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16 December, 2003@12:00 am

  On Vol. 2: A Hard Knock Life, Jay-Z gave Memphis Bleek the ultimate hook-up for any upstart emcee.  Not only was Bleek given a solo-platform on the LP’s intro, “Hand It Down”, but did so over a DJ Premier track.  From that moment on, it was evident that Bleek was being hand-picked to stabilize the Roc’s legacy upon Jigga’s retirement; which he verified on the LP liner notes “The intro of the whole record is like the torch, it’s like the heir to the throne.”  Yet, if Bleek’s two proceeding efforts (1999′s Coming Of Age & 2000′s The Understanding) proved anything, it’s that you don’t want to play poker with Hova, and that Bleek was not yet up to the task of being a primetime player—after all, it did take a Jay-Z throwaway track (“Is That Your Chick” w/ Missy Elliott & Twista) to keep Bleek on the radar screen.

   But that was four-years ago and with M.A.D.E., everything has come full circle for Bleek and as Pain In Da Ass comments (“with Jay stepping down/it was Bleek’s turn to be made”) on the LP’s opener “Roc-A-Fella Get Low Respect It” he is indeed back in familiar territory.   Excluding the militaristic bounce of “W.A.R” and a touching dedication to his brother, “Understand Me Still”, Bleek’s solo-efforts seem reserved to being merely changes of pace (“My Life” & Hell No”) and heavily A&R influenced as soul crooner Donell Jones lazily interpolates Jacko’s “Pretty Young Thing” into “I Wanna Love You”, while Nate Dogg swings thru for a purposeless, corny cameo on “Need Me In Your Life”.

   But there’s no “I” in Bleek and no shame in being the Pippen to the Roc’s Jordan, as Memph Man benefits from some of the best beats (Just Blaze and Kanye West) you can buy anywhere outside of Virgina and California. Bleek is furthered bolstered by rousing collabos with M.O.P., who merk everything including the speakers on “Hood Muzik”, frequent P.I.C. Lil’ Cease on the soulful “Do It All Again” and Young Chris and Proof (who does his best 2Pac impersonation on the hook) over the Indian flutes of “We Ballin”. 

    Yet, even with the splattering of outside guest spots, M.A.D.E. is still a Roc family reunion and Bleek, Jay, Beans and Freeway bring enough barbeque sauce for everyone. Freeway slides in on “Just Blaze, Bleek, And Free” to join Bleek in spazzing out over Just Blaze’s roller-coaster piano keys, while Bleek and Jay trade braggadocios salvos on “Everythings A Go”. Bleek more then holding his own here: “you now tuned into the greatest/can’t beat us join us/can’t fade us hate us/ni**a nothing/my crew will have dozens/that’s cause we scramble like we Vick’s half-cousin.”  But the LP’s most flavorful moments are championed by Beanie Sigel on the seductive, champagne room in waiting anthem “Hypnotic”—”it’s like a painting wit no color/till I attach the words/my mind the brush/my life the canvas/the word the easel/combines the perfect picture for people” and  Jay-Z whose breathy vocals on “Murda Murda” are as icy as the cut-up Ad Rock  vocal sample (“chilly, chill”) that’s implemented on the hook “they want war with yours truly/by emulating shit they saw in the art of war movie/but I’m the writer of Sun Tzu/so whatever son do I do better/more lyrics way more cheddar/catch me if you can I’m the gingerbread man/keep pumping him up/make me injure brethren.”

      During a time of great pain for Bleek (his brother’s near debilitating car accident), he was able to sit back, focus on what’s important and collect his thoughts.  And though he may have been surpassed by Freeway, Beanie Sigel, Kanye West, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Cam’ron, and M.O.P., on the Roc pecking order, in the four-years that passed he is finally beginning to realize the initiative Jay-Z once envisioned for him. Throw up a diamond for Bleek, because finally, everything’s a go!!

  Mixtape D.L.
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