August 8, 2014

My Gut Reaction: Memphis Bleek - 534 (May 17, 2005)

(What follows is an excerpt of a screenplay that was found in the remnants of a house fire in the Marcy Projects.  The fire appeared to be set deliberately, as though the owner had bills piling up and his income wasn't matching his lifestyle, almost like his music career wasn't paying as many dividends as they once might have.)

 

FADE IN:

INT. MEMPHIS BLEEK'S BEDROOM - DAY
(MALIK "MEMPHIS BLEEK" COX is lying in his bed, conveniently fully-dressed and half-covered with a sheet.  We notice his bedroom is in a state of disarray, with food wrappings, fast food takeout bags, soda and beer cans, and Gatorade bottles strewn about alongside DVD and compact disc cases.  We hear a KNOCKING coming from another room.  At first, this doesn't affect BLEEK, as he turns on his side, but the KNOCKING grows louder, forcing him to respond.)


BLEEK
(shouting)
Alright, hold on!
(to himself)
Damn...

A zombiefied Bleek drags himself out of bed and starts to make his way to his bedroom door.  He glances at a nearby calendar hanging on the wall.


BLEEK
Nice, it's January 3, 2008.  What a convenient way for me to discover what day today is.  Kind of wish I looked at a clock though.

Bleek OPENS THE DOOR and...

CUT TO:
INT. MEMPHIS BLEEK'S HALLWAY - DAY
...Bleek stumbles his way to the front door, which is positioned at the end of his hallway, past a dining room, a living area, and a bathroom.  We still hear loud KNOCKING coming from the other side of the door.

BLEEK
(shouting)
I'm coming!  Shit!

Bleek PULLS THE DOOR OPEN.  On the other side, two moderately-tall MEN of indiscriminate race stand.  They are dressed in black slacks, bright white dress shirts, and black ties.  (I'm sure they have shoes on, too, but we can't see them, so they don't matter.  Okay, fine, the shoes were also black.  One of the guys was wearing white socks with purple polka dots, though.  We didn't think that matched, but he kept insisting that his character was the "fun" one of the two, so we let it go.  You learn to pick your battles.)


MAN #1
Good morning!  How is your day going so far?

BLEEK
Man, you just woke me up.  The fuck do you need right now?

MAN #2
Oh, we are terribly sorry, Mr. Cox.

BLEEK
(confused)
Wait, how do you...

MAN # 1
Mr. Cox, do you have time this morning for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?

BLEEK
(angrily)
Man, what the fuck do you wa...

Bleek's dialogue is washed out as we see a BRIGHT WHITE LIGHT outside of his door.  The light overshadows the two men, and SMOKE begins to pillow through Bleek's front door.  Soon, the entire screen is covered in a haze, but we can see a SHADOWY, IMPOSING FIGURE GLIDING into frame.

When the light fades back to normal and the smoke clears, we see that the two MEN are still at BLEEK's front door, although the Shadowy, Imposing Figure stands front and center in front of BLEEK.  We can see that he is tall, but his features are as yet indistinguishable.  Ominous, heavenly music plays on the soundtrack.


SHADOWY, IMPOSING FIGURE
Hovi's home!

Bleek stares at the Figure confused, along with the audience, until the Figure steps from the shadows and into the home.  We can finally see him clearly: he is JAY-Z, businessman, "business, man", and Bleek's former label boss-slash-best friend.  Bleek is barely able to step out of his way.


BLEEK
(to himself)
Sure, come right in...

JAY-Z
Bleek, how've you been?

BLEEK
I'm good.  I guess.  It's been a while. Hey, are you going to leave those guys outside?

Bleek MOTIONS to the two men, who are still standing in the open doorway politely.  Jay-Z quickly SLAMS THE DOOR on them and continues as though nothing strange has transpired.  We can still see remnants of smoke and bright light underneath the closed door.


JAY-Z
I'm here on official business.  We need to talk.

BLEEK
Okay, is it about my album?  Because I've been working on a few things, if you want to hear them...

JAY-Z
No, no, I don't care about that shit.  Can we sit down somewhere?

BLEEK
Sure.

Bleek LEADS Jay-Z, who looks around as though he is surprised to see how his friend decorated his home now that he has some money, to the living room.

