Memphis Bleek was supposed to have a bigger piece of the Roc. When Jay-Z and Damon Dash started Roc-A-Fella, the plan was for Jay to release 1996’s magnificent Reasonable Doubt and then hang up his mike to focus on managing the label’s other artists—namely Brooklyn homeboy and handpicked heir Bleek. Jay even offered the younger rapper one of the secrets of his success: “[T]he only way to blow,” he told Bleek on Doubt’s “Coming of Age,” is to “let your shit bubble quietly.” The words, however, would prove unfortunately prophetic: Bleek has been simmering on the back burner ever since, yet to reach a boil. But now, with the man who overshadowed him enjoying “retirement,” Bleek has released his third album, M.A.D.E., and he’s determined to prove that he deserves to be the Jigga’s heir. As the disc’s Goodfellas-inspired intro would have it, “with Jay steppin’ down, it was Bleek’s turn to be made.” Like his mentor, Bleek tends to focus on money, hos, and shout-outs to both the Marcy Projects and his record label. But Bleek doesn’t delve into those topics in an interesting or poignant way, nor is he adept at acrobatic wordplay. Sure, he can freak any flow: On “Round Here,” he rides a down-South beat with T.I. and Trick Daddy, and he holds his own with the high-energy hoodlums of M.O.P. on “Hood Musik.” But his lack of lyrical skill is painfully evident—and having Jay-Z on four tracks doesn’t help. While Jay fights for the most inventive way to say something, Bleek is satisfied with the most adequate. On “Everything’s a Go,” for example, Bleek raps that he’s “got more chips than BonTon”—which seems like a funny and fine piece of monetary braggadocio until Jay swoops in with “Highest paid act/Highest paid to rap/I advance myself/And pay myself back.” Bleek is no match for Hova—or Beanie Sigel, or Freeway, or any of the host of other artists who add thoughtful observations to his flaccid rhymes here. With every MC in the game angling for the spot that’s been handed to him, Bleek needs to get his mind right, get his money right, and get ready for war. —Sarah Godfrey

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