (unless she's a girl and she's cute, anyway) who was given that opportunity to shine by their more famous friend. Occasionally, this practice results in the discovery of an actual talent (read: Nas on Main Source's “Live At The Barbeque”, Snoop Doggy Dogg on “Deep Cover”, Redman on EPMD's “Hardcore”), but more often than not, a weed carrier is a weed carrier is a weed carrier, and no amount of marketing will ever prove otherwise.
You can guess which category Malik Cox, born Memphis “Bleek” Smith-Cochran, falls in.
It's pretty much common knowledge that Memphis Bleek has a career in rap music (maybe not much of one today, although I see him still plugging away at the blogs) because one of his besties just so happens to be Shawn Carter, who went from being a drug dealer who lived in the same building as Malik to becoming motherfucking Jay-Z. (Coincidentally, Jay-Z benefited from being friends with Big Jaz, putting him in the same realm as the other three artists I named earlier, although he has clearly surpassed all of them, at least in business acumen.) Bleek even appeared on Hova's debut album, Reasonable Doubt, on “Coming Of Age”, although he simply recited lines that Jay wrote (and was actually a replacement for Jay's first choice, Shyheim, whose management turned Hova down because Shy was, incredibly, a hotter commodity than Jay-Z was at the time; I wonder if he regrets that decision today?). After that, he consistently scored at least one verse on all of Shawn's projects, and even managed to record some albums of his own, with Coming Of Age (conveniently named after the track on which he made his debut appearance) dropping in 1999 and The Understanding following in 2000.
Although they still remain lifelong friends (even if Bleek hasn't been signed by Roc Nation, which is a smart move by Jay ,but it still baffles me), the tide turned with The Blueprint in 2001, the first Jay-Z album to not really feature any guest stars (save for Eminem, technically); the man has seemingly gone out of his way to not include Bleek on any of his own follow-up projects (except for a quick cameo on Hova's “As One”, a Roc-A-Fella posse cut appearing on The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse). Conversely, Bleek has made goddamn sure that Hova appears on all of his albums, if only to sell one extra copy to that guy who picks up everything even tangentially Jay-related. Now, I'd love to blame this on the fact that Bleek is a terrible rapper and Jay-Z finally removed his rose-colored glasses and saw what the rest of us see on a daily basis, but in reality, Bleek took a three-year hiatus between his last project and today's topic, his third album M.A.D.E. (an acronym for Money, Attitude, Direction, and Education – yeah, I think it sounds fucking stupid, too), to care for his ailing brother, so he simply wasn't available to record anything.
M.A.D.E. was released one month after Jay-Z's “retirement” project, The Black Album, piggybacking off of the success of that project by boasting multiple Hova appearances, all of which were obviously recorded well before The Black Album was even a glimmer in his father's eye. (At least one of the tracks he's featured on actually started off life as his own fucking song, given to Bleek in a moment of temporary insanity, but I digress.) Sensing that his mentor-slash-breadwinner might not have been joking about the whole “quitting rap” thing, Bleek used M.A.D.E. as the launching pad for his new crew-slash-label, Get Low, although I'm not exactly sure who was supposed to be in that group (all of the guest appearances on M.A.D.E. come from already-established artists, with nary a weed carrier in sight), and he even tried to steal Hova's blueprint (no pun intended) for crafting a hit album, working alongside folks that Jay would feel comfortable with.
Unfortunately, with only four out of seventeen tracks featuring our host performing by himself, there isn't much on M.A.D.E. that looks like it will be a proper showcase for Memphis Bleek. But I've been wrong before, so let's give this shit a spin.
Although I'm pretty sure I'm right in this case.
1. ROC-A-FELLA GET LOW (RESPECT IT)
This is Bleek's version of a Hova-esque introductory track, complete with a Pain In Da Ass cameo and a celebratory Coptic's beat. It is kind of strange that Malik combines his Roc-A-Fella clique with his own Get Low crew , as if to imply that the two are somehow related, which they most certainly are not. (He even draws the same correlation between Get Low and Beanie Sigel's State Property group during his verse.) I don't feel the boasts on here have been justified in any way, but whatever.