CUT TO:
INT.  BLEEK'S LIVING ROOM - DAY
The living room is set up in your typical fashion: couch, loveseat, a reclining chair, and a giant flat-screen television that takes up the wall opposite of all the furniture.  We can see several video game console controllers lying around, along with more assorted food wrappers, several porn DVDs, and also several back issues of Mother Jones, because Bleek likes to know what's going on in the real world.


BLEEK
Yeah, sit anywhere, man.  Sorry, I haven't had a chance to clean up in the past three years.

Jay-Z takes a spot on the couch.  Bleek chooses the reclining chair and faces Jay-Z directly.


BLEEK (CONT'D)
So, what did you want to talk about?

JAY-Z
Well, as you know, your last album, 534, which you conveniently named after the street address for the building in the Marcy Projects we both grew up in, dropped in 2005.

BLEEK
Sure, but I don't understand why you just felt the need to describe my own album's title to me.

JAY-Z
(brushing off that last remark)
I was president of Def Jam at the time, right?  I'm the reason 534 even saw a proper release.  Do you think Lyor Cohen gives a fuck about you?  LA Reid? Nah, man.  But you're my boy.  I'm looking out for you.  You know that, right?

BLEEK
(sheepishly)
Well, yeah, but...well, we haven't really hung out in the past three years.  You're always spending time with Kanye and Rihanna and Bey.

JAY-Z
Of course I am, dog.  I have to roll with winners.  I have to maintain my image.  People like myself can't slum it with the likes of the Beanie Sigels and Freeways of the world, you know?

BLEEK
But 534 made you money!  I have a gold plaque!

Bleek MOTIONS to the wall near the entryway, where a framed gold plaque from the RIAA sits, leaning against the wall, having patiently waited to be displayed properly for the past four years.

JAY-Z
Yeah, but we both know who actually bought all of those albums, Bleek.  By the way, you still owe me for back rent on that storage unit.  Climate controlled rooms cost more, you know.

BLEEK
Yeah...

JAY-Z
So yeah, I'm going to have to let you go.

BLEEK
Huh?  But you're not even president of the label anymore!

JAY-Z
You don't understand.  There is no real label anymore.  Roc-A-Fella is no more.

BLEEK
Then what happens to you?

JAY-Z
You know me.  I always land on my feet.  Like a cat.  A cat who raps about when he used to sell drugs and now collects art and makes fun of Drake every chance he gets.

BLEEK
Who's Drake?

JAY-Z
That's not important right now.  The point is, I'm starting up something new, Roc Nation, and I'm only signing talent that I either think will blow up in a big way, or underground talent whose shit I will immediately hold back until people hopefully lose interest, and I unfortunately don't have room for you.

BLEEK
But...but what about Marcy?  We've hung out since birth!

JAY-Z
I know, and while my childhood spent babysitting you made things awkward between us at first, before I discovered how easy it was to hide crack in your diaper, this moment, right now, is even worse.  You've supported me since day one, and I like to think I've done the same for you, but now it's your time to fly away and become a man.

BLEEK
What?

JAY-Z
You need to start your own shit, man.  Become your own person.  Start your own label and release classic records.  I fully think that you believe you're capable of doing that.

BLEEK
(to himself)
"Fully think that I believe I'm capable...?"

JAY-Z
(ignoring Bleek's comment)
It's going to be difficult at first.  I know this.  Start-up labels typically don't have much in the way of liquid funds so you may not be able to secure beats from the hottest producers in the game right away.  But you have an established relationship with Just Blaze.  He was all over 534.  He might could help out.

BLEEK
Do you think Kanye could...

JAY-Z
(ignoring the obvious question)
Nah, don't worry about 'Ye.  He's going to be just fine. Just do you, man.  Take all the time you need and put out your next project whenever you're ready.  Hip hop is always going to be there; it's not like it's close to death or anything.

BLEEK
But what if I fail?

JAY-Z
That's entirely probable.  Sorry, I said "possible".  Entirely possible.  The music industry is a cold-hearted snake, and if you don't look it in its eyes, you're bound to fall.  But I got you, dude.  No, you can't come with me to Roc Nation: that's my thing, and I need to focus on the new rules, not the old guard.  But as long as I'm alive, you're a millionaire.  I got you.

BLEEK
I know you mentioned that in a song, but can I get that in writing?  Specifically in contract form?

JAY-Z
Nah, um, I got to get going here, I have a meeting with Donald Trump, Floyd Mayweather, and Art Vanderlay in about ten minutes.  We'll talk later, though.  You're going to do great.

