Five Best Songs From Memphis Bleek’s ‘534’ Album
Expectations have no remorse for the weak.
They can push the right person to reach deep within themselves to meet them, but they can also serve as added weight that can crush a person's psyche and cause a flame to flicker out. Then there are those that perform up to task, but can never appease the public's yearning for greatness from those who have been touted as "next." We've seen it in various instances, from sports (LeBron James before the ring) to politics (President Barack Obama) and everywhere in between. Another person that falls in that latter category is Memphis Bleek, who despite having a pretty solid catalog, has been much maligned by rap fans for a seeming lack of success or good music.
But on the contrary, the kid that actor Pain in Da Ass once spoke of as "a new and improved Jay Z" has managed to put together more than a few classic songs and solid albums throughout his nearly 20 years on the mic. Memphis Bleek may not have the superb category of his benefactor and mentor, but he is far from a bust, proving so on albums like his 1999 debut, Coming of Age, and his 2000 effort, The Understanding, both of which earned the Brooklynite gold plaques.
Following the release of his 2003 album, M.A.D.E., Memphis went back in the studio and came out with his fourth LP, 534, which hit stores on May 17, 2005. Guest performers included a young pre-stardom Rihanna, Young Gunz, M.O.P. and Jay Z, who contributed a track of his own titled "Dear Summer" to the album, among other artists (that song was made ineligible for this list because Memphis Bleek doesn't appear it -- sorry, guys).
The album title is in reference to the address of the Marcy Projects building in which Bleek and Jay Z once lived -- 534 Flushing Ave. 534 earned the MC his fourth consecutive gold platinum certification and respect among his fan base for his consistency and quality.
Ten years removed from the release of this slept-on gem, we gave it a spin and selected the five standout tracks that prove that 534 is no chump as a body of work.
Bleek gets the ladies involved with the Demi-Doc and Irv Gotti-produced selection, "Infatuated." Featuring R&B crooner Boxie on the vocals, the track finds the Marcy Projects lyrical whiz kid spitting sweet nothings in the ears of his favorite around-the-way girl. The rapper gets in touch with his tender side here over breezy keys and digital drums. The song is a solid offering that shows Bleek is capable of more than block-centric bangers.
BK meet PA when Menphis Bleek partners up with fellow Roc representatives the Young Gunz from Philly for "Oh Baby." Produced by Bink!, the beat is powered by hard-hitting drums, an electric guitar and a recurring vocal sample that brings to mind of an old school western movie. All three MCs turn in stellar verses full of tough-talk and bravado, resulting in "Oh Baby" being a solid effort and an album standout.
A display of Brooklyn pride gets shown on the M.O.P-assisted 534 cut, "First, Last & Only." The Brownsville bullies set it off with their tried-and-true brand of menacing musings and action-packed adlibs and succeed in adding welcome dimension to the track.
M.O.P. may come with it, but Bleek comes ready to play as well, giving a run-down of his tenure as a young boss in the rap game. "I'm the first youngin you know from off of ya' block / First youngin who showed you young boys how to pop / I'm the first it come to big homie to call on / When I throw that first shot, n----s, they all gone," he rhymes, informing listeners he's more big dog than young pup.
Produced by LeQwan Bell, the beat samples "Never Know What You Can Do (Give It a Try)" by Lee Hutson. This effort is drenched in sonic pimp-juice and perfect for cruising in the whip while getting your flourish on.
Swizz Beatz may be associated with the Ruff Ryders by many, but he has always had a great rapport with the Roc-A-Fella crew since his entrance in the game. He's produced hit singles and album cuts for a slew of Roc spit-kickers. One of those artists is Memphis Bleek, with whom Swizzy connected with on the exuberant "Like That. Flowing atop the turnt-up production, Bleek gets his party on, rapping, "When Swizz slow down the beat, it's all love / Slow motion for me like ya ass is screwed up / Make you move like The Matrix when dude was ducking slugs / Bleek the black sheep, mami, now pick it up," with vigor. The lead single released in promotion of 534, "Like That" was a presence on the mixtape circuit and on the party scene, not to mention a great overall offering 10 years later.
534 reaches its pinnacle on the hazy album cut, "Smoke the Pain Away." Featuring R&B vocalist Denim, the track speaks to Bleek's adoration for the sticky and sees him fronting on lightweight smokers and dropping the names of a few of his favorite strains throughout the song. Produced by 9th Wonder, the North Carolina beatsmith utilizes a sample of "I Think I'll Stay Home Today" by soul singer Bill Paul. Dishing out dope rhymes coupled with a refined soundbed, the prince of the Roc concocts a smoked-out affair that stands a notch above the other work featured on 534 and gets our nod of approval.