When Meek Mill first signed to the Maybach Music Group, many of his fans feared that one of this generation’s most technically talented rappers would lose his voice in Rick Ross’s world of kingpin anthem’s and purposefully ridiculous drug metaphors. Meek Mill first made his mark in his native Philadelphia with the Flamers mixtape series, full of high energy beats and high energy rapping. Mill had a seemingly endless list of rhymes that he could shoot off in rapid, seemingly endless succession. A simple Youtube search today provides a packed list of freestyles, some dating all the way back to 2005.
While Meek’s contributions to MMG group projects tend to be a little bit one-dimensional, fears of Mill’s solo work conforming to the MMG sound were somewhat quashed when his debut mixtape with the label, Dreamchasers, proved to be a rewarding listen. Tracks like “House Party” and “Tony Story” channeled Meek’s endlessly energetic style into a dark and intriguing form. The former was an absolutely sinister party track with a highly complex but impressively catchy hook, while the latter was a tragic and immersive tale about friends turned against one another by the streets. The tape was a sleeper, seemingly uniform when first heard, but growing in subtlety with repeat listens. As a mixtape, it showed promise and strong identity on Meek’s part.
In name, theme, style, and ambition, Dreams and Nightmares seems to simply be the next mixtape in the Dreamchasers series. Album continuity is important in hip-hop. It’s the reason every EPMD album has a song called “Jane” and much of the reason why no one bought Lil Wayne’s Rebirth. Continuity between releases acts as a sort of self-canonization. Not only is this album similarly named, it contains “Tony Story Pt. 2”, a sequel to the standout track from Dreamchasers. In Meek Mill’s case, this is a bad sign for those hoping to see an increase in the rapper’s creativity and star power. The album shows little development as a sequel to Dreamchasers 2, maintaining the same strengths and pitfalls of the two mixtapes.
Dreams and Nightmares is an apt album title for a rapper who waxes poetic in such stark terms. Other than the intro, which switches between the two halfway through, each song can be easily placed in one of either of these two categories. The album is tense to say the least, taking the listener to some high-strung places. Meek’s flow adds immediacy to each side of the dreamworld. He maintains his characteristic keyed-up yelp from songs about money to songs about sex.
Yet, possibly because of his voice’s common thread, the dreams and the nightmares don’t seem to stand very far from one another. The dreams have a hint of doom while the nightmares have a hint of pleasure. The juxtaposition can be uncomfortable and it extends into the emotions the album is trying to represent. On “Treacherous”, a sentimental track about revenge, he reminisces about running trains in the same verse as lamenting his mother’s tears.
This leads to a curious mix of cold-hearted nihilism and teary-eyed sentimentality that often doesn’t mix when applied to the same situations. It’s certainly an attitude unique to Meek at this point (most rappers aren’t nearly as serious these days as he seems to be), but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s compelling. It can hold a mixtape and build excitement for an the future, but it doesn’t make for a very convincing debut statement. This, essentially, makes Meek into a singles artist, blocking the album from maintaining any sort of emotional cohesion or thematic purpose. And as we all know, rap singles aren’t as popular as they used to be.