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. Through both his honest-to-goodness riveting narratives (“Traumatized” hypothesizes a conversation with Meek’s father’s killer) and even his many half-baked metaphors (“I go deep up in that pussy / Jerry Rice”), Meek is exhilarating more often than not, using his high-energy flow to plow him through both the jackhammering tracks (“In God We Trust”, the second half of “Dreams and Nightmares”) and the pop- and R&B-leaning moments (“Amen”, “Maybach Curtains”). And while he isn’t as versatile as that other guy who dropped his major-label premiere recently, Meek rarely stays in one place long enough to bore or fall victim to redundancy.
Meek himself doesn’t show many weaknesses here, and neither do many of the guest MCs (Drake, Nas, Ross, among others). The flaws are rooted in other factors. Dreams’ closest peer from a production standpoint is probably Ross’s God Forgives, I Don’t, making as much room for blissed-out piano loops and orchestral flourishes as expected street-rap rattle. This would normally be a serious asset – God Forgives has as much sonic breadth as any other rap album of this year, believe it or not – but since Meek is already so close to Ross, this just makes it seem like the former is linked inextricably to the latter. If Meek wants to maximize his potential, he’ll have to step out from his boss’ (er, bawse’s) shadow and further develop his own identity.
Essential Tracks: “Dreams and Nightmares”, “Believe It”, and “Young Kings”