2. EVERYTHING'S A GO (FEAT. JAY-Z)
Just Blaze provides the backdrop while Malik runs wild all over the stage. To be fair, our host does sound like an accomplished artist who can hold his own...for the length of exactly one verse. Afterwards, it's all downhill: he resorts to lame catchphrases instead of actually writing lyrics, he relies too heavily on emphasizing certain words because of how they roll off of his tongue, and he even interrupts guest star Jay-Z mid-verse to take over shit. I'm sure Shawn was happy to get the fuck out of the booth, but that was still awfully rude.
3. ROUND HERE (FEAT. TRICK DADDY & T.I.)
One of the problems with a rapper calling in all of his favors to fill nearly every song on his album with cameo appearances is that you never get the opportunity to hear the artist simply being himself: with the inclusion of a guest, there is added pressure to also try to appease their fans, not to mention having to actively out-rap your friends in an effort to exert dominance. This isn't a problem for Bleek: he sucks no matter who you put in the booth next to him. However, he does (consciously?) mimic the flow and traits of Southern hip hop in order to fit in with T.I. and the artist formerly known as the semi-relevant Trick Daddy Dollars (remember him?), both of whom must have been paid in pots o' gold and blowjobs from Victoria's Secret models in order to agree to appear on a fucking Memphis Bleek album.
4. JUST BLAZE, BLEEK & FREE (FEAT. FREEWAY)
This collaboration, on the other hand, feels much more natural: Just Blaze was one of Roc-A-Fella's in-house producers at the time, of course, and Freeway was found having a soft cry in the break room in front of the vending machines. There are some scratches thrown in toward the end for good measure, and Beardy sounds decent enough (he's not bad behind the mic, but it was only recently, with that Jake One project, that he's even attempted to reach his full potential), but Bleek, of course, fucks everything up with a rambling performance that vehemently refuses to be about something. Oh well.
5. WE BALLIN' (FEAT. YOUNG CHRIS & LIVIN PROOF)
Bleek jumps onto the Bollywood-style hip hop beat bandwagon a bit too late. The hook is simple and awful, and not solely because it reminds me of the Master P song “Weed & Hennessey” and the fact that I'm pissed that I just made a connection between a Memphis Bleek song and a Master P spoken word effort (because he sure as shit isn't a real rapper).
6. HYPNOTIC (FEAT. BEANIE SIGEL & JAY-Z)
Whoa, wait a minute: why the fuck is this song over six minutes long? Even if there were eighteen guest artists on here, that wouldn't be a valid excuse. Just Blaze's instrumental is pleasant enough, but in no way is it “Hypnotic”, unless its second purpose is to lull listeners into lucid dreams. Nobody in this Roc-A-Fella triumvirate has a flow enticing enough to be describes by the song's title, either. Sigel kicks things off sounding uncomfortable, and Bleek completely rips off his flow, while Hova does his Hova thing. This could have been much worse, but for now I'll simply label this track unnecessary.
7. I WANNA LOVE U (FEAT. DONELL JONES)
The lone Kanye West production on M.A.D.E. provides absolute proof that Bleek is merely following the bullet points on a Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella internal memo discussing what he needed to record in order to be considered for an album release. There is no need for Malik to resort to the love rap cliché: I find it hard to imagine that most women would even give a fuck about him, especially when he has to ride in the bitch seat in the back of Hova's SUV. Donell Jones appears mainly to rip off Michael Jackson's “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)”, which I'm pretty sure was already referenced on Bleek's earlier “PYT” from The Understanding (and later sampled by Kanye again, on his own “Good Life”). So yeah, you could say that I found this song to be inessential.
Some of my previous write-ups may lead you two down the path that I believe Just Blaze to be a shitty producer. That simply isn't the case: I just believe that his work with Jay-Z isn't very good, save for a couple of tracks (such as “U Don't Know”). “War” might change my mind, though: I don't expect any producer to work a miracle behind the boards whenever Memphis Bleek is concerned, but the man could have fucking exerted some effort, instead of smooshing together random beeps with a drum loop and calling it an “instrumental”.
9. MY LIFE (FEAT. LATIF)
I was going to just write “meh”, because this shit did nothing to hold my interest, but I thought it was funny that the next track's title can lead someone to believe that it's a follow-up to this piffle.
10. NEED ME IN YOUR LIFE (FEAT. NATE DOGG)
Huh? What the fuck was this intended to be, Malik?
