Meek Mill eases into his debut album, Dreams and Nightmares. “I used to pray for times like this, to rhyme like this / So I had to grind like that, to shine like this.” At this moment, the “that” isn’t important, Mill wants to celebrate where he is now: “I did it without an album / I did s*** with Mariah.”
Then, cued by the recognisable “M-M-M-M-Maybach Music” drop, the Philadelphia rapper flips a switch, fuming about everything from his work ethic to committing homicides. “All I know is murder, when it come to me!” Here, his voice is strident over threatening piano stabs and haunting synthesizers.
It’s an intricate depiction of the young rapper: Mill doesn’t shy away from his chequered past; he reflects upon it to explain the person he’s become.
His character is quite apparent. As a rapper, Mill is a decent wordsmith with a gruff disposition. He wants more money, but shuns the associated fame. Throughout Dreams and Nightmares, Mill speaks incessantly about his bad ol’ days, wearing them like badges of honour to accentuate his street credibility. A few songs – Polo & Shell Tops, Maybach Curtains, Believe It, Young Kings, and Real N***** Come First – recall his time as a drug dealer.
Yet on Traumatized, he takes things a step further. Above hallow chimes and filtered moans, Mill warns his father’s murderer that he’s going to kill him. It makes for a chilling listen, but there’s no knocking the brutal honesty.
Elsewhere, the themes aren’t so heavy. On Amen, Mill and Drake use church organs to riff on sexual exploits and monetary excess. Who You're Around, featuring Mary J. Blige, meditates on lost friendships. By the time Rich & Famous unfolds, Mill reconnects with his current lifestyle by spending lavishly and parading around town with a lady.
So in the end, Dreams and Nightmares won’t break new ground for hip hop. The compositions are pretty formulaic and the lyrics aren’t overly technical. Still, it works for Mill as a respectable effort that exorcises personal demons and moves him beyond illicit history. He had to grind like that to shine like this.
--Marcus J. Moore
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