Rapper Meek Mill’s major-debut, Dreams and Nightmares, has its high spots but often feels more like a hip-hop head’s nightmare than it does an album to put on repeat.
Rappers who come up through the mixtape circuit have two options on how to handle their debut in the major leagues. One option is to stick with the same production, flow and tactics that got them to where they are, essentially reproducing the content of their mixtapes with a twist, while keeping true to the core group of fans who helped propel them to the top. Basically they choose to release a well-mastered mixtape rather than the quality and depth that’s expected of an album (See J. Cole’s Cole World: The Sideline Story). Or they can embrace a bigger budget and use their new access to professional collaborators to mainstream their sound and increase their outreach, gathering more fans and giving up creative license in exchange for a more pop sound. This path can trap good MCs like Lupe Fiasco, leaving their unbelieveable lyricism covered up by pop production, and cause a loss of credibility for “selling out” like B.o.B. Meek Mill chose to go the first route, releasing an unpolished work and calling it complete because there’s a label backing him
Dreams and Nightmares is a typical debut album that focuses on the struggle of growing up in “the hood” and finally “making it.” The topic has been beaten to death and Mill doesn’t do anything different that would separate it from the work of any other rapper. Obviously it’s a personal subject, but it still needs to be accessible and fresh.
It’s no secret that Mill can flow. He’s one of the smoothest rappers on the scene right now. But he only has one speed, one mode. His vocals could literally be cut and pasted onto any track on the album and you wouldn’t know. The topics of each verse are the same, and they sound the same. There’s zero diversity on the album, minus the first minute of “Dreams and Nightmares,” which slows down and can actually be appreciated. The beginning of the track is half-speed for Mill, and it’s essentially acapella. There’s a light piano melody in the background. Here, you can appreciate the alliteration and wordplay in his verses, but as soon as you get comfortable, it switches styles and busts into just another hype track.
The only track on the album that is a standout is “Maybach Curtains,” because John Legend delivers such a strong, emotional hook and Nas and Rick Ross jump on for verses, forcing Mill to slow down for a second. Legend sings, “Feels like yesterday when all this was a dream / Through these Maybach curtains I see how life has changed.”
Dreams and Nightmares is proof that Mill needs to ease into the majors instead of trying to take them by storm. The kid is excited, so there’s reason for him to get hype, but he delivers so much more when he steps back and takes his time. That being said, he did earn himself a number two spot on the album sales chart, moving 167,000 copies of the album in its first week. Meek Mill deserves a spot in the industry, he just needs to settle down and focus.