Artist: Memphis BleekTitle: 534Rating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Bill “Low-Key” Heinzelman

Memphis Bleek will never be Jay-Z, so get over it. While early on Bleek was hailed as Hova’s retirement plan, such lofty aspirations never came to fruition, as Bleek has continually lived in Jigga’s shadow. Now with Mr. Carter’s departure from the rap game to the corporate world, it is Bleek’s final shot to live up to the hype with his fourth album 534 (Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella). While the album will not fill the void that Jay left, 534 is arguably Bleek’s most consistent album to date.

Memphis Bleek’s strong points have always been his forceful delivery, consistent flow, and solid voice structure. However, inconsistent production and limited subject matter has hindered each of his previous three releases. While Bleek fails to improve on his subject matter on 534, thankfully, the album sees some improvement in the production area. Just Blaze contributes with three tracks on the album, putting forth stellar work behind the boards. This is seen on the title track, where Bleek comes out swinging and energetically proclaims, “Niggas call me prince of the city/ next in line for the king of new yiddy”. Bleek’s only conceptual effort on the album “Straight Path” features another stunning Just Blaze beat, which is complete with a soothing vocal sample and lush keys. Bleek touches on the struggles that a hustler in the street faces when he decides to change his ways and leave the game for good. The track is the type of effort Bleek should present more, instead of focusing on his usual gun toting verses.

In addition to Just Blaze, Little Brother’s 9th Wonder puts on two beat clinics with the standout track “Alright” and “Smoke The Pain Away”. Over 9th’s trademark drums and soulful vocal sample, Bleek delivers the finest song of his career with “Alright”. Bleek has never sounded more at home on the track, ripping off catchy one-liners after another. On “Smoke The Pain Away”, Bleek predictably offers another weed smoking anthem, only this time 9th soothes the pain with his Billy Paul (“I Think I’ll Stay Home Today”) sample.

Even with improved production, 534 is not without its faults. Bleek’s repetitive and irritating rhyme scheme on the watered down R&B influenced “The One” makes for a flavorless commercial effort. The same can be said for “Infatuated”, a catchy but coerced song that finds Bleek hooking up with Irv Gotti and Demi-Doc for a sappy love fest. In addition, “Get Low” featuring Livin’ Proof, is a predictable attempt at a club hit that does not work from the get go. The only other notable misstep is “Hater Free”, which falters due to Shea Taylor’s simplistic synthesizer production.

With his back against the wall, Memphis Bleek has delivered a solid outing with 534, which sits along side M.A.D.E. as his best work. The album’s improved production and reliance on quality not quantity is improvement but still, if you have heard one Memphis Bleek album, you have heard them all. Bleek still needs to broaden his horizons and offer more than the usual if he intends to take that next step forward.

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