As Jay-Z’s right-hand man since making his recorded debut on Jay’s classic Reasonable Doubt in 1996, Memphis Bleek has had hip-hop served to him on a big, fat, platinum platter. Whether Jay was blessing his young Marcy Project protégé with a verse, a beat, or industry connections, Bleek has had a steadfast supporter in the most powerful man in hip-hop. But so far, Bleek has proven to be nothing more than hype.
During the recording of his fourth album, 534, Bleek cooked up a healthy buzz when it was learned that underground super-producer 9th Wonder was handling the bulk of the production. But even with North Carolina’s finest splitting production duties with hit-maker Just Blaze on 534, Bleek’s lyrical deficiency and inability to develop a distinct style make this album forgettable. Bleek is the equivalent of a Chinatown knock-off: He acts like Jay and raps like Jay, but the quality ain’t the same.
Even after Jay-Z’s retirement, Bleek cannot escape the shadow of the Brooklyn Knight. The consummate mike professional, Jay-Z flows like water out a fire hydrant on “Dear Summer,” spilling bars like: “But let’s not stray from what I came to say/ To my beloved, think we need some time away/ They say if you love it, you should let it out its cage/ And fuck it, if it comes back/ you know it’s there to stay.” Compare that lyrical clinic to Bleek’s ode to weed on “Smoke Away the Pain”: “The president, he gotta legalize it/ The governor, he gotta legalize it/ Mayor, mayor gotta legalize it/ Let all my niggaz lead their lives as they see fit, that’s how I see it/ God damn, I’m a genius when I’m lit.” Jay-Z’s presence is a detriment to the album as a whole, because “Dear Summer” completely outshines all other material on 534, revealing its weaknesses.
Since 1996, Bleek has been expected to come of age and carry the crown for the Roc-a-Fella empire. Now that Damon Dash, Kareem “Biggs” Burke, and Jay have parted ways, Bleek can only sit back and imagine what could have been. 534 has scattered sterling moments, but it’s still a lame effort considering the supporting elements that were in place.