Memphis Bleek could be one hit away his whole career, and we know he resents that. But the Brooklyn emcee’s solo LPs have been plagued by a thwarting inconsistency: he so desperately wanted to emerge from his mentor’s shadow, but failed to either professionally or stylistically distinguish himself as much more than Jay Z’s protégé. Bleek’s 1999 debut Coming of Age came from his first appearance on Reasonable Doubt; his highest-charting song to date is a single Jay originally scrapped but still penned three verses on (“Is That Yo Chick”).
With 2012’s The Movement, Bleek attempted to create just that: a self-sustained hustle that was sonically different from anything he put out on Roc-A-Fella. The guest spots and producers he recruited were a handful of unheralded local acts, and the tape went 13 tracks without so much as a single Hov name-drop. But The Movement still saw Bleek fervently trying to make club music, only now without the backing of a Swizz Beatz or Timbaland behind the boards.
Two years later, he returns with a sequel that, despite its glaring weaknesses, features more polished production, mature lyricism and conceptual focus. While the original project was solely centered on boosting Bleek back to relevance, The Movement 2 is a more well-rounded forum for both reflection and flossing.
The Movement 2 opens with the candor of “It’s For Me,” an intro about how the absence of Bleek’s father has influenced the way he now raises his son. Despite overwrought keys and a few tried-and-true lines about “having been through the fire” and “defeating my demons,” it immediately posits the tape as a salient improvement. The theme of fatherhood comes back strongest on “This Time Around” and “Deep Down Inside,” the former featuring lines like, “Who get money and spend it all? They went Hammer Time / I’m tryna stack it and leave it for my lil’ man of mine,” while the latter flips a sample of Paul Davis’ 1977 single “I Go Crazy.” On “Never,” Bleek fears for his son’s future in a culture of recidivism.
But the growth of The Movement 2 isn’t just rooted in subject matter. Bleek’s ear for beats has become more selective, and verses from Freeway, Peedi Crack and Sean Price bolster his coarse raps. “RNS” is the tape’s standout, with Price’s brooding, dense bars and light punches (“My flow wild tight like [Russell] Westbrook’s jeans”) backed by grandiose brass. Crack, meanwhile, spits a nimble 16 on “I’m Fucked Up.”
The Movement 2 runs into problems when Bleek tackles the genre’s more generic topics. “Fukd Up & Faded” isn’t much more than a 35-year-old shouting recycled Swag Rap lines; the anodyne “Thanks I Get” interpolates the classic Dr. Dre’s “The Watcher” and reminisces on those he lost and those who crossed him, but names, stories and details are nonexistent. Bleek’s never been a particularly charismatic emcee, and his grimy flow seems out of place on the winkling keys, woozy bass and wailing sax of “The Sensation.” Metaphors are particularly lacking on The Movement 2: He calls his weed Kobe because he has 24 ounces; he calls his girl Pierre Garcon because she’s from D.C. and “catches everything I throw at her.”
There are a few more misses than hits on The Movement 2, which if nothing else forces Bleek to be seen as something other than a Jay Z hype man or a nostalgia relic from the early Roc days. Inconsistency limits the project, but if Bleek can find a way to stay in his comfort zone and continue building on themes of fatherhood and grimy, Brooklyn hustle, his next release will be a movement far easier to follow.