Meek Mill – Dreams & Nightmares [Review]

Back in the day teams had pretty concrete roles. You had the superstar, maybe another star, and the rest of the guys were role-players. Recently though with the reemergence of ‘big three’ concept in the NBA, teams now are holding more than one bonafide all-star. Even still there remains a hierarchy among the elite. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh are the biggest names on the Heat, but we all know that James is THE guy.

Similarly, with Maybach Music Group it’s obvious that Rick Ross is the boss of his crew. But Rozay has a squad of young gunners who are trying to break out of the Ross’s super large shadow. One of the most promising acts in MMG is Philly rapper Meek Mill. The 2011 XXL Freshman Class member has been using his cosigns and connects to elevate himself to the top right next to his employer. Will Dreams & Nightmares be more Dwayne Wade or Chris Bosh? Let’s listen.

1. Dreams and Nightmares
Produced by Tone The Beat Bully
I was surprised that the Maybach drop wasn’t included to open off the CD. However we get a lush piano loop just as luxurious as the expensive vehicle. Mill sticks to the street rapper script, pledging the loyalty to the game, achieving by any means necessary, money over women etc. While the subject matter may be trite, Meek has enough charisma to make it sound engaging. Halfway through the song the track does a complete 180 as Meek takes his flow into overdrive and the beat goes from melodic to threatening. Nice opener to the album and the switch was pulled off well.

2. In God We Trust
Produced by Black Metaphor
So I really wanted to talk about the menacing and brooding back drop that Black Metaphor creates for Mill to spit that grimey, tough talk on. I wanted to talk about how the aggressive delivery that could have made this a staple on the streets. But I have to talk about how about 30 seconds into the song this line is said “They hit his body he went in shock, no Pikachu”. I know there are a lot of people that heard that and though that was hot, and I’m all for creativity, and a fan of anime. But it was really hard for me to take this song seriously after that one.

3. Young & Gettin’ It
Featuring Kirko Bangz; Produced by Jahlil Beats
The third cut of the album brings us the CD’s second single. Kirko Bangz helps out on the hook as Meek Mill raps about the carefree lifestyle that comes with being on #teamyoungnigga. It almost feels like they tried to make a Y.O.L.O. type anthem for the young audience. The problem is, anyone over the age of 19 whose circulation isn’t being cut off by their jeans probably won’t be nodding their head to this one. The chorus is average, the beat sounds disposable and Mill’s rhymes are forgettable.

4. Traumatized
Produced by Boi-1da
Following a throwaway track we get arguably the best song on the album. Everything on this song works. Boi-1da hooks up a simple yet soulful beat that is really effective as Meek details the adversity that he’s dealt with living the street life. His flow is often frantic, sometimes to his detriment as it gets him off beat or trying to cram a lot of syllables into one line ( a’la Talib Kweli) but here it works and it just sounds like Mill is going for broke. The second verse is the brightest spot of the song, which is saying something as they’re all epic:

Niggas wanna murder me I’m ridin’ around heavy
I think they wanna wet me like New Orleans and the levees
But I got this mac elevy, these niggas’ll never get me
Lord knows, I got alotta homies in the dirt
Niggas sprayin’ metal tryna take you off the earth
Really over nothin’, tell me what it’s worth
Tryna take you out the game just to put you on a shirt
I Rose from the jungle like Derrick
Death to anybody that oppose my spirit
My future lookin’ brighter than this rose I’m starin’ at
We be runnin’ trains on the hoes y’all cherish
Rest in peace to my niggas, I swear I miss them to death
My hammer sing murda music, I’ll let you listen to death
I’ll have you walk with the reaper when hollows rip through your chest
Cause if you throw ’em I throw back like Mitchell & Ness
I’m gone

This is the most focused and sincere that Mill sounds on the album. When people say that Meek Mill can bring real street rap, it’s because of songs like this.

5. Believe It
Featuring Rick Ross; Produced by Young Shun
The Bawse makes his first of three appearances here, and we finally get the Maybach Music drop. Usually when Ross and Mill hook up its gold, but this one sounds so-so. The chemistry just doesn’t seem to be there on this one. Props to Ross for a hilarious hook (Is there any white celebrity left for him to use as a metaphor for his cocaine?), but outside of that the track just sounds very average. Not that bad, but after only five tracks in the fact that there’s already filler is disheartening.

6. Maybach Curtains
Featuring Nas, John Legend, & Rick Ross; Produced by DJ Infamous & The Agency
Ross comes back, along with Nas and John Legend for this joint. The automatic response is to compare this to “Maybach Music” volumes on Ross’ efforts. DJ Infamous and The Agency give a plush back drop for Legend to beautifully croon about hard work paying off and finally making it. Unfortunately, Mills and Nas both phone it in with their bars. Fortunately, Ross is always at home over these cinematic tracks and he and Legend salvage the track. Good song, but a missed opportunity to create an epic cut.

7. Amen
Featuring Drake; Produced by Keye Wane & Jahlil Beats
We get another bounce back with the first single off the album. Mill sounds best when the tempo is upbeat and he can let loose, and the production doesn’t let him down. Drake lends a hand and the pair create a sacrilegious but fun song that is undeniably a hit.