11. MURDA, MURDA (FEAT. JAY-Z & BEANIE SIGEL)
I actually really like this Scott Storch-produced track, but it isn't really Bleek's to run with: Jay-Z's original cut (with Geda K filling the role our host adopted on here) leaked to the Interweb either before or after The Blueprint hit store shelves (I forget which) under the title “Murda Marcyville” (yes, even with the Beanie Sigel guest assist in tow). Hova rarely gets violent like this on his own anymore, so this was an interesting exercise for him. Unfortunately, not unlike Jay's “Is That Your Bitch”, Bleek decided to take it for himself and inserted his own verse for no good reason. (At least he shows his loyalty to his boss by taking a brief shot at Jaz-O.) This doesn't fit onto M.A.D.E. at all, mainly because it actually sounds decent. Groan.
12. HELL NO.
I considered writing out my theory of what I thought Malik was trying to accomplish on this weak shit, but then I realized that I just called it “weak shit”, so there went that idea.
13. HOOD MUZIK (FEAT. M.O.P.)
You hear that, Homeland Security? Memphis Bleek claims to have weapons of mass destruction in his possession. You should maybe do something about that. Unsurprisingly, Malik is not able to hold his own alongside M.O.P. (who now count among his former labelmates), but what is kind of shocking is that both Billy Danze and Fizzy Womack also sound terrible over this Digga afterthought of an instrumental. Can't say I saw that coming.
14. UNDERSTAND ME STILL (FEAT. RELL)
At the beginning (and also during the chorus), Bleek brags, “I've never enjoyed success, but my family will”. There's an obvious joke in there, but I won't go that route. Malik takes this time to go the reflective route, attempting to showcase his maturity in an not-entirely-unconvincing way, and as a bonus, he provides Roc-A-Fella studio singer Rell with yet another paycheck opportunity. This song doesn't suck at all (the beat is a bit tiring, though), but it really is too little, too late at this point.
15. DO IT ALL AGAIN (FEAT. RELL, LIL' CEASE, & GEDA K)
The same guest list that pops up on the next track (when you swap out Rell for Hova, at least) look back on their lives, ultimately deciding that all of their regrets and their experiences were worth it in order for them to be the men they are today. This wasn't that bad, either, even though Rell's iffy hook (it's little wonder why he's now folding t-shirts at Aeropostale instead of recording music today) and Zukhan's boring beat do their damnedest to impair the listening experience.
16. 1,2 Y'ALL (FEAT. JAY-Z, LIL' CEASE, & GEDA K)
Uses the familiar ESG “UFO” sample to pay homage to the old school, and, strangely enough, Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s “Realms Of Junior M.A.F.I.A.”, but I may be stretching on that last comparison, although that crew's Lil' Cease, who performed on that track, also spits a verse on here. (In homage to himself, I guess?) The sample is so fucking banging that producer Robert “Shim” Kirkland (working alongside E Bass) can do no wrong, so the pressure is shifted over to the artists, all of whom sound pretty good. Not shockingly, Jay-Z closes things out with the best contribution of the bunch (not unlike his friend The Notorious B.I.G. on the above-named track), which he plays as a bit more dramatic than truly necessary, but even with that, this was still very entertaining.
Although Memphis Bleek spends all of M.A.D.E. trying to build up the name of his Get Low crew, this final, Just Blaze-tainted track is all about pledging allegiance to the Roc-A-Fella flag. Justin clearly isn't even trying at this point: exactly how is anybody supposed to react to this kind of beat? Undeterred, Bleek tries his beat to make his case, but this is one truly boring-as-shit way to end an evening, ranking even lower than watching paint dry or reading the Twilight series of novels.
THE LAST WORD: M.A.D.E. isn't entirely terrible, but it's awful enough to piss me off: that's an hour of my life that I'll never get back. Memphis Bleek truly only raps today because of his uncanny loyalty to his boss and mentor Jay-Z: had it not been for the blackmail photos Malik keeps in a secret location showing Hova in compromising positions with (insert your own jokes here: I assure you that they will all be funny), our host would probably be overcharging me for my number one combo at McDonald's. Bleek doesn't even have much faith in his own abilities, surrounding himself with infinitely better artists (and, um, Rell) in the hope that someone will pick up M.A.D.E. by pure accident. Most of the production is fairly weak as well, save for “Murda Murda” and “1,2 Y'all”, both of which feature Jay-Z. Coincidence? Not bloody likely. There's no need to waste your valuable time with this album.
Wait, you want to read more about Memphis Bleek? Seriously? Why? Well, if you insist.