Memphis Bleek says his new album, The Understanding, reflects the ways he's grown since his 1999 hit, Coming of Age.
"I feel like I was a little dude when I first got on. ... Still in the streets, still thinking that everything revolved around Marcy Projects," Bleek said, referring to the Brooklyn housing projects where he grew up. "That's all I knew at the time. But it's like now I've grown. I live a life that most people don't even see."
The Understanding, which came out December 5, is another Roc-a-Fella family outing, featuring appearances by Jay-Z, Beanie Sigel and Amil. The album's lyrics reflect the rapper's recent rise to fame. On "I Get High," for instance, he raps about "Staring through the rearview from all the sh-- I survived/ When I drive by, I just tilt my hat."
"I've been around this world three different times," he said. "All I did was start observing what I see and what I go through, daily, now, and just bring it to life."
The album also reflects Bleek's new off-the-cuff approach to recording.
"I just was basically thinking about making hot joints I didn't think of no concepts," he said. "I just listened to the beat, and whatever the first line that popped into my mind I ran with it and made a song about it. I didn't write nothin' ... just like Jay and [Notorious B.I.G.] ... I think it's something that you just feed off of, like I picked it up from being around Jay so much that I don't have to write no more."
The Understanding also includes a remix of "My Mind Right," a track that Bleek and Jay-Z were so excited about that they didn't want to wait until the album was finished to release it. "Jay was like, 'Oh God, we gotta put this out now. ... It gotta hit the street now,' " he said. "It just so happens the streets was feeling it crazy."
The remix has different lyrics than the single, which included a verbal attack on Nas.
On the original version of "My Mind Right," Bleek says early on that he's ready for war, and later refers to Nas' It Was Written (1996) with the dis "Your lifestyle's written/ So who you supposed to be/ Play your position."
With "Da Bridge 2001," Nas hopes to have the final say in the longstanding war of words. "Oh no you didn't/ Wanna know whose life is written?/ The life I'm livin' the ice, the women/ The kites that sendin' to lifes who's biddin'." The last line refers to letters sent to prisoners who are serving life sentences.
The track appears on Nas' QB's Finest, due Tuesday. The album's title is a shout-out to the Queensbridge Housing Projects, where Nas grew up. The disc features appearances by Roxanne Shante, Capone-N-Noreaga, Mobb Deep, MC Shan and Marley Marl.
As far as Nas is concerned, Bleek's dis is also a compliment.
"Anybody in rap music from New York who steps up and is supposed to be real, they're thinking about me because they know I inspired them," Nas said. "So when you mention something on one of my albums, that's something that's really affected your life."
The word-slinging started with "What You Think of That?," from Bleek's Coming of Age. On it, Jay-Z says, "I'ma ball till I fall/ What you think of that?"
On "Nastradamus," the first single off the1999 album of the same name, Nas raps, "You wanna ball till you fall?/ I can help you with that/ You got beef, I can lit a slug/ Melt in ya hat."
Even if that shot was aimed at Jay-Z, Bleek decided he had to respond. "It's a family thing here, like me and Jay is family," he said.
Bleek recently finished shooting a video for "Do My ...," featuring Jay-Z.