Tonight Gramercy Theater is hosting a Roc-A-Fella Records reunion concert. (Although, ummm, considering the notable absences, it seems maybe unauthorized.) It’s been just over eight years since Jay-Z and Dame Dash split, ending one of the most influential and dominant labels in rap. While the long-retired Amil and incarcerated Beanie Sigel (currently serving two years for tax evasion) and other cogs in the Roc Machine (ahem, Kanye/Jay-Z) won’t be a part of tonight’s event, we decided to take a look back at what Memphis Bleek, Freeway and Young Gunz have been up to since the end of the Roc-A-Fella era.
Young Gunz – “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” 2003
Young Gunz, Young Chris and Neef Buck, first emerged as part of Beanie Sigel’s group State Property. Debuting on record while they were still teenagers, the two benefitted from the association and quickly learned how to navigate the rap landscape, eventually releasing their Grammy-nominated debut single “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop.” Their run during the glory days of the Roc coincided with labelmate Kanye West’s ascension, and continued through Jay’s brief run as Def Jam President, which included feuds with The Game and comedian Katt Williams along the way.
While Neef and Chris have devoted the majority of their time since the end of the Roc to their own solo mixtape ventures, both have been adamant that they’re still on the best of terms and work regularly with each other. They both state that they regularly still talk to Jay-Z, a believable claim considering Jay invited both Young Gunz and Freeway to join him onstage for “What We Do” at September’s Made in America festival in the group’s homestate of Pennsylvania.
Kanye West featuring Freeway and Beanie Sigel – “Can’t Tell Me Nothing (ROC Remix)” 2007
Freeway had a fair amount of transitions following the Roc-split. While his debut Philadelphia Freeway was released during the label’s biggest year, his follow-up Free At Last dropped a midst a busy autumn 2007 and wound up overshadowed by blockbuster releases from former labelmates Jay-Z and Kanye West. The next year, Freeway looked to refocus eyes on him by releasing a song a day for 30 days as part of his “Month of Madness” promotion. After gaining some momentum from the series, as well as from a namedrop from Eminem which he turned into a song about Mr. Mathers hiding in his beard, Freeway and Def Jam parted ways.
Free found a new home on Minneapolis-based indie rap label Rhymesayers Entertainment for his collaboration album with Jake One The Stimulus Package. After this exposed him to a new underground audience, Free went on to release collaborative albums with frequent partner Beanie Sigel as well as an EP with producer Statik Selektah. This year, despite longstanding rumors that he had signed to Cash Money, Freeway released his new album Diamond in the Ruff on longtime independent hip-hop staple Babygrande. Despite being delayed for two years, the album has been well received by critics. Today, Free still stays on good terms with Jay-Z. Along with being second only to Kanye in terms of the roster member most frequently seen with him in concerts and at press events, Free proudly regularly claims “It’s still Roc-A-Fella for life.”
Memphis Bleek – “Is That Your Chick” 2000
During the Roc-A-Fella years, no artist was more closely associated with Jay-Z than Memphis Bleek. Appearing on five of Jay’s first seven albums, Jigga made it a point to keep Bleek’s name visible in the rap marketplace. As a result, each of Bleek’s four solo albums went gold. The last, 534, was home to “Dear Summer,” a track which was supposed to be Jay’s final song as he entered retirement.
While Bleek has yet to release another full-length album since 2005, he’s kept fans satisfied with his Kush Gang mixtape series. His most visible appearances since the Roc ended have been his commercial for Garnier Fructis as well as being one third of the final incarnation of Brooklyn supergroup the Crooklyn Dodgers with Mos Def and Jean Grae for 9th Wonder’s The Dream Merchant Vol. 2 album.