Happy 20th anniversary to Memphis Bleek’s Coming of Age. This was his debut album on Roc-A-Fella Records after many appearances on Jay-Z albums. The album was originally released on August 3, 1999 and went on to sale over 500,000 copies making it an RIAA certified gold album. ”Coming of Age”. The album made the Billboard 200, peaking at #7 with 118,000 units sold in its first week. This was an highly anticipated album and showed that Memphis Bleek was truly Coming of Age. Jay-Z’s protégé had a lot of pressure on his shoulders to deliver and many critics feel he did just that.
“The outlook is anything but bleak for this Jay-Z protege and his totally thugged-out debut, Coming of Age. Bleek’s relentless rhymes hold their own against guests like Ja Rule and Noreaga, yet show a surprisingly sensitive side on the autobiographical ”Regular Cat.” Even better are the ominous inner-city symphonies and raw street beats backing him — they’re of such fresh vintage they don’t need to age.” Entertainment Weekly 1999
Memphis Bleek was signed to Roc-A-Fella Records around the time The Roc was on fire. The name “Memphis”, was an acronym for “Making Easy Money, Pimping Hoes In Style”. Memphis Bleek got his name after a discussion with Jay-Z who told him he couldn’t just go by Bleek. On his only visit to Memphis while sitting at a bar, a waitress approached and said “Welcome to Memphis where we Making easy money pimping hoes in style.” Bleek heard that and said that’s it, that’s my name.
Jay-Z was a platinum selling artist on the label and was leading the way. They then had a whole new sound with Beanie Siegel coming from Philly. The pressure was on for someone they called the protégé to Jay-Z. He grew up in Marcy Projects, the same neighborhood and building, 534, as Jay-Z. While hustling in the same building he grew up in Jay-Z and Bleek would bump into each other all the time. Jay-Z took the young Bleek under his arm after he heard him rap. One time Jay asked Memphis Bleek what was he selling. Bleek showed drugs and Jay-Z took it and threw it in the incinerator. Jay-Z then went in his own pocket and give Bleek $500 and told him stop hustling. Later on Bleek went on to appear on the Jay-Z’s albums: Reasonable Doubt, Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter, The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, and The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse.
Memphis Bleek’s first official appearance was “Coming of Age” from Reasonable Doubt. After the huge success of Hard Knock Life and Memphis Bleek track off the aforementioned Jay-Z album, “It’s Alright”,charted on Billboard.
It was time for Young Memphis to step out on his own and his lead single showed he was ready. “Memphis Bleek Is” teamed him up with production heavyweight Swizz Beats. With a DMX influenced style with the chant type hook with the catch phrase in the title. Another song that stood out featured Bleek’s Mentor Jay-Z. “What You Think Of That” was produced by Buckwild and showed both Memphis and Jay-Z lyrically assault the beat but Jay-Z set to prove why he was the Goat.
“Murda 4 Life” featured Ja Rule who had recently released his debut album. This was another uptempo type beat produced by Irv Gottie. Beanie Siegel also made a guest appearance on “My Hood to Your Hood” where the duo expressed crew love. Also entertaining we’re the skits by Pain in Da Ass making Memphis Bleek’s “Coming of Age another classic from the Roc-A-Fella camp.
Roc-A-Fella begin to expand. Jay-Z was still the label’s main act, other Roc artists began to gain popularity and acceptance. Memphis Bleek was the first release other than Jay-Z on Roc-A-Fella with “Coming of Age” in summer of 99. In 2000 Beanie Sigel dropped “The Truth” and that album touched #5 on the Billboard charts, DJ Clue released, and Memphis Bleek released his second album. While Clue and Beans’s albums hit the Top 5 on the Billboard charts, Bleek’s album was in the Top 20. For Roc-A-Fella all 3 albums were certified Gold by the RIAA for selling over 500,000 copies.
Roc-A-Fella began signing up new talent, including Cam’ron, Freeway, and several young Philly rappers that were later compiled into State Property. During this time, Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel were going at it with Jadakiss and DMX who were part of the Ruff Ryder camp. Disses back and forth between Jay-Z and Jadakiss implied a conflict between Jay and former groupmate DMX, led to a full-on war of words between Sigel and Kiss which had the mixtape world going crazy.
Cam’ron put out his Roc-A-Fella Records debut “Come Home With Me” in 2002 to Platinum-RIAA certified status, and shortly after signed his group TheDiplomats to Roc-A-Fella, as well. From 2002 to 2003, Damon Dash signed several artists in response to Jay-Z’s talk of retirement. Dash signed The Late Ole Dirty Bastard and veterans M.O.P. Dash even attempted to give deals to Joe Budden and Twista. Roc-A-Fella experienced its height in product releases and overall popularity as a brand name during this period, seeing the releases of State Property, Memphis Bleek, The Diplomats and Juelz Santana
Stories of the beef between Jay-Z and Dame Dash started to pop up. Both camps would deny the rumors and just kept handling Roc business. After Jay-Z released “The Black Album” he revealed that he had accepted a position as CEO and President of Def Jam and began heavily promoting artists Cam’ron, The Diplomats, State Property, Kanye West and Twista. In 2004, Kanye West’s album debut album “The College Dropout” became a huge commercial and critical success, selling multi-Platinum-RIAA certified sales.
The ‘split’ between Dash, Carter, and Burke occurred when it was revealed the trio had sold their 50% interest in Roc-A-Fella to The Island Def Jam Music Group, making the label full owners. As President, Carter retained control of the Roc and his masters. He later explained that he had offered to turn down the position and ownership for the masters to ”Reasonable Doubt”.
So I was like, let me get Reasonable Doubt and I’ll give up [the rest of] my masters. I’ll give up Roc-A-Fella, I’ll give up president and CEO of Def Jam—everything. Just give me my baby to hold on to so 10 years down the line, I can look back and I got something—I’m not empty-handed. And I was the 1 being offered everything. I thought it was more than fair … And when that was turned down, I had to make a choice. I’ll leave that for the people to say what choice they would’ve made. That’s about it. I don’t really wanna talk about Dame or Biggs. I don’t have nothing negative to say about them.— Jay-Z, XXL
One thing was for sure, the pressure that was put on Young Memphis Bleek’s shoulders made him produce a classic. “Coming of Age” help set Bleek apart and from under the shadow of Jay-Z. He stood toe to toe with hip hop heavyweights on his album. 20 years later you can still hear the hunger in the music. Salute to you Memphis Bleek for the album and your contribution to the era of The Roc.