In the five months since the release of Meek Mill’s Dreamchasers 2 mixtape, Mill, along with Maybach Music honcho Rick Ross, has undertaken a relentless marketing campaign, betting that his electrifying, nimble rhymes contain the seed of major league stardom. Dreams and Nightmares confirms these expectations by offering a solid debut on which Philadelphia’s heir apparent sometimes provides stunning work and, even on his lesser tracks, avoids falling short of his grand potential.
Close association with Rick Ross has defined Mill’s short career, and Ross’s bombastic style provides the aesthetic backdrop for the younger rapper’s debut. The album avoids cribbing its notes from earlier Maybach releases, but definitely trades in the Ross-ian shorthand of Cathedral-sized boasts (“In God We Trust”), over-packed crew tracks (“Maybach Curtains”) and material fetishization (“Polo and Shell Tops”).
However, even with Ross straight up hijacking a track (“Believe It”), Dreams and Nightmares serves up ample proof that Meek Mill can stand on the merits of his own charisma.
The horndog gospel of “Amen,” a holdover single from Dreamchasers 2, serves as the LP’s centerpiece, and so strong a centerpiece it is that Mill tries to replicate it twice—first with “Lay Up” and once again with “Who You’re Around.” Those tracks succeed thanks not to their soul music inflections, but rather their abandonment to the insatiable muse of Dreams’ creator.
Nas provides the model for Mill’s deft, versatile flow, and while Meek ultimately falls short of that archetype, he comes so close to leap-frogging his idol as to deserve some admiration nonetheless. “Tony Story, Pt. 2” finds him unleashing the second half of a ghetto tragedy in breathless cadence, and his verse on “Lay Up” runs circles around its talented fellows.
Though Dreams and Nightmares tends toward displays of puff-chested machismo, it’s when working as a storyteller that Mill achieves his greatest successes. On “Tony Story, Pt. 2” he drops three torrential verses, all replete with observations along the lines of, “Swisher in his mouth while he’s loading his four pound / Feeling like he’s dead, there ain’t no remorse now.” Album opener “Dream and Nightmare” allows Mill to provide his own genesis with a similar treatment. “Icy as a hockey rink, Philly n**ga I’m Flyer,” he raps. “Flexin’ on these n**gas, I’m like Popeye on his spinach.”
When left to his own devices, Mill is easily one of the best rappers of his generation. His talent permeates Dreams and Nightmares (how could it not?), but the album’s need to attenuate his ferocious verses with club bangers (“Young and Gettin’ It”) and Maybach Music Group swagger prevents the LP from attaining classic status. That’s a level Mill will mostly likely reach within his career, but for the moment the most impressive specimens of his style remain available only in single form.