Memphis Bleek’s got the right idea here: A Jay-Z protege who made his debut on Jigga’s seminal 1996 debut Reasonable Doubt, Bleek has become a “made” member of the Roc-A-Fella family, hence the title of the album. M.A.D.E.‘s intro — a satirical skit about Roc-A-Fella’s commonalities with the Goodfellas movie — is actually rather funny. A Henry Hill-type voiceover reads a bit of Roc-A-Fella’s credo, which is similar to the code of the mafia thugs that most gangsta artists admire. The character is even bold enough to hint that Memph is fit to wear Jay-Z’s hat, now that Jay has “stepped down.” This is quite an assumption — and quite a stretch. Memphis’ third album just doesn’t come close enough to what he’s capable of.
Coming off a three-year break from hip-hop, which he took to support his family after his brother suffered an accident, Memph stresses the importance of family on M.A.D.E, inviting his fellow label mates to lend a hand where they can. It’s brimming with guest spots, and while Bleek is clearly capable in his own right, the guest tracks are among the best on the album. He, Proof and Young Chris of Young Gunz make a solid effort to emphasize carefree weekend debauchery on “We Ballin’,” which simultaneously boasts genuinely psychedelic production as well.
“We Ballin’ ” is an ode to weed and Hennessy, and as the track moves forward, sitar and snippets of flute flow in and out of the speakers, contributing to its peaceful Indian-esque atmosphere. The rhymes don’t quite inhabit this sense of peace, however: “You hardly ever see me lovin’ a ho / I tell her, Bitch I’m in love with my dough.” Not exactly a new stance from Memphis Bleek, as this sentiment has been trampled to death. Thankfully, Scott Storch’s swirling beats and accompaniment rescue the track from being bland gun-toting propaganda. Storch decorates more than one track on M.A.D.E., and his work stands out even alongside Just Blaze’s and Kanye West’s. The personnel may be one of the only consistently strong points here, as Jay-Z and Beanie also leave effective imprints on Memph’s uneven record.
“Murda, Murda” is hard-hitting and head-bobbin’, and the Hov carries a low-key and catchy chorus over Storch’s ominous beat and scratching. Bleek, Beanie and Jay trade verses in seemingly a lower voice here, adding a grave tone to the already bleary piece. This graveness is in Bleek’s ever-present need to prove himself with run-of-the-mill threats and thuggery, such as in “War” and “Round Here.” Just Blaze’s beats on these and “Just Blaze, Bleek & Free,” which brings Freeway into the mix, are complex and successful. But Memph should stick to the “necessity of family” theme rather than this Napoleonic thing. He is one of Roc’s better talents, he just could’ve been better on M.A.D.E.