Rarely do rugs get pulled out from underneath individuals with the speed and brutality of Meek Mill’s Summer 2015 L-athon. The closest comparable examples are nearly all fictitious: Maximus’ sudden enslavement after a battlefield victory in “Gladiator,” Gary Bertier getting in a car crash while speeding away from a pep rally in “Remember The Titans,” Lane Pryce running into financial rock bottom after successfully orchestrating a business coup in “Mad Men.”
Meek, like all aforementioned parties, began his Shakespearean drama of a summer on top of the world, at the undeniable peak of his career at the time. That Spring, he had started dating Nicki Minaj, a paradigm for success and bodaciousness in hip hop, and on the third-to-last day of June, he released Dreams Worth More Than Money, his best-received and first #1 album. Less than a month later, however, it would all crumble in the eyes of the public as he started, stalled, and then quickly and unanimously lost a beef with Drake. This shouldn’t have diminished DWMTM‘s success, but to this day, mention Meek’s name to a rando on the street and odds are “Drake beef” will pop out of their mouths before “number one album.” It doesn’t help that Meek has gone on to feud with The Game and hometown legend Beanie Sigel in recent months either — “beef” has appeared next to his name far too many times in the past year and a half.
Dreamchasers 4 arrives quite a while after its original announcement, and with good reason. Save for this January’s 4/4 two-part EP, it’s Meek’s first major chance to right his ship– “comeback” seems too extreme a word for a guy who topped the charts 16 months ago. He’s clearly spent a ton of time selecting beats, crafting verses, and collecting features, and it shows. The grandiose, lush-sounding DWMTM marked a departure from Meek’s more workmanlike previous releases, and although DC4 was made on a lower budget, the attention to detail is comparable to its predecessor. The production and song structures are varied, the mood shifts throughout, and the features, in general, are pretty lit. The only problem is that unlike the majority of his last album, a good deal of DC4 doesn’t sound like a Meek Mill project.
Intro “On The Regular” fakes us out with an “O Fortuna” sample (very original, Meek) that makes it seem like another huge, bar-filled “DC1 Intro” is on the way, but instead Meek opts for a pretty basic hook and even more pedestrian flow. That’s not to say it isn’t an enjoyable track, but for Meek, whose calling card is jaw-dropping lyrical displays on intro tracks, it feels like an unwelcome side-step. Ensuing tracks “Blessed” and “Litty” fare better, the former off the strength of an amazing beat, the latter thanks in major part to Tory Lanez, but again, they don’t sound like Meek songs. “Blessed” has the wavy New York cool of a French Montana track and “Litty” has Meek seeming like the featured artist. It’s not until “Shine” that we get the Meek of old. He’s given plenty of room in the beat to seem totally in command of the song’s pacing, perfectly timing flow switches with transitions, and his weighty lyrics matching the inspirational-sounding backing vocals.
It’s not that I want Meek to stay stagnant– later standouts “Lights Out” and “Blue Notes” prove that he’s more than capable of maturing his sound — but his personality and sound are both so integral to him sounding like a commanding presence on the mic rather than a itinerant shouter. When stuffed into a track like “Froze,” so middle-of-the-road and definitionless that it feels like a DJ Khaled throwaway, he just sounds like a another dude doing Migos flows far less interestingly than the actual Migos. (A truly lackluster verse by Nicki — “make n*ggas stare at my hands, even though I am not miming”?! — doesn’t help either.)
Whereas DWMTM‘s guests seemed to cater to Meek’s sound, this time around Meek is more okay with stepping out of his comfort zone, as he does most noticeably on “Offended.” It feels like a Young Thug or 21 Savage song that Meek hopped on, right down to the de-tuned piano keys and more muted beat, and while Meek does fairly well fucking with a more melodic delivery than usual, it doesn’t feel like he’s playing to his strengths. A far more fitting foray into Atlanta’s universe is “Way Up,” whose 6/8 time signature provides an obstacle course that makes for much more thrilling verses from Meek. Meek’s at his best when he’s pushing his voice to its limits, showcasing his unique gifts rather than fading into the background or doing karaoke with other styles of rapping. As he’s told us and showed us many times throughout his career, Meek Mill is not an actor or a faker; he’s incapable of being anyone but his real, aggressive Philly self. DC4‘s main problem is that he attempts to change that perception without first taking any acting lessons.
All that said, the end result of DC4 is similar to previous Dreamchasers installments, despite arriving there in a completely different way. A few very strong tracks (“Litty,” “Shine,” “Lights Out,” “Blue Notes,” “Way Up,” “Tony Story 3”) tentpole and otherwise scattered, tedious listen, whihch could be said about any of the previous tapes in the series. Here’s where the success of DWMTM actually distracts you from the rest of Meek’s career– it’s easy to forget that before that, he was known as a super talented rapper with a healthy list of amazing tracks and guest appearances, but no truly stellar full-length to his name. DC4 shows that he’s not willing to go gentle into that very same good night again, as he actively tries to expand his boundaries, but in matching DWMTM‘s ambition and expansiveness, he often loses the very core that’s always grounded his music.