Memphis Bleek

Coming of Age

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A collaborator on many of Jay-Z's albums (and a fellow native of Brooklyn's Marcy Projects), Memphis Bleek debuted his own solo career with the album Coming of Age, released on his mentor's Roc-A-Fella label, a subsidiary of Def Jam. Bleek's rapping style is a bit more street-level than Jay-Z's, making for a distinctive album that comes as a bit of a surprise given the large amount of samey records that often come from the same hip-hop labels. Besides the obvious cameos -- from Jay-Z, fellow Roc-A-Fella rappers Ja Rule and Beanie Sigel, plus Noreaga and Da Ranjahz -- Memphis Bleek sounds good throughout. For the spotlight single "Memphis Bleek Is...," the rapper recruited Swizz Beatz, the hottest producer in hip-hop. The move pays off, too, as the track is a solid DMX-style shouter, with the obvious catch phrase in the title. Many of the productions were recorded by Roc-A-Fella comrades, and the highlights ("What Do You Think of That," "Murda 4 Life," "You a Thug Nigga") have the same emphasis on bruising urban-funk as most Jay-Z material. Still, Coming of Age is a fine debut that shows Memphis Bleek already leaps and bounds ahead of most rappers.

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