Despite his longtime association with Jay-Z, the best and most popular rapper alive during the early 2000s, Memphis Bleek nonetheless continually struggled to overcome his protégé reputation and break through on his own, and his third album, M.A.D.E., again falls a bit short of that mark. Even so, it's a marked improvement for Bleek, a definite step forward and a sure showcase of his growing maturity. His first two albums, Coming of Age (1999) and Understanding (2000), had their moments, usually on the singles, but for the most part, they weren't lasting statements. If anything, they stated that Bleek was no Jay-Z and had a long way to go if he ever wanted to approach those heights. Then he dropped off for a while. In fact, it took him three years until he returned with M.A.D.E., which is longer than some less fortunate rappers' careers -- in other words, a short lifetime in rap years. But the time off seemingly served Bleek well. Throughout M.A.D.E., his flow is tighter than ever, he gets the best beats of his career, and he performs with ferocity on most songs: the opening run of "Everything's a Go" (with Jay-Z), "Round Here" (with Trick Daddy and T.I.), and "Just Blaze, Bleek & Free" (with Freeway) -- all of which are produced by Just Blaze -- get the album off to an astounding start. There's really nowhere to go but down from here, of course, but the remaining hour of music has its moments, albeit sporadic ones. In particular, Kanye West turns in a surprisingly straight interpolation of Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T." (titled "I Wanna Love U"), Scott Storch turns in a moody Dr. Dre-sounding production ("We Ballin'"), and Just Blaze turns in yet another hot track, a laid-back collabo with Beanie Sigel and Jay-Z ("Hypnotic"). In contrast, there are some fumbles, in particular a run-of-the-mill Nate Dogg duet that aims for "21 Questions" territory but misses. Taken as a whole, M.A.D.E. isn't the standup statement of purpose that Bleek needed to drop, especially after he spent three years on the down-low, but it's a noteworthy stride forward for the young rapper. Sure, a lot of the accolades should go out to Just Blaze, who carries the bulk of this album with his endlessly inventive productions, but Bleek deserves his share of props too. A lot of would-be critics wrote him off years prior, yet he soldiered on, held his composure, and returned with a sporadically great album.
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier
feat: Donell Jones
feat: Nate Dogg