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Throughout his career Memphis Bleek has been Jay's right hand man, or in Jay's shadow, depending on how you want to look at it. He's been quiet since he dropped his last album, 534, in 2005, putting out a couple songs on various mixtapes. That's mainly because he's been working on his record label, Warehouse Music Group, and also helping D'usse become a major player in the cognac market.
However you want to judge his role with the Roc, you can't deny that he has been down since the beginning, with Jay's loyalty to him never wavering over Bleek's so-called shortcomings. Now with the announcement of Tidal, and the upcoming Jay Z B-Sides concert, Bleek is back with a new song called "Not the Same" featuring his artist King A1.
The beat knocks, the hook is catchy, and Bleek sounds pissed about being compared to other rappers. We caught up with Memphis to talk his new label, his new song, Tidal, his favorite Jay Z b-sides, and durags.
Angel Diaz is a staff writer for Complex Media. Follow him @ADiaz456.
Are you going to be performing at Jay Z’s B-Sides concert?
I hope so. It’d be a great look. I was on a few of those b-sides. [Laughs.]
What’s your favorite Jay b-side that you were featured on?
I’ve got to say “Celebration” off of the Streets Is Watching soundtrack. It was me, Jay Z, Sauce Money, and Wais P.
Tell me your thoughts on Tidal. People have been criticizing it a lot lately.
I really don’t know too much about the Internet world. I’m brand new to it myself. I don’t have Pandora and I don’t have Spotify, but you know that I’ve got Tidal because I’m riding for my crew. I think, because Jay Z’s behind it, the expectations are high. When you’re associated with greatness, people expect everything that you do to happen overnight. Sometimes greatness takes time, even when you’re Jay Z. People don’t know the Jay Z that I saw coming up. They don’t know the Jay from “I Can’t Get With That” or the Jay on the record with Big Daddy Kane and Shyheim. Nobody knows that Jay.
They just know the successful Jay. They know that you’re here now, but they didn’t see the hard work that came before. Everything takes hard work. It’s always greater later, not in the beginning.
I think, because Jay Z’s behind it, the expectations are high. When you’re associated with greatness, people expect everything that you do to happen overnight.
You have your music on Spotify and on Tidal. Can you tell us the difference between the two from the perspective of an artist?
Honestly, when I get my next check, I can break down who pays more or whatever. Tidal is new so I haven’t received a check from Tidal yet. But, unless you’re a label owner, who really knows what the artist gets? The artist is never really going to find out any of that information. If the artist has all of that information, then there’s no room for the label. I do business deals with Tidal right now because I’m an independent company.
Me and my partner just did a deal with Tidal for our royalty revenue and our publishing revenue to be streamlined back directly to us because there is no label. We are the label. So I don’t know how other artists will go about that.
So you’re moving independently now?
Definitely. The music game is all about touring now. It’s all about putting out singles. Albums really don’t sell that much, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t have the album. They’re available for free on all of these torrent sites that everyone’s on. It’s not like the fans don’t have the album. It’s just that they didn’t have to go buy it. So, the best thing to do is to keep people coming out to your shows. That’s the only way the artist can eat.
Do you have a new album coming out?
Not at the present moment. I’ve been out of the game for a minute. My last album came out years ago, so I’m not that guy that’s going to jump in and be like, “Hey, y’all. I’ve got an album coming out this month. Go buy it.” That’s not going to make these young kids go buy a Memphis Bleek record right now. They’re not checking for me. They’re checking for Young Thug and the rest of the new dudes.
I’ve got to get back in the ring and put my gloves back on and get back to the fight. That’s what I’m doing with this first single. I've got my own label, Warehouse Music. We’ve got an artist from Barbados. We've got King A1 from Dade County.
I’ve got this group out of Ireland too. We’re all spread over. We're also working on some production in Helsinki, Finland, was an artist over there named Mikael Gabriel. We’re making moves and doing this international thing. I want to see the young talent around me become more successful than I ever was.
Jay just sent somebody out to Nigeria to look for talent.
Yeah, my old manager Ty Ty out there in Nigeria. He’s got the stupid big mansion out there. I’m about to go down and see what’s up. I’ve got people in Africa, man. People can’t believe what they see on TV. Africa is a beautiful place. Everybody’s got a place to go home. Think about Latin America. Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans—they all go back home and go visit their country. Africa is ours. We’ve got to go home. Everybody can go home but us? That’s impossible. You can’t believe what you see on TV. I’d love to take people to Johannesburg and show them that it’s more beautiful than anything you could imagine in your life.
You’ve got a bunch of classic records under your belt. Do you perform those old Roc records when you go on tour?
Yeah, all day. You can never forget who you are. That’s who I am. Roc-A-Fella is in me forever. Before Roc-A-Fella got a deal with Def Jam, I was the guy putting up "In My Lifetime" stickers in Brooklyn. So, the Roc is bigger than record labels and record deals. It’s something that started in the project hallways. I’ve been down with it from day one so I would never turn my back on the classics we've made.
Tell us a little bit about the new record. Is it a street record? Is it a club record?
It’s everything wrapped in one. I don’t like to categorize music. There’s only two types of records in my world: hot and not. That’s it. I don’t care where the record’s from. I listen to Green Day and I don’t even know what they’re saying. It’s either hot or it’s not. This record right here is hot. I’m not just saying that because it’s my record.
No disrespect to any other artists that came up, but in the last few years I’ve seen different artists break into this game and become successful and every one of these blogs compared them to me.
I knew it when I heard the beat and the hook and everything. I knew that this was the record and this was the message that I wanted to put across. No disrespect to any other artists that came up, but in the last few years I’ve seen different artists break into this game and become successful and every one of these blogs compared them to me.
“They sound like a better Bleek.” “They’re a new Memphis Bleek.” “They’re a more informed Memphis Bleek.” From the Meek Mills to the Juelz Santanas to everybody. I done heard it. It’s no disrespect to anybody, but don’t compare me to anybody. There’s nobody like me. My own mama ain’t nothing like me. [Laughs.]
Comparisons are easy. They happen in sports too. People compare LeBron to Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. It’s just a natural thing that people do.
You’re right. But I’m pretty sure that Mike’s leaning back in his crib looking at his rings thinking, “They ain’t nothing like me.”
What songs would you like to see Jay Z perform at the B-Sides concert?
I would love to see Jay perform stuff like “So Ghetto,” “It’s Like That,” and “Success.” I want to see all of that. I’m a fan at the end of the day. Before I ever thought about him becoming something so great, I always thought Jay was the best. Nobody could tell me that my man wasn’t the best. “It’s Like That” is one of my favorite Jay records of all time. That and “Never Change.” “Never Change” is probably Jay’s hardest record. There’s a couple of them. He’s got too many records. We have to decide to cut some of them when we’re doing tours.
The hood fucks with the b-sides more than the singles anyway.
That’s right. When we buy an album, we skip the singles. I don’t want to hear the song that you made a video for by the time I buy your album.
Are you aware that you’re synonymous with durags?
I know, man. I should’ve patented that. I was too young. All I cared about getting was a car and fucking everybody’s girl. That was my goal in life back then. I wasn’t thinking about patents, clothing deals, or shoe lines. These young guys today kill me. [Laughs.]