Dreams and Nightmares might be Meek Mill’s official studio debut album, but he’s definitely not a new face in the world of hip hop. Starting in 2008 he independently dropped the first in a series of three Flamers mix tapes, which gained him a huge following in his hometown Philly, and put him on the map with die hard hip hop heads everywhere. However, a short prison stint, and an even shorter and ultimately uneventful signing with T.I.’s label, Grand Hustle, put things on hold for him for a second.
However, as soon as Meek Mill signed with Rick Ross and MMG back in 2010, the buzz around his name quickly grew to ridiculous levels. In fact, it’d be hard to argue that he hasn’t done more without an official album out, than most rappers do in their entire careers. In the 2 short years since signing with Maybach Music, he’s put a single at #5 on the hip hop charts, was named to XXL’s Freshman class, and named the “7th Hottest MC in the Game” by MTV this year. Even more impressively, his mix tape Dreamchasers 2 earned over 1.5 million downloads within 6 hours of dropping. It doesn’t matter how you feel about his music, it’s obvious there’s a not so small army of people who feel what he’s doing.
Granted, buzz and downloads don’t always translate to sales or commercial success these days, and they definitely don’t guarantee quality music either. But, in this case, it seems like the masses might have gotten things right. While Dreams and Nightmares, might not be the best album you hear all year, it might just be the best at what it tries to do. If you’re looking for hard-hitting beats and tenacious, rugged deliveries, there’s an abundance of both here, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone as that’s what Meek Mill’s been putting out consistently for years now. With that said, if you’re a fan of Meek’s or MMG’s music in general, there’s going to plenty here for you. If you’re not, there’s probably enough here to make it worth a spin or two too.
Lyrically, Meek Mill brings exactly what any fan would expect – for the most part. He’s never been an amazing technical rapper, and to be honest, his flow is awfully repetitive and rarely changes from song to song, or even project to project. That doesn’t change here. Luckily, it works for him though. While his rhyme patterns are often extremely basic, his delivery exudes hunger, passion, and sometimes just downright anger. Combined with his typical beat selection, it makes for some simple yet powerful hip hop that isn’t “over the top” loud or in your face (not that there isn’t a time and place for that). While his technical rap ability might leave certain hip hop fans a bit “bored”, it’s hard to deny that he hasn’t found a style that works for him in a big way.
However, don’t let the fact that he doesn’t come with multi-syllabic, wordy, intricate rhymes fool you. Dude definitely can tell a story, and make a point while doing it. On a good portion of the project, he definitely provides a few tracks that could probably be considered the “highlights” of his career. On “Traumatized”, which might be the album’s strongest track, Meek goes in over a haunting vocal sample and simple yet heavy beat, describing his experience coming up in Philly in gruesome detail. The song’s second verse and hook, which is basically a glorified death threat to the man that murdered his father, might be some of the most interesting work by any artist this year – and one of the rare cases where most would probably argue that the violence portrayed in the song is understandable and justified.
On “Polo and Shell Toes” and “Tony Story Pt. 2” we get two more tracks that see Meek Mill discussing the realities of inner city Philly, and they really help paint a pretty vivid picture of why “Nightmares” was half of the album’s title. While they might not be the most pleasant tracks in the world to listen too, it seems like they bring out the best from Meek as an artist, and while they don’t bring a sound that many would relate with introspective or insightful hip hop, they’d definitely belong in that category. The production on both is on the darker side too, however it’s still upbeat and drum heavy enough to ride around to or keep in rotation at the gym.
While they deviate from the darker theme of the album’s other three standout tracks, and probably fit in the “Dreams” side of the albums theme, “Maybach Curtains (feat. Nas, John Legend, and Ross)” is a smooth as glass track – though MMG’s habit of throwing Nas and John Legend on tracks to give them a “classier” feel is getting a bit repetitive at this point. The album’s lead single “Amen (feat. Drake)” might be a bit blasphemous for the more religious hip hop heads out there, but ironically, it’s fun as hell and the organ driven beat is as infectious as anything that’s come out in a minute.
Unfortunately, outside of those tracks, and a few average songs that feel like filler, there are definitely a few huge misses here. “Young and Getting It” which is probably a shot at getting a radio-friendly track on the album, could very well be thrown in worst song of the year talks. It’s autotuned vocals and dated, mid 2000’s-esque production is almost painful to sit through. “Believe It (feat. Rick Ross” sounds like a poor attempt to recapture the vibe that the Bawse’s own hit “Hold Me Back” had, however its Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus (which Ross tries to stretch to “Molly” Cyrus for drug referencing purposes) name-dropping hook is cringe worthy. “Rich and Famous (feat. Louie V)”, suffers from the same dated production and autotune issues that “Young and Getting It” does, and the hook might be the most generic 30 seconds in music history.
Fortunately, for fans and Meek alike, these missteps feel like they were forced in for business purposes – in order to cater to a wider fan base – and feel largely isolated from the quality material on the album. While their presence definitely brings this one down a bit, credit has to be given where it’s due, and when Meek was on point here – he was definitely on point. Dreams and Nightmares might not be an album of the year contender by any means, but it definitely justifies the huge amounts of buzz and attention Meek’s gotten so far in his career. It’s a strong – albeit inconsistent -effort, but it definitely seems like given some time, Meek could definitely end up being one of the rare artists that has a long, and memorable career in the moment-to-moment industry that is hip hop.