Memphis’ Bleak Potential.

I was walking down Madison Avenue to have lunch with a friend while listening to Reasonable Doubt‘s Coming of Age” and the question dawned on me:

“What happened to Bleek?”

Then again, when it came to Bleek’s career, I’ve always asked that question. “What’s good with Bleek?”. “Has Bleek blown yet?”. “Is he still with Roc-A-Fella/Jay-Z?”.

I remember a time when Memphis, whose name is an acronym that stands for Making Easy Money Pimping Hoes in Style, was the “next best thing”. What happened to all of that potential? Where did his star power go? It seems all we’re left with is questions.

So I decided to launch an investigation as to why Bleek didn’t blow. Reasons inside of reasons that explain what went wrong with Bleek. Here is what I came up with…

On the Come Up…?

Memphis first introduced himself to world on the track “Coming of Age” and again on “Can I Live II”, both songs on which he was a featured artist, on Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt. I remember his first few bars vividly:

“I’m out here slingin’ bringin’ the drama. Tryin’ to come up
in the game and add a couple of dollar signs to my name
I’m out here servin’ disturbin’ the peace, life could be better
like my man reclined in plush leather seats
He’s sellin’ weight, I’m sellin’ eight… balls
sixteen tryin’ to graduate to pushin’ quarters y’all…”

He appeared as a swift and poetic streetwise lyricist with nothing to lose and everything to gain. But there was something in the water. Something wasn’t quite right…

 

Force Fed… Heir? What Heir?

Jay-Z did all that he could to make us love Memphis Bleek, to accept him as a heir to a throne that Jay himself had yet to occupy. But we never quite bought it. He was the young lion prince whose roar was bigger than his bite. It was something about his “come up” that seemed artificial, manufactured. Forced.

I believe that record companies, and artist themselves, fail to acknowledge that there are instances where the listeners DO NOT want to be told what to listen to. Or maybe they are aware of this crapshoot and Bleek just crapped out. His first album failed to go gold.

Surrounding Rookie Class… Wrong Place, Wrong Time?

At the time of Bleek’s “come up” other rookies were also making their bones. DMX, the dismantler of the shiny suit era. Eminem, the town crier for middle class white suburbia’s angst. Future labelmate and Dipset founder Cam’ron. Noreaga. Murda Ma$e. The list goes on… Hell, if you consider his time with Big Daddy Kane and Jaz-O to be obscure, even Jay himself could be seen as a competing peer.

All due respect to Bleek and his craft but he couldn’t out-rap any of those MC’s that I just mentioned. Well… maybe Noreaga. But even N.O.R.E. had a hit record before Bleek did. (See “Superthug”.)

Memphis Bleek Is… A Resounding Thud?

Not exactly. His debut album, Coming of Age, peeked at #7 and sold 118, 000 copies in its first week. The lead sing, “Memphis Bleek Is…”, even managed to become one of the most popular songs of the summer of 1999. The song was also perceived as an indirect diss to Nas.

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Not to mention the “successful” follow-up, My Hood to Your Hood, featuring then labelmate Beanie Sigel. What You Think of That?” was pretty okay too.

But let’s be honest, do you really remember any of those songs? Besides “Memphis Bleek Is…”, do you really recall any of those songs as vividly as, let’s say, O.D.B‘s “Got Your Money”, Q-Tip‘s “Vivrant Thing” or Cash Money‘s smash “Back That Ass Up”?. All of which were out at the time of Bleek’s singles.

A friend and I were having a discussion on Bleek and he asked me:

“Name ONE hot Memphis Bleek song. Just one.”

I replied with confidence:

“Easy, piece of cake. Um… Um…”

And after about 2 minutes of staring into the abyss I said:

“Oh! What about that joint? ‘Memph Bleek is! Memph Bleek is!'”

Then attempted to incoherently mumble the rest of the song, mainly because I couldn’t remember a single lyric. Although I managed to muster up one song, my friend still managed to prove his point. None of Memphis Bleek’s songs are memorable.

 Still Coming of Age?…

It is now close to 2 years after his supposed “coming of age” and listeners didn’t know what to make of Bleek. His first album was so-so and the songs were borderline forgettable. In some’s eyes, especially those who supported Roc La Familia, Bleek still had time. After all, he’s only 2 years and 1 album in, there has to be more it. But for others, there wasn’t any more to it. Bleek missed his train.

“M. Dot, Him Hot”… Or is He?

Let’s get one thing clear. Memphis Bleek is not trash. In fact, he’s far from it. He attempted to conquer the charts in 1999, an attempt that was lackluster at best but he did show some promise. And that promise looked to be fulfilled in 2000 when he released “My Mind Right”“Do My…” and “Is That Yo Chick?” those were huge hits. Pretty much all three of those were well received but they all shared a common flaw; Bleek didn’t go solo on any of them.

“Do My…” featured Jay-Z. “Is That Yo Chick?” featured Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliot and Jay-Z. “My Mind Right” could have been an exception but song was a dud until H. Money Bags & Beanie Sigel were thrown on the remix. It was such a failure that remix was included on his second album, The Understanding, and the Bleek-only version was excluded.

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In all, Bleek failed to hold his own, though he did have a few quasi-memorable bars on those songs:

i.

“Yo I come through, few of my man’s
Scoop you and your friends
You, you, and you with the Timbs
In tight jeans, Chinese eyes
Indian hair, Black girl ass
Let me pour you a glass of Belvi
Tell me all about your past
Let me console your soul
While I palm your ass
And your man did what?
He ain’t give you?
He cheated with her
I can’t diss duke
I tell you this though
Get with this dude” – Memphis Bleek “Do My…”

ii.