8. Young Kings
Produced by Lee Major
Immediately when I heard this song it reminded of something that Kanye was cooking up for State Property back when the Roc was on top. The Philly sound is a nice back drop for Meek to spit to. While the song is technically on point the subject matter is getting really repetitive. Good track, but nothing special, and it fails to continue the momentum of the previous track.

9. Lay Up
Featuring Wale, Rick Ross, & Trey Songz; Produced by Kane Beats & Ashanti “The Mad Violinist” Floyd
Rozay makes his final appearance on the album, as Wale and Trey Songz are also brought on board. The title is pretty deceptive, and with the Trey Songz feature I expected the song to be far more X-Rated. Instead the song is more about the ability to flaunt and get women rather than bedroom repertoire. Mill’s has the most structured verse, or more precisely, he uses his entire sixteen to actually talk about a woman, while Wale and Ross are scatter brained as they just floss. Trigga delivers a throwaway hook over a beat that sounds very lackluster. This one is mediocre at best.

10. Tony Story Pt. 2
Produced by Boi-1da
Meek Mill returns to what he does best with the follow up to “Tony Story” from his 2011 Dreamchasers mixtape. Boi-1da mellows it out a bit for a mid-tempo beat as Mill spazzes out and tells the story of an up and coming young hustler. As stated previously, Meek Mill’s frantic and hyper rhyme style help create the sense of danger and urgency that make these songs sound passionate and authentic. This is the Meek Mill that this album could use a lot more of.

11. Who You’re Around
Featuring Mary J. Blige; Produced by Tommy “TBHITS” Brown & Travis Sayles
There was once a time that having Mary J. Blige on your track meant an instant classic. Yet, this isn’t “You’re All I Need”. Something about Mary’s voice sounds off as the soulful rasp now sounds like a flat baritone. Meek does his best to make do with what he has as he details the importance of keeping your circle small and being able to discern between friends and enemies. Although the concept is solid, this song isn’t as detailed as “Traumatized” or “Tony Story Pt. 2”. Still a strong song though but I wish Mill could have saw it through a little better.

12. Polos & Shell Tops
Produced by Cardiak
The Maybach drop returns and thankfully Cardiak brings back the cinematic feel. Again the title had me fooled as I thought Meek might try and do his own version of “Snapbacks & Tattoos”. Thankfully that’s not the cause as Mill keeps it gully and details how capitalism will corrupt morality as hustlers will do anything to get fly:

I remember nights I used to sell rock, posted on the corner like a mailbox
First class ticket to a cell block, just to get some Polo & some shell tops
Cold world and they say hell’s hot
But it ain’t hotter than that choppa when them shells drop
Man I seen niggas play that block and get they bell rocked
Cops cleared the scene and I was back by twelve o’clock
Tryna’ get it, Dickie on and my fitted
Gun in my draws, ducking the law, I’m all with it
Money, cars and clothes, I wanted em’ all nigga
I never was good at hoopin, I wanted to ball nigga
Cause the OG’s sold keys and I had no cheese
Copper’s lock me, beat me down like I was cochise
Old fiends coppin’ work through they’re old dreams
They got shattered, it ain’t matter cause we thirst cream
Niggas serving niggas moms just to make a flip
Homies murder other homies just to make a brick
Most my niggas done got busted tryna’ take a hit
The feds were lurking, we was serving, they was taking flicks

Pleasant surprise is an understatement for this one.

13. Rich & Famous
Featuring Louie V; Produced by Jahlil Beats
Meek lets his homie Louis V from his Dream Chasers label come and get some shine on the hook. He doesn’t do his boss any favors though as the chorus is horrible. The fact that rappers not named T-Pain are still trying to use Auto-Tune is mind boggling and tragic enough. Jahlil Beats returns for the third time on this album, this time alone again, and again he delivers a simple, cheap sounding beat. Mill tries to talk about finally getting the girl of his dreams, but just sounds crass and obnoxious. The most disappointing thing about this song is that Mill was building some real cohesiveness with the last three songs that showed range and depth. This song derails ALL of that. Complete wackness at its finest.

14. Real Niggas Come First
Produced by Kenoe & Got Koke
We close the album off with Meek Mill going back to the same old same old. Production wise the song is banging as Kenoe and Got Koke give a hard hitting beat for Mill to get on. Yet nothing about this song feels like a close to an album, it’s simply just a bunch of stunting and tough talk. Sequencing could have saved this track as it would have been cool if this song could have been put in around track ten. “Polo & Shell Tops” would have been a much a better fit here.

Bottom Line:
This one was really difficult to judge. When Meek Mill hits and crafts detailed street cinema, his is truly in a lane of his owns that even some veterans in the game couldn’t match right now. His raw and passionate delivery and storytelling breathes life into his narratives and keeps him from sounding like the hundreds of other street rappers. Yet, too often we get redundant and cliché tough talk that’s neither convincing nor compelling, let alone entertaining. Production was also an issue, which should never be an issue when you have a guy like Ross helping you pick beats. A lot of times Mill seems comfortable with putting his ego on auto-pilot and using bravado to get him through tracks. It’s a shame that we couldn’t get the more a more focused effort from the MMG general. All in all, the tools are there, and for a rookie debut it’s commendable. Definitely a contender, but it’s gonna take more focus until he can legitimately make a run for the top.