Dreams & Expectations: Meek Mill Finally Puts it All Together on New Album

By    July 8, 2015

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Meek Mill has always seemed like a bigger deal than his own catalogue necessarily suggested. Despite being a Philly legend and arguably the heir apparent of mainstream east coast street rap, Meek’s music has never been consistently memorable enough to match the lofty profile. Since signing with Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group, Meek Mill might have grown to become one of the most recognizable faces around—always good for dropping a solid single or a torrential guest verse—yet for all the popularity, he’s never quite broken through artistically.

His debut album, Dreams & Nightmares, was lackluster and derivative. The lyrics were groan-inducing. The songwriting clearly pulled from more creative rappers. However, it did feature one undeniably thrilling song (“Dreams & Nightmares Intro”) that showcased his true potential. Then it was nearly bleached off the earth when his erstwhile rival, Kendrick Lamar, dropped his own debut masterpiece, good kid, m.A.A.d city, a week before Meek’s album in October 2012. Dreams & Nightmares left him needing to prove that he was more than just a new Fabolous—all single, no steak.

To Meek’s credit, he’s always connected on an organic level with his core audience and so his career kept grinding on. Meek Mill has a straightforward earnestness to his lyricism; a populist mass appeal that inspires a bond with the listener. His songwriting has never particularly leaned beyond street rap tropes but a genuine connection with your audience can be worth it’s weight-in-Rick Ross’ pears. Besides, songwriting is a skill that can be honed with practice and clearly, Meek has significantly beefed up his craft on his strongest full-length record, Dreams Worth More Than Money.

Unlike a few of his contemporaries, Meek isn’t particularly interested in being “artistically aspirational”— ponderous, free-form acid jazz sessions would sound ridiculous with Meek shouting Common aphorisms anyway. But that’s not to suggest that his music is without ambition. Instead, Meek’s aspirations remain on reinforcing his strengths—his rock-salt-in-a-shotgun cadence, his sixty-minute Broadway energy, his ear for hits, his everyman relatability. His ability to ride it to mainstream stardom.

As Rick Ross’s star protegé, Meek Mill follows the Maybach Music Group’s popular formula of theatric street bangers, glossy guest appearances and an understated dose of emotional pathos to crafting his new album. Album opener “Lord Knows” is a suitably epic lyrical introduction to the album that recalls Dreams & Nightmares beloved opening track, while borrowing choral operatics from Mozart’s Requiem Mass In D Minor. On other tracks like “Jump Out The Face” and “R.I.C.O.,” Meek puts high-priced, prestige guest appearances from hip-hop golden boys Future and Drake to good use.  Both songs seem like prospective song of summer contenders.

Selling 200,000 copies in his first week Meek’s clearly become a commercial force. But that’s not to suggest that the album is soulless, corporate drivel. Meek is a relatable villain and raps with his heart on his sleeve, most notably on the album’s poignant closer, “Cold-Hearted,” a minor-key anthem that spends capital being reflective about his personal and legal troubles of the last year.

“Mommy was a booster, daddy was a shooter
So they couldn’t blame me when I went and copped a Ruger
Looking at my homies, see the ghost of Freddy Krueger
Cause if he catch you sleeping he’s going
‘I got your medulla oblongata,’ ”
Meek raps on the song with the same defined,
emotional presence that makes him relatable to many of his fans.

Even Diddy, who is rarely believable as anything beyond ruthless capitalist, acquits himself nicely with a song-ending monologue about disappointing his family. It’s truly resonant.

While this album is a decided step up from previous efforts, I would hesitate to call DWMTM a true classic. Meek might be a competent technical rapper whose live-wire electricity makes him a star but he’s still far too reliant on traditional street-rap tropes and clichês. His ideas feel lifted from better artists. “Ambitionz” is a naked Tupac lift, while “Bad For You” and “All Eyes On You” are cheeseball thug-in-love songs that seems contractually obligated to exist on every mainstream gangster rap album for the last 10 years. It’s not necessarily a fatal flaw of the album—as every great artist “steals” from other great artists to an extent—but originality isn’t Meek’s forté. Even his trademark yelling is more of a throwback to Run-DMC-era hip-hop than true inspiration.

Despite it’s flaws, Dreams Worth More Than Money still has plenty to like. It’s an album loaded with more potential hit records (“R.I.C.O,” “Been That,” “Check,” “Jump Out The Face,” “Lord Knows”) than nearly anything released this year. In a year when some of hip-hop’s brightest artists have eschewed commercial ubiquity for avant-garde obtusity, it’s nice to see an artist still care enough to make popular rap music that relies heavily on the “rap music” part of the equation. More than anything though, Dreams Worth More Than Money is an attempt to justify Meek’s place as one of hip-hop’s most biggest artists and on that front—the dream has been accomplished.


post image originally used by the NY Times

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