Jay-Z RISES FROM HIS SEAT but then stands there, not moving an inch.  Bleek remains seated and has a quizzical look on his face.


BLEEK
Aren't you...

JAY-Z
I'm only able to enter and exit with the aid of smoke and bright lights.  It's extravagant, sure, but Bey thinks I'm worth it.  Actually...

Jay-Z POINTS to the back of the house.

JAY-Z (CONT'D)
...could you get that?

Bleek notices a TAPPING on the back window.  

CUT TO:
INT. BLEEK'S HALLWAY - DAY
We follow Bleek back down the hallway to the source of the TAPPING.  When he arrives at the window. we see the two Men from before, standing on Bleek's fire escape, begging to gain entrance into the home.  Bleek quickly opens the window, and both Men crumple into the room.


BLEEK
What the fuck?  It's freezing out there!  What are you...

Ignoring Bleek, the two Men stand up, brush themselves off beginning at the shoulders, and quickly scamper to the LIVING AREA, where Jay-Z is still standing stationary.  One of them PULLS a very bright dome-shaped light out of his jacket, while the other YANKS a pack of cigarettes from his pants pocket, proceeding to OPEN the pack, PLACE ALL OF THE CIGARRETES IN HIS MOUTH, and LIGHTING THEM ALL ON FIRE, creating a thick haze of nicotine smoke all around the trio.  Bleek looks on with a mixture of wonder and constipated thought.  

Jay-Z, finally having met the requirements to leave the home, WALKS toward the front door, which is OPENED by the non-smoking Man.


JAY-Z
(to Bleek)
I'm out this bitch, Bleek.  Good luck to you!  I'll see you around!  Young!

Jay-Z WALKS out of the house, FOLLOWED CLOSELY BY the two Men.  The DOOR SLAMS SHUT, and then the house is quiet, with Bleek left STANDING in the hallway.  He contemplates just what direction he should go now, and after a few beats, walks into a nearby BATHROOM.  As he SHUTS THE DOOR, we

FADE OUT.

1. 534
It could be argued that Bleek is entitled to the ridiculous braggadocio he spits on this Just Blaze-produced title track because he has the clout and the record sales to back up his claims. Except that he doesn't: a couple of his albums managed to sell enough to win him a gold plaque (purchased by misguided Jay-Z fans who thought Memphis Bleek was just a fictional manifestation of Hova's subconscious), but otherwise, he hasn't made himself all that indispensable to his label. And this project dropped in the same year that Jay-Z publicly proclaimed that Bleek would be a “millionaire” as long as he was alive (see: his verse on Kanye West's “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”, off of Late Registration), which implies that Bleek has no marketable skills whatsoever. So it would behoove our host to prove the naysayers wrong, ripping up the rap album intro like the seasoned veteran that he (technically) is. Except that he doesn't. Bleek talks his shit and sounds unconvincing, like an excitable chihuahua that insists on trying to one-up the next guy regardless of the topic, not unlike that one Kristen Wiig character from Saturday Night Live. Not a good sign.

2. INTERLUDE

3. DEAR SUMMER (FEAT. JAY-Z)
Jay-Z hijacks 534 to provide listeners with a solo effort, also known as “the only reason people without access to the Interweb would have ever been tricked into purchasing 534”. Shawn uses “Dear Summer” as a farewell letter written to the season that housed the majority of his album releases at the time. Just Blaze's instrumental is decent and mixtape-ready: indeed, The Game, the alleged target of Jay's subliminal attacks throughout, even jacked the beat for his own response freestyle. The problem is that, in less than three minutes, Jay-Z just pissed all over Memphis Bleek's hospitality in his own house and has rendered all of our host's work inferior to a fucking guest performance, which, seriously, is good (but not great: anyone who believes otherwise probably doesn't remember how “Dear Summer” actually sounds). So Bleek hasn't released an album since, while Shawn is laughing all the way to the bathroom where he keeps his Basquiat. Kind of a dick move, right? But the kind that was entirely justified at the time, though I'm only saying that since I'm a well-documented Jay-Z stan.

4. LIKE THAT
Here's something I don't write everyday: I actually thought Swizz's beat on here was pretty good. It was simple, just jiggy enough, and another, better rapper could have had some fun with it. So based on that last statement, you've probably deduced that I find Memphis Bleek to not be a good enough rapper to pull this one off. His excitable flow sounds more annoying than endearing when he has nothing to bounce off of, and no, before you ask, Swizzy's inane hook does not count in this regard. It's like Bleek is partying so hard that he has long since forgotten what it was he was celebrating, and the party has stretched out over weeks, and now he's just exhausted, even though he's trying to keep his own energy level up to keep himself awake, because if he falls asleep, he dies.

