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Jay-Z gives his pal Memphis Bleek a push on 534
Related Links

Jay Z online

Memphis Bleek on Universal

Sean Richardson reviews Jay-Z's The Black Album

Franklin Soults reviews the DJ Danger Mouse's Grey Album, a mix of Jay-Z's Black Album and the Beatles’ "White Album."

Jay-Z’s been a busy man in the year since he retired from hip-hop. So far, his post–Black Album career has yielded a silver-screen documentary, a full-length collaboration with R. Kelly, a multimedia EP with Linkin Park, a headlining tour, and a slew of cameos with friends like OutKast, Missy Elliott, and Kanye West. Just last week he put in a cameo at the New York Summer Jam, running through two songs with Kanye and declaring "no disrespect to nobody, but we run this shit." Not bad for an out-of-work geezer who bowed out of the rap game in search of new challenges.

The Black Album (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam) was Jay’s swan song — a graceful goodbye to performing/recording as he took over the reins at Def Jam. Cynics predicted he’d be rapping again in no time, but nobody knew quite how. A few weeks ago, Jay threw caution to the wind by sneaking a new song onto Roc-A-Fella rapper Memphis Bleek’s 534. "Gimme couple years, shit, I might just sneak in," he raps in "Dear Summer," a paranoid, three-minute strut around his old hip-hop ’hood. "A couple words and like Peaches and Herb, we’ll be reunited and it feels so ’hood/Have the whole world saying, ‘How you still so good?’ "

The track originated as part of a freestyle jam Jay launched into over the airwaves of NYC’s Hot 97 a few months ago: before long, he was back in the studio with long-time producer Just Blaze putting beats to rhymes. Blaze explained the track’s genesis on MTV: "It was nobody in the room but me, [engineer Young] Guru, and Jay. I could tell it was getting to Jay because he had to leave. He was sitting in the studio listening to it over and over, and he said, "I’m outta here. I know what y’all are trying to do.’ "

That Jay gave Bleek the track for 534, his fourth CD, isn’t surprising: Bleek’s always been something of a Jay-Z protégé. Still, his last three outings were greeted with lukewarm responses from critics and fans alike. That Roc-A-Fella didn’t drop him is a reflection of Jay-Z’s power in the industry. "I just seen the guy grow his whole life," Jay told MTV. "I took him from his apartment — he grew up two floors under me — to this point right here. I’m letting him go now. He’s on his own. He’s come into his own, he made the album of his life, and he’s in his zone."

Their collaborations go back to Bleek’s debut as an enthusiastic 16-year-old underling on 1996’s "Coming of Age." "Hey fella, I been watchin’ you clocking," Jay raps in the song before the two start trading lines. "I like your style." "Nah, I like your style," Bleek responds. That helps explain why Bleek’s gotten more second chances than Partridge Family survivor Danny Bonaduce. Really, though, the only legitimate hitmakers on the Roc-A-Fella imprint other than Jay-Z were Cam’ron and his Dipset crew, and they jumped ship to Universal. With ODB dead and long-time Roc co-CEO Damon Dash playing for another team, Jay was at the helm of a leaking ship. So he’s taken a hands-on approach with what’s left of his stable, contributing three guest appearances to the upcoming Foxy Brown album and putting in long hours at the studio for the upcoming Young Gunz effort. He made 534 his priority, and the surefire seasonal hit "Dear Summer" is testament to his tenacity. The number also seems a tacit admission that he’s still hungry for the mike. "I’m a [microphone] fiend," he told MTV. "I’m trying to stay away, but I’m a fiend."

Nothing else on 534 touches "Dear Summer," but it’s a solid effort with a stack of classic lines and a cache of impressive beats. "Niggas called me prince of the city," Bleek raps on "Alright." "Pity, how the same niggas that balled 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." Sure, Bleek’s got a chip on his shoulder. But he’s also got an endorsement from Jay-Z that’s as good as money in the bank.

Issue Date: June 17 - 23, 2005
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