Like Nas immediately after Illmatic, though (see: his transformation into Nas Escobar), Meek Mill soon had to face the money-throwing, devil-may-care standards of mainstream hip hop — in the Philly rapper’s case, the standards implemented by Maybach Music Group head Rick Ross. He rapped to a Rozay chorus in his first hit “Ima Boss” and pissed off a north Philadelphia pastor with his second hit “Amen” (a song in which he praised bottle service and women). Now, here on his proper debut Dreams And Nightmares (out today, October 30), Meek Mill delivers his most personal and promising material yet, only to have its impact diminished by moments that simply serve to fulfill some mainstream-rap-album quota.
The best moments of Dreams And Nightmares — and there are plenty — are when Meek Mill counts his losses, not his riches. In “Tony Story Pt. 2,” the sequel to his Dreamchasers rap fable, Meek Mill acts as a street war correspondent, his voice growing shrill as he relays details of an increasingly heating pursuit. And in “Traumatized,” the MC leaps from local stages (where he stood) to the casket (where his loved ones lay), before he weaves a hook of his vengeful intentions, to whoever shot his father. “You made my mama cry / so when I see you n—-, it’s gonna be a homicide,” he spits.
Meek Mill often spins stories of betrayal, the catchiest example being “In God We Trust” (as in, “Fortheloveofthemoney, Fortheloveofthemoney”). And when he’s rapping of trusting no one, Meek Mill is smart enough to tell these stories himself, without anyone else interfering.
It’s when others step in that Dreams And Nightmares starts to slip. In the slower, sultrier “Lay Up,” Trey Songz delivers a painful extended metaphor of a chorus: “She be trying to lay up all night / but I swish, I don’t miss.” Wale fumbles, horribly, as well: “In her body, in her head / like, quote-unquote.” Meek exits that cut early. “Maybach Curtains” features Rick Ross, John Legend and Nas, and it’s all-hands-on-deck approach sounds better suited for the latest Maybach Music Group compilation.
Elsewhere, on the banger “Believe It,” Rozay huffs and puffs through a chorus that overshadows Meek Mill’s own lyrical sprinting: “Selling that Miley Cyrus from my Monte Carlo / I got that Justin Bieber, please believe it.” Cameos like these may seem the requisite signs of success for a rap newcomer, but on Dreams And Nightmares, the seemingly obligatory John Legend chorus feels like a crutch that Meek Mill doesn’t need.
Halfway through the album’s title track, Meek Mill sharpens his breath and heavily pants through his verses, as a once-serene piano starts scrambling. The reason why: Whoever was at the soundboard cued the telltale Maybach Music Group shout-out (“M-m-m-m-m-maybach Music”), thinking he was finished. The still-young rapper then reestablishes that he’s only getting started, with compelling glimpses into his Philadelphia upbringing. But in its entirety, Dreams And Nightmares can be a frustrating listen. Meek Mill bears so much potential, yet the album’s riches and circles-flaunting moments only seem to stand in his way.
The Best Song Wasn’t the Single: It was “Tony Story Pt. 2.” Also, for a more radio-ready, alternative listen, try “In God We Trust.”
Best Listened To: During any given car ride.
Idolator Rating: 3.5/5
— Christina Lee