5. INFATUATED (FEAT. BOXIE)
The world wasn't really clamoring for a Memphis Bleek love song. That is all.

6. THE ONE (FEAT. RIHANNA)
I'm pretty sure Rihanna conveniently forgets to list “The One” on her resume these days. Obviously she was only doing her new boss Hova a solid as the then-newest member of the label (“The One” is actually her first-ever appearance on, well, anything), because her generic hook could have been performed by absolutely anyone, up to and including me, and she certainly doesn't sound like someone hardened by media overexposure and/or Chris Brown's cocksucking fists that somehow perform the physical act of fellatio because the sentence requires them to in order to make sense and I don't feel like editing because he's not worth the time. Alright, I'm going to recall that last joke because it was in poor taste: even though I do feel that Rihanna is an idiot for even entertaining the thought of getting back with that dickhole, I realize that people are complex, with overpowering emotions that can cloud motivation, and not everything can be classified as simply as black or white. This song can be, though, and boy, was it a bad song. Oh, and someone named Memphis Bleek performed on here too, I think?

7. FIRST, LAST, AND ONLY (FEAT. M.O.P.)
This actually was pretty goddamn entertaining, I have to say, although there's a pretty egregious error that causes the track to not make much sense. You see, Bleek, Lil' Fizzy, and Billy Danze all wrote their verses around the themes of “first”, “last”, and “only”, respectively, so one would think that the verses would be played in that order, right? Wrong. Fame appears first, with Bleek riding bitch and William bringing up the rear, which fucks up the purpose of the title, which only exists in its current form to inform the listener as to what the track will be about, and in what order. However, everyone sounds good over LeQwan Bell's beat, including our host, whose animated vocals align well with those of the hyperactive Mash Out Posse.

8. GET LOW (FEAT. LIVIN' PROOF)
For those of you who may have forgotten, so everyone, Get Low is the name of Bleek's own crew of weed carriers and ne'er-do-wells whom he tried to put on, he really did, honest, but the market didn't give much of a shit, so they ultimately went nowhere, just like our host. Livin' Proof is but one member of the crew, named that because either “Proof” was already taken (R.I.P.) or because he really really really liked that Group Home album, who was apparently so nice with his that Bleek felt he deserved a chance to shine in the national spotlight. And in truth, he isn't bad, easily out-rapping his host over a simple Chad Hamilton instrumental that mixes in an old-school vibe, if not the sound itself. For his part, Bleek relishes playing the Jay-Z role to Proof's Memphis, although you can guess how well that turns out.

9. OH BABY (FEAT. YOUNG GUNZ)
Roc-A-Fella also-rans Young Gunz connect with their then-labelmate for a collaboration, which begs the question: if a song is recorded by two factions that nobody gives a fuck about, does said song even make a sound? Does it even exist at all? The Bink!-produced “Oh Baby” flew off of my radar so quickly, even as I was actually listening to it, that I'm thinking that it never happened, and there is no track called “Oh Baby” on 534, but since I had to have just listened to something, because I'm in the middle of a sentence here, I'm now questioning everything. Is life made up of interconnecting moments that ease your journey into inevitable death? Why is the sky blue? Why is water wet? The world may never know.

10. SMOKE THE PAIN AWAY (FEAT. DENIM)
Honestly? 9th Wonder is one of those producers who I feel I'm supposed to like more than I actually do. I appreciate the dude's work, and he's created more than a few instrumentals that I dig, but I just cannot get into his body of work because it all ends up feeling like, well, work. “Smoke The Pain Away” is no exception: the music is pleasing enough until you can actually hear how hard 9th is trying to set a very specific mood, and that's just a turn-off for me. Bleek decided to use this instrumental to rhyme about weed, which is fine, it's his album, but he doesn't add anything new or original to the proceedings, and including a tone-deaf guest star to sing the hook certainly doesn't change things. Bleh.

11. HATER FREE
If there were one description I would use for Memphis Bleek, it sure as shit wouldn't be “Hater Free”. I mean, come on.

