The “Shining Star” title on the new Roc-a-Fella comp The ROC Files Vol. 1 appears to be shared by Memphis Bleek and Jay-Z. Bleek’s not the one with the most appearances here; that award belongs solely to Jay-Z, whose records are the foundation of the label. But Bleek makes a strong case for his new record M.A.D.E., appearing on four of the best tracks on The ROC Files Vol. 1, a label compilation that culls tracks from Roc-a-Fella albums released between the late ’90s and the early 2000s.
The ROC Files mines several of the label’s releases for its lineup, including Memphis Bleek’s Coming of Age, Beanie Siegel’s The Truth and DJ Clue’s Backstage Mixtape among others. They’re not exactly the same type of animal, (one is a particular crew and the latter a compilation of artists) but State Property, Vol. II is a stronger release, and it may showcase the more effective portion of Roc’s roster. The two warrant comparison because they are basically of the same format: a series of Roc-a-Fella artists doin’ their thing alongside each other, only The ROC Files is more of a promotional comp rather than a portrait of a particular group. Regrettably this time around second-rate R&B weighs down a warm serving of Roc’s gangsta platform.
Freeway’s entrance on the new installment of “Rock the Mic” is most impressive, as he’s not really been known to disappoint. In his bearded Philadelphia flow he defines himself well here as a “starving artist that’ll eat your tracks / so don’t bring ’em around.” Presumably nobody on Roc-a-Fella is a starving artist, but Freeway kills this track, as he did on State Property and his full-length Philadelphia Freeway last year.
The record’s second track is additional and unnecessary proof that Kanye West will indeed be 2004’s water cooler conversation, if not just for his long overdue College Dropout album, set to drop out in February 2004. He’s behind the lethargic chunk of organ and beats that meander around Beanie Siegel’s album title track “The Truth.” He was also behind several of 2003’s best-known singles, one of them being his own masterpiece “Through the Wire,” woven carefully through a wired jaw.
Whether or not Beanie’s telling the “Truth” in the current court proceedings regarding his near future, his “arsenic flow” is evident here as he retells it like it was: “Gotta laugh, y’all act like you spit it the same / Why you motherfuckas can’t get in the game? / I come from high school, and go straight to the lead / Who you know that can spit at the seed?” This lazy dusty beat followed 50 on Kanye’s I’m Good mix tape last year and it works just as well highlighting Beanie’s authentic thuggery and bragging rights. Bragging rights take a front seat (obviously) in the opener too, as Jay-Z and Memphis Bleek brush tha dirt off their shoulders. Ya heard?
“It’s Alright” comes from 1998’s “Streets is Watching,” Jay-Z’s documentary about his bumpy road to riches. He talks about his crew having “rocks the size of craters,” even then masking odes to the bling in witty anecdotal euphemisms. Always sweetening an otherwise bland beat, he’s able to bring Rell’s “Love for Free” into the Tolerable Zone. Without Mr. Carter it’s a total snooze-fest. This is at least consistent. The other R&B offerings, including Christion’s two tracks, on The ROC Files fall miles short of being as fulfilling as the hip-hop tracks.