 “Yo check it now, yo
Yo Hov’ chose I — I ain’t gonna lie
What I look like turnin down cho-cha?
Drove by, smoked the lye
Recognize a pimp, open your eyes
Hop in the passenger side of the ride
Damn Bleek, can’t speak
Uh-huh, okay, what’s up, SHUT UP
And close the door
Act like you been in the drop top
On the open road before
Fix your weave, then fix me
Ever gave head doin 160?
Ever seen a pair of kicks this crispy
How you like the way the white wifebeat fit me
M-dot, him hot, them not
(That’s gangsta)” – Memphis Bleek “Is That Yo Chick?”
 

Despite his somewhat stellar performance he was still out shined on every song. Beans breathed new life into “My Mind Right” and Jay practically stole the show on “Do My…” and “Is That Yo Chick?”. In fact, those who wouldn’t know any better could easily recall “Is That Yo Chick?” as a Jay-z song.

Coming of Age… Again?

“In between the release of The Understanding and M.A.D.E., he took a three year hiatus, in which time he took care of his older brother, who was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident.”

But the list of rap’s “Who’s Who” isn’t sensitive to such a tragedy. In the midst of his hiatus other rookies began to crop up and Bleek began to fade into the background. Jersey’s own Joe Budden. DJ Clue protégé Fabolous Sport. Philly Native Cassidy. There were a slew of new MC’s stalking the rap scene, not to mention the rapper’s from his (first) rookie class were already superstars and had their feet firmly planted in the pay dirt. There was also in a surge of interest in Southern Hip-Hop, resulting in even more competition.

Even Bleek knew that he had lost what little sizzle he had… or else he wouldn’t have named his 2003 album M.A.D.E., again forcing us to view him in this kingly light that he was not deserving of. 

Kings County Manchild?

So far the naysayers were looking like pundits. The Roc was on top but things didn’t go exactly as expected. Bleek had yet to be king. He hardly deserved a fair shot at becoming prince. Other artists in the camp had surpassed him in popularity and perceived skill, namely Beanie Sigel and newcomer Cam’ron. In a way, Bleek was at a crossroads, it was time to show and prove.

M.A.D.E…. Of What?

M.A.D.E. sold 150,000 copies in its first week, a record for Bleek. It looked as if listeners still had some memory of his past buzz. They were even willing to forget that he failed accumulate this buzz on own. Sure he was taking a while to get “there” but that wasn’t important; what was important, is that he got “there”. Period. 

As dramatic as it sounds, we wanted something from Bleek. We wanted to believe, we wanted see him to fulfill his prophecy.

Bleek followed up 2 years later with 534. After the first week sales success of M.A.D.E. things looked to be somewhat promising. But like Bleek’s first album, 534 failed to go gold. Back to the drawing board?

And the heir to the throne is (Drumroll)… Kanye West?

I didn’t list these reason in any order of any kind but I’d to say that these last two would be the most important amongst them all.

Remember Henery Hawk? He was that little brown chicken hawk that always attempted to strike out on his own and catch a chicken but instead ended up receiving a run around from Foghorn Leghorn. He had a tough guy bravado and in my opinion, was the precursor to Joe Pesci.

Kanye was Henery Hawk, that little big guy on the come up. But West soon went from being Henery Hawk to Daffy Duck; not the leader of the Looney Tunes pack, Bugs Bunny (Jay-Z), but just as popular as Bugs.

Okay, if the Looney Tunes character analogy failed, I’ll put it in a simpler form: Kanye came out of the woodwork and coveted Bleek’s throne. But West isn’t to blame. Bleek was squandering his opportunity. At a key time when Jay was supposedly retiring and Roc-a-Fella was seeking a new face Yeezy ceased that opportunity and hasn’t looked back since.

Always & Forever… Jay’s Little Man? 

Jay-Z will never be done being Jay-Z. So why would Jay promote Bleek as the second coming of himself? A single word comes to mind: Ego.

Some may say that Jay conjured up an heir as a testament to his own greatness. During a discussion, a friend of mine said that few protégés ever get out from underneath their mentor’s thumb. Jay-Z released an album almost every year, keeping the market/street teams very busy. Too busy to give Bleek’s project the attention that they needed.

Another friend said something that was very shocking and clearly sums up what Bleek has been reduced to.

“Bleek might very well be one of the highest paid hypemen in the history of hip-hop.”

It seems like Hov went out of his way to see to it that Bleek comes in second. On “Dear Summer”, a very successful single that could have propped up the dismal 534, Hov again proceeded to steal the show; both with in-the-booth and out-of-the-booth antics.  He laced “Dear Summer” to a point where Memphis was a fly on the wall of Madison Square Garden. He practically took attention away from 534 with the whole Def Jam CEO gig and comeback album hoopla.

It’s odd that someone who so wanted for his “sun” to shine would seemed so hellbent on blocking his rays.

Memphis Bleek is… A Long Drawn Out Process?

“In fall 2005, Memphis Bleek told MTV that he was recording an album called The Process, that he would describe as a make or break album.” When in fact many saw 543 as the make or break album.

In regards to the upcoming album, Memphis said:

“I want to do an album that’s through the roof, I want to do a classic album. I feel that if this album I’m not recording is a classic, I’m not even gonna put it out. I have to do it bigger than anybody has ever done it. I have to make a good record this time, not just talking-junk records.”

We’ll see.

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