Release Date: Oct 30, 2012
Record label: Warner Bros.
"Rapper" is a term that doesn't quite fit Robert Williams, the talented Philadelphia MC who performs as Meek Mill. He is a barker, a bellower – an heir to the tradition of Ice Cube, unloading his rhymes in a rat-a-tat staccato assault, at maximum volume. Listeners who know Meek from his Dreamchasers mixtapes and scene-stealing cameos on Maybach Music compilations will recognize the character in the title track on his major-label debut: a braggart with a chip on his shoulder and a knack for stacking up nifty interior rhymes.
Rappers who come up through the mixtape circuit have two choices when it comes time for their major label debuts. On the one hand, they can try to please their core fanbase by sticking to their established sound. The downside of this approach is that it may stunt their ability to grab a larger audience. (It also leaves them open to accusations of asking fans to pay for a record that is basically a well-mastered mixtape.) The other option is to go full pop and embrace the new collaborators and sounds that a big budget has to offer, a path associated with disrespected sellouts (B.o.B.), MCs mired in self-loathing (Lupe Fiasco), and rappers that tried to go pop and failed anyway (Wale's first act).
Having torn it up on the first two volumes of Maybach Music's Self Made compilations, Philadelphia rapper and former Grand Hustle artist Meek Mill finally busts out on his own on Dreams and Nightmares, an apt title for an album that haphazardly bounces between the two. Check how the hooky swagger anthem "Young & Gettin' It" with Kirko Bangz gives way to the heartbreaking "Traumatized" without a pause, and while Meek's a strong enough, smart enough, and, most of all, determined enough rapper to make these two sides happen, the album doesn't sort these cuts with even a mixtape's sense of care. Any shuffle button could do just as well, but sliced off into little bits, this is the glittery gangster feeling, big boss stuff that Ross and Maybach fans expect, delivered with Meek's love of combining Twista fast with Rick Ross force, making him the MVP of the star-studded "Maybach Curtains" (with Nas, John Legend, and Ross) by sheer force of will and volume.
In a brief period, Rick Ross has been able to make an impact with his Maybach Music Group imprint and the signing of Philadelphia, PA's Meek Mill has been a major part of that. On his debut, Dreams & Nightmares, Mill juxtaposes his current situation with the not-so-distant realities of his difficult past. He taps Boi-1da for a pair of effective dark cuts: "Traumatized," where he talks about the anger he carries having lost his father during childhood, and "Tony Story Pt.
Maybach Music Group works curiously backwards. Head honcho Rick Ross has become, as he claimed he would, a don in today’s hip-hop world, an untouchable hit and tastemaker that has assembled a popular stable of rappers, himself included. But for a group of rappers that want to be “rich forever”, they often give their best work away free. Rick Ross’s Rich Forever was a mixtape that doubled as his far-and-away best full-length.
The title-track to Meek Mill’s album has all the makings of a classic opening. Cinematic piano strokes, beautifully-guided strings and motivating words formulate a comforting message of resiliency. Without warning, the record immediately transitions into a menacing illustration of spiteful arrogance and threats, instigated by Meek’s vociferous delivery.
Let’s take a moment to frame Meek Mill in a slightly larger context than just his new album, Dreams and Nightmares. Meek Mill is a rapper from Philadelphia who specializes in “going in” in the same way Ray Allen specializes in hitting threes. Since he first appeared on the radar with “Tupac Back,” it’s been hard to think of him doing much else than the kind of super-hyped shouting that is now his calling card.
Just as the title would have you believe, Meek Mill’s Dreams and Nightmares follows the 25-year-old from the nightmarish hard-knocks of his native Philadelphia to the many luxuries of his current post as the most dependable member of Rick Ross’s Maybach Music clique. Ascensions like these are presented on seemingly every major-label rap debut, but while Meek isn’t strong enough lyrically to totally override such familiarity, he’s also got the talent to prevent himself from becoming too mired in any tropes. Much of that has to do with his presentation.
It’s fitting that the last verse on Meek Mill’s Dreams and Nightmares states, “Niggas hatin’ on me, know they wanna be me/At the table with my niggas, eatin’ lobster and linguini. ” Aside from boasting about his seeming affinity for seafood—just like MMG’s big fish Rick Ross—Meek trades in his long road of struggle and despair with triumph. Over the past 18 months, the yelping spitter out of North Philly has gone from a local upstart on Berks Street (“with them nappy braids that lock”) to XXL’s 2011 Freshman and now Maybach Music Group’s gros bonnet—strapped with a boiling buzz near spillage.
Philadelphia rapper opts for brutal honesty on debut LP. Marcus J. Moore 2012 Meek Mill eases into his debut album, Dreams and Nightmares. “I used to pray for times like this, to rhyme like this / So I had to grind like that, to shine like this.” At this moment, the “that” isn’t important, Mill wants to celebrate where he is now: “I did it without an album / I did s*** with Mariah.” Then, cued by the recognisable “M-M-M-M-Maybach Music” drop, the Philadelphia rapper flips a switch, fuming about everything from his work ethic to committing homicides.
Hip-hop’s bountiful fall continues with this taut, often terrific, major label bow from the Philly native. Mill (Robert Williams to his parents) is a tough-minded MC, who has improved by leaps since being taken under Rick Ross’s wing. This set mixes unblinking, dark narratives with more familiar Maybach Music bangers about oversize appetites. On the latter he has a penchant for clichés, and there are a few unnecessary cameos from high-profile guests, but those missteps are overshadowed by the honesty and intensity of his nightmares.