Nobody expects Memphis Bleek to uncork a masterpiece. 534, his fourth album, is true to form, starting off like one of the shakiest Roc-a-Fella releases. In fact, the low expectations are nearly dashed within ten minutes. The opening track, for all its action-packed Frank Stallone bombast, opens the door with a key instead of a battering ram. Things then get flat-out bizarre: a brief interlude, lifted from an obscure folk artist (Lisa Koch, known for a song titled "Beaver Cleaver Fever"), sets up "Dear Summer" -- a (decent) Jay-Z feature with no other MCs present. And then the album shifts from odd to merely mediocre: the Swizz Beatz-produced "Like That" is T.I.'s rallying "Bring 'Em Out" at half power; "Infatuated" is the obligatory track for the ladies, containing the phrase "You complete me" in the hook; "The One" is even flimsier. Somewhere around the latter half of the album, Bleek manages to get back on track, and it winds up just a little beneath his three previous full-lengths. Even in its best moments, however, it's usually the production work -- from the likes of 9th Wonder, Just Blaze, and Bink -- that attracts the attention, not Bleek. Now four albums into a career that hasn't shown a great amount of progress, it seems that the MC will never escape the shadows of Jay-Z and some of his labelmates.
by Andy Kellman
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