12. ALRIGHT
9th Wonder's beat aims for The Beatnuts' “Beatnuts Forever” (or Virtuoso's “Orion's Belt”, if you're so inclined), but doesn't commit, and as a result, the loop sounds lazy and misguided. Which is too bad, because our host sounded pretty alright on here: as he's being overpowered by the music, he works that much harder to make his performance stand out, and his efforts are fruitful. Although he isn't saying anything worth noting, “Alright” stands amongst the finest tracks the man has ever released as his own, because, to me, it sounds like he tried. And that's not intended as sarcasm.

13. ALL ABOUT ME
However, this next sentence is: Sure, because everyone wanted to hear Bleek talk about his favorite subject.

14. STRAIGHT PATH
A semi-serious song that dives headfirst into street tales that don't have a clear right or wrong way of handling is an excellent idea for a track, but it's far too ambitious for Memphis Bleek to handle, as he never manages to really break the story. So instead, he speaks in platitudes and clichés, reciting bars describing a life that he may as well have lifted wholesale from other artists. Just Blaze's beat sounds like a better fit for someone like Curtis Jackson, weirdly, which doesn't help me like this any more. Bleek's (uncredited) friend wanders into the booth toward the end like a lost child in a shopping mall, playing the AZ role to Bleek's Nas, but that sentence sets up a comparison between “Straight Path” and “Life's A Bitch”, which isn't what I'm trying to do at all, because no.

THE LAST WORD:  Let's be honest: there isn't a goddamn thing I can write here that's going to make either of you two even remotely consider hunting down 534.  But that's the thing: there really isn't any reason for you to do so, nor is there much of a reason for this to exist, beyond being a Def Jam tax write-off.  Memphis Bleek has never been a strong enough artist to carry an entire project by himself: his excitable delivery grows tiresome rather quickly, and the listener is left wishing for a guest star to chime in just to break up the monotony, lest you wish to throw Bleek down a flight of stairs.  Beat-wise, he was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, standing in the same general vicinity of Jay-Z so that A-list producers figured that Memphis Bleek would also give them some much-needed exposure.  534 isn't technically a poorly-made album, but that's more a testament to how much work the sound engineers did than it is to any creative vision our host had during the process.  In short, because this review is already far too long, meh.

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
I suppose you could read some more about Bleek here, but why torture yourself?

15 comments:

  1. Great review, you've been doing them really frequently lately. That intro was funny as hell

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  2. Bleek was dope in the late 90s but around 2000 he started to fall off. I like 3 songs on the album.

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  3. On Track 9 I see that Ghost reference.

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  4. Awesome review. I wonder how many people have an existential crisis while listening to a Memphis Bleek album. Given the already low amount of people who fulfill condition 2, it's probably pretty low odds.

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  5. Nice review man, reminds me of the Supreme Clientele write up. Have you ever thought about re-writing about some of the reviews you did back in '07? Some classic Jeru and early Wu to name a few. I just thought you may want to extend your thoughts on those great albums as you didn't really break them down as much as you do for albums now, even weak ones. It may bring up more discussion on this blog and you'll certainly get more page hits. You could do a #ThrowbackThursday special for those albums you would only write one sentence for. I was the dude who previously asked everyone about their favourite producer on the mic. It might also be a great idea to make posts to generate discuss hip hop in general, e.g. underrated albums from the 90s, or list of hip hop masterpiece tracks or something. The small amounts of comments on your recent reviews suggest that your readers can get bored of waiting for reviews they want to see on this site, so that may spark some interest in the meantime. Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. i second this

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    2. anyone listen to liquid swords 2 yet ?

      it sucks major ballz

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    3. This here comment would have been great except that it was on a Memphis Bleek post.

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    4. I agree man you have my support

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    5. This would be nice, he definitely goes into way more detail these days.

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    6. As I've explained before, I'm not going to rewrite any of the previous posts. That's all in the past, and I have to keep looking forward if I plan on ever finishing my project. Besides, I need something for the book. Absolutely nothing is stopping you from leaving comments on those older posts, though, if you absolutely must discuss what I was wrong about or what have you.

      And I would take the rest of the original comment more seriously if there were tons of comments on the posts where I did exactly what you're requesting, in an effort to spark up a dialogue. Commentators can talk a good game, but what actually matters if you stepping to the plate when something like that runs: why the fuck else do you think I haven't really revisited any of those weird tangential articles from the past?

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  6. this review was hot, this album isn't worthy of such an epic review. poor Memphis Bleek. and I agree with Max, let's keep moving forward

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  7. Fuckin A Review!!!

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