Memphis Bleek has been rapping professionally for almost a decade, yet as 2005 rolled around, he found out his career was just starting — at least according to Def Jam/ Roc-A-Fella boss Jay-Z.

"He was like, 'Forget everything you've done in the past. Your career starts now,' " Bleek said. "He just let me know it's a clean slate, 'You ain't got to worry.'

"I can have fun all over again," Bleek continued, noting that Jay's meaning of clean slate was figurative and literal, because he doesn't have to worry anymore about recouping money from his past albums. "I got my swagger back," he said.

Not surprisingly, Jay's pal Bleek survived the reshuffling at Roc-A-Fella (see "Jay-Z, Dame Dash Sell Roc-A-Fella Records; Jay Named Def Jam Prez") and very well may be the first artist on the roster — which he says also includes Freeway, Foxy Brown and the Young Gunz — to release something in 2005.

"I'm happy. I never pictured Jay being the president, running the rap game, but hey, more poster boards for me," Bleek said. "My album, you know, with all the switch-ups with the labels, that put me on the back burner till the smoke cleared. Now the smoke is clear, my boy is doing what he's doing, and I'm the first priority dropping. It's either me or Foxy, whoever finishes first. But I think I've got the jump on her because we just mixed my single."

Swizz Beatz produced the song, called "Is It Like That," and also appears on two other tracks on the record, which Memph plans to call 5,3,4. (Bleek said it's fitting that Swizz is behind his new first single, seeing as his career is starting all over again and Swizz produced Bleek's very first single, "Memph Bleek Is ...")

" 'If you could buy the bar, tell me is it like that? If you a pimp, tell them little shorties to get over here if it's like that. Is it like that? 'Cause we doing it like that'. That's how the whole song is," he said. "It's energy. The record is energy, so we definitely gonna be in the clubs."

Bleek said once he found out about Jay-Z's appointment, he immediately hit up his longtime friend and told Hova he wanted to get things crackin'.

"I was asking him, 'What we gonna do? The album is done, you got the position, I'm ready to go now. I don't wanna hold nothing,' " Bleek recalled. "His reply to me was being that he got the position and the album was done, let's just work on a jump-off — a monster single that we can put out and get 500 spins [on radio] off the top. I've got a solid album, I just needed something that's gonna bring it across to the people so they can understand that."

Despite his excitement at being the first artist to drop something on the new Roc-A-Fella, Bleek said he's still sorry to see the old Roc be dismantled.

"I'm gonna be all the way truthful. I try to act like I don't care or whatever, but c'mon, man, when I first was introduced to Dame [Dash] and [Kareem ] Biggs [Burke], it was a family thing. We ran this Roc-A-Fella thing as a family. To see that break up is like losing a second part of your family. They know everything about us, we know everything about them. It should never be where we're not down together. But that all comes back to loyalty. When things went wrong, we were supposed to correct it. We weren't supposed to go that far."

Even though he didn't want to see his family split in two, he said there was definitely no question of who he would roll with. "I was brought into this game off of loyalty, so I'mma stay loyal to my OG," he explained. "I could never cross him, not for no money, not for no chick, no nothing. It's always gonna be all good."

So good that Bleek's not even salty about Jay-Z not rapping on his album this time around.

"Nah, nah, man," Bleek said with a laugh. "He ain't getting on it. He's done with [rapping]. He said he's gonna do what Mase did, give it five years and come back on fire."