Meek Mill has found success with enough silky, R&B-influenced songs that there’s demand for more, but there’s nothing like hearing the gloriously hard-nosed Philly rapper rip a beat to shreds. This is something he does often. On the long road to Dreams Worth More Than Money, his second album, the most thorough reminder of his skill was “Dreams and Nightmares”, the two-part intro and title track off his 2012 debut. That song alone would’ve been reason to follow Meek for years to come — that is, if similar jolts weren’t everywhere else in his catalog. Songs like “Ima Boss”, “Flexing”, and “Lil Nigga Snupe”, among many more, show a rapper possessed by a barreling energy that few others (maybe just Boosie Badazz and Kevin Gates) are currently harnessing.
That energy is a big reason why eyes stayed on Meek’s career even when it wasn’t possible to see him. Conversation about Dreams Worth More Than Money started getting loud last summer, and its delayed released can be blamed on the fact that Meek then went to prison for a few months. But the way fans celebrated his eventual freedom, combined with the public learning about his (still ongoing) romance with Nicki Minaj, catapulted Meek to superstardom for the time being. With DWMTM, he shows he’s made obvious strides as a creative since Dreams and Nightmares dropped three years ago. He applies his rabid bark to a wide, kinetic range of beats, and his verses indicate that he’s never had so much at stake on a personal level. There’s more urgency in both his bravado and his reflection.
Thanks to that bravado, the album can be described in one word: exciting. DWMTM opens with the one-two punch of “Lord Knows” and “Classic”, which are jarring in very different but equally impressive ways: The first samples Mozart’s “Lacrimosa” movement and explodes with dramatic flashes, while the second, filled with sparkling piano melodies and chunky drums, finds Meek trying his hand at a “classic” hip-hop sound convincingly enough that you believe he’d be a star in any era. Next, the hypnotic “Jump Out the Face” works despite (or maybe because of) the contrast between Future’s woozy “I just took a Perc” hook and his and Meek’s hard-charging verses. Not even that collaboration, though, sent shockwaves through the internet like “R.I.C.O.”, a skeletal, slinky thump with one of Drake’s slickest guest appearances in recent memory (“I’m the king of pop, I’m building Never-Neverland”).
All of that happens over the course of the album’s first six songs, and there are more head-rushes to be had later, like the solo judder “Check” and the Rick Ross-assisted wallop “Been That”. But while much of this album’s strength comes from Meek’s impenetrable flows and the grandiose instrumentals, it’s not like he doesn’t have things to say. His language tends to be cold and direct, but there’s wisdom in his grit. From inside prison walls, Meek struggles with the consequences of his mistakes on the 2Pac-referencing “Ambitionz”, like “doing your pushups right on the floor where you piss.” There’s evocative braggadocio all over the album (“Sitting in the foreign, leather softer than a dinner roll”), but Meek isn’t faking when he decides to weigh in on something more dire.
Sometimes Meek backs away from street rap stylings in favor of euphoric pop and R&B. The Biggie-quoting “All Eyes on You”, featuring a charming Nicki Minaj and Chris Brown at his catchiest, is an inevitable hit, potentially the biggest of Meek’s career. The Weeknd-featuring “Pullin Up” and the other Minaj cameo, “Bad for You”, are similar detours away from the album’s usual steeliness, with Meek’s soft(ish) side peeking through. Those songs, however, don’t disrupt things more than they have to; in fact, Meek sounds comfortable on them. Really, DWMTM only gets sluggish at the very end with the overlong closing track “Cold Heart” (which should still be commended for Meek’s focused lyricism).
There are plenty of people who’d argue that Meek should be bigger than the man who brought him aboard to MMG, Rick Ross, whose bosshood has always been loathed by some. Following Ross’ underselling Hood Billionaire and Wale’s divisive The Album About Nothing, DWMTM feels like a reminder of MMG’s place as a rap powerhouse. Then again, Meek has more than earned a spotlight to himself, and here, he never sounds like he needs his famous friends. He’s always been a reliably ferocious street rapper. DWMTM establishes him as that and something else: an artist with the ambition to go big and the finesse to stick his landing.
Essential Tracks: “R.I.C.O.”, “Ambitionz”, and “Check”