Jay-Z, the self-proclaimed “best rapper alive,” may no longer be murdering the microphone and wreaking havoc in Hip-Hop as he has for the past decade. However, with “Coach Carter” now backing the business side alone, the dynasty that he worked so hard to build in the booth seems all but impossible to topple.
Anyone truly up on contemporary rap music and culture undoubtedly knows that the Roc is not just in the building—it is the building. With platinum sales, nonstop airplay, and a level of respect unmatched in the history of the Hip-Hop narrative, Roc-A-Fella Records is about as close to an empire as any music label could possibly be.
Critics of the early incarnation of the Def Jam imprint were quick to deride it as a one-man show that would live and die with the success and career of its famous Brooklyn head. Those detractors were proven wrong as fast as the gruff voice of another Marcy Projects rhymer, Memphis Bleek, who graced “Coming of Age” from Jay-Z’s first release, Reasonable Doubt (Priority, 1996). For years, fans came to recognize the gritty Bleek as an heir to Jay’s throne. With consistently impressive rhymes focusing on the contrast between the grim realities of the Bedford Stuyvesant streets and the glitz and glamour of a recording career, Memphis Bleek did not disappoint. The unassuming Bleek delivered memorable mix tape classics of his own from “My Mind Right” to “Memph Bleek Is” while adding his flavor to some of his mentor’s best offerings like “1-900 Hustler.”
Jay-Z was able to effectively toe the line between SoundScan and the streets. Bleek successfully followed the example with singles such as “Is That Your Chick” and “What You Think of That.” Today, on the verge of the release of his fourth album, 534, Memphis Bleek is on a mission to deepen the already sizable imprint that he has left on the industry. The title of the musical project honors the number of the housing project that Bleek feels was so instrumental in his development as an artist and individual. Anyone who has ever heard the talented rapper spit his ferocious bars over a Swizz Beats or Timbaland instrumental probably knows exactly the brand of Brooklyn sound and fury to expect.