The latest Roc-A-Fella success story spins some hefty personal propaganda...
Hip-hop, in its current form, as a reliable source of corporate revenue, only ever allows one crew to occupy its very pinnacle. For all the resurgence and sales of the Dr Dre-driven West Coast sound, and the re-emergence of Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy clique after a brief shortfall, Jay-Z and the Rock-A-Fella dynasty rule hip-hop at this present time.
Such a Midas touch has allowed the spotlight to shine on Memphis Bleek, whom, while undoubtedly talented as a skilful improviser of rhymes, might otherwise still bask in underground adulation. Jay-Z has been shrewd in his business practices, of which this album is another money-spinning adjunct, and ‘The Understanding’ feels like a sister project to his recently released ‘Roc La Familia’ effort. It must be said, though, that Memphis Bleek remains his own man. Even if the hardest tracks are remixes of ‘Is That Your Chick?’ and the basstastic ‘My Mind Right’, from past Rock-A-Fella outings, the Brooklyn word-bomber ingeniously sketches out his life and times.
In general terms, Memph discards the hustler parables that made his ‘Coming Of Age’ debut so deadly, in favour of reflections on (and celebrations of) the highlife he now lives. For hip-hop heads who crave amoral materialism, seen from the point of view of a real and true ghetto cat, there are enough tracks here to reduce the walls of NYC’s The Tunnel to rubble on those famous Funkmaster Flex nights.
And that is Memphis Bleek’s constituency, the ghettofabulous people. Anyone who craves deep political insights will only find a few throwaway lines here and there, as he concentrates on parties, fast cars, jewels, explicit sex and threats to competitors. Which isn’t bad – hedonism isn’t yet a hanging offence, after all.