Meek is this year’s most ubiquitous rap rookie and his affiliation with Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group and, more recently, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation has propelled the Philly native from regional nods to trading verses with everyone from Waka Flocka Flame and Mariah Carey and scoring plum billing on Drake’s Club Paradise tour this summer. Lauded for infusing street credibility to Ross’ menagerie, Meek has kept the streets buzzing without alienating his ever-growing mainstream audience. Now, the buzz is palpable and nearly boiling over and Meek must prove himself a solo force on his debut Dreams & Nightmares (Oct. 30 release) to maintain relevancy.
Although the session started some two-and-a-half hours late–Meek was assumed stuck in traffic–glimpses of Jay-Z and the more rare celebrity sighting of Will Smith kept normally impatient journalists and industry types (many visibly breaking in their brand new Brooklyn Nets garb) at bay. A heavily chained Meek finally arrived with a gaggle of burly goons and photographers in tow to preview the 14-track album, while intermittently breaking to provide commentary, puff weed or take swigs from presumably a large Saratoga Spring glass bottle.
Dreams & Nightmares is the perfect balance of street rap and commercialism. The raw hunger that made Meek’s Dreamchasers and Flamers mixtapes so compelling is thankfully intact, polished just enough so as to give the album a more cohesive, finished feel. The minimalist title track is a stellar show of the two worlds existing symbiotically, beginning innocuously as Meek recounts his current life or “Dreams” and then erupting in the latter “Nightmares” portion. “Traumatized” is another standout; over a sublime Boi1da-helmed beat that incorporates an interpolation of “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Meek graphically recounts dramatic events that have taken place in his life including the murder of his father. For those that know Meek only from his upbeat fare (Translation: Just the first line from “House Party”), “Traumatized” is an autobiographical crash course that begs for a second listen. Along the same lines is “Who You’re Around” featuring Mary J. Blige in which Meek raps about success severing many of his relationships. It’s touching and real without being sappy and Mary J. Blige’s vocals are pristine as ever.
“Young & Gettin’ It” featuring Kirko Bangz and “Amen” with Drake have had already enjoyed heavy rotation this year and provide the album with some needed lighter moments. The only track supposedly “for the ladies” that falls flat is the bonus cut “Freak Show,” a painfully cliché strip club song cajoling women to “Suck a nigga dick ho” among other gentlemanly come-ons. Who says chivalry is dead? Not even your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper 2 Chainz can save this one. As expected, Dreams & Nightmares is heavily interspersed with Maybach Music Group’s sonic imprint but not to the point of overshadowing its main focus. Rick Ross lends his vocals to three songs–“Believe It” (which features both “Justin Bieber” and “Miley Cyrus” name-checks), “Lay Up” and the regrettably titled “Maybach Curtains”–and the beat on “Young Kings” sounds like a surplus from Ross’ more lush “Maybach Music 3.” Interestingly, Jay-Z contributed a verse to “Lay Up,” but was somehow unsatisfied with the outcome and nixed it. Meek assured us that he has that version but it’s unfortunately relegated for his iPod only.
The master and his pupil; Rick Ross held court alongside Meek and showed his outward support. “I’m proud of my homie,” the always-opulent Ross said. “Everything he has accomplished, he earned himself.” And with that, the torch was passed.
Critical Bias: I received a pair of blue Beats by Dre headphones in the gift bag upon leaving.
Overheard: “It needs to be better than [Rick Ross’] God Forgives, I Don’t–that is my barometer–and it is!” – Fellow scribe reviewing the album.
Random Notebook Dump: Rick Ross’ olfactory game is on point; when he walked by, he smelled amazing.
Dreams and Nightmares
In God We Trust
Young & Gettin’ It (feat. Kirko Bangz)
Believe It (feat. Rick Ross)
Maybach Curtains (feat. Nas, John Legend and Rick Ross)
Amen (feat. Drake)
Lay Up (feat. Wale, Rick Ross & Trey Songz)
Tony Story Pt. 2
Who You’re Around (feat. Mary J. Blige)
Polo & Shell Tops
Rich & Famous (feat. Louie V)
Real Niggas Come First
Freak Show (feat. Sam Sneed and 2 Chainz) [Bonus Track]