Being compared to Jay Z is enough to make any emcee stumble on a few bars. Enter the plight of Memphis Bleek. After ten years and three albums, he has not been able to escape the shadow of Sean Carter and be Memphis Bleek.
With 534, he once again tries to carve out his own identity and lead the R-O-C into the future.
Bleek comes out firing on the introduction spitting;
"It ain't no heaven for a G, so the hell with it/My life is deep/Muthafuckas please delve in it/Started with promo, no homo movin 12 inches/Pimp the game coming of age at 12 bitches/That's when I had well wishers/Niggas called me prince of the city.../Pity, how the same niggas that bailed with me, bailed on me.../ Drank up all the Kool-Aid/Left glasses in my kitchen/Food for thought my nigga/You do the dishes."
The lead single "Like That", produced by a rejuvenated Swizz Beatz is sure to keep the clubs jumping throughout the summer, but don't be fooled into believing that 534 is nothing but club bangers. Teaming up with former ROC members MOP on "First, Last, and Only", Bleek trades verses with Billy Danze and Lil Fame over horns and a jazzy base line, sounding comfortable in the midst of the Mash Out Posse's furious flows. This one is sure to be heating up your favorite DJ's mix tapes in the coming months. In similar fashion, he teams with State P representers, the Young Gunz for "Oh Baby".
Aside from people brought in to sing hooks, Bleek keeps the guest appearances minimal, proving to all that he is more than capable of holding it down solo. Rapping like he has something to prove on "Alright", he fires back at the critics:
"They say I'm slippin/That ain't no new shit/The numbers never lie so you can't refute it/And don't confuse M with none of the bullshit/To the streets I'm tied/Like my momma's tubes is.../I'm getting money, I don't need your 2 cents/The structures been built way before the blueprint".
While 534 is a step up for Bleek, several missteps keep this album from reaching its full potential. Shameless attempts at Top 40 radio play (second single "Infatuation", "The One" and "Get Low") hamper the album's other wise personal feel and sound forced.
There are no songs that will have fans pounding the skip button, but there aren't too many that deserve a replay either. Overall, 534 is some of Bleek's best work, and despite the album's low points, he is one step closer to "Coming of Age".