Seven years after he first started chasing his hip-hop dreams, it's clear that Meek Mill hasn't left his nightmares behind.

Written by David Drake (@somanyshrimp)

On the evening of October 10, Electric Lady Studios in Manhattan was filled to capacity for the first New York listening session to preview tracks from Meek Mill’s debut album, Dreams & Nightmares. Ill-timed appearances from Jay-Z and Will Smith, both of whom left before Meek arrived, helped fill the room with charged anticipation. When Meek finally appeared, accompanied by Rick Ross, he wore four gleaming pieces around his neck—two smaller, understated chains, and two larger cuban link chains made of solid rose gold and covered in VS diamonds.

 

Meek looks taller and skinnier in person, with a surplus of nervous energy that keeps him moving, eyes darting around the room. If you stay focused on him, waiting for eye contact, he will meet your gaze, challenging.

 

After running through the entirety of his record, he directed a man behind the glass booth to play two party-oriented tracks featuring 2 Chainz and Juvenile, respectively, which weren't finalized in time to make the record. Both songs breathe life into the crowd that had spent the rest of their evening paying rapt attention to an album dominated by dark, chilling explorations of betrayal and paranoia. Surrounded by a scrum of photographers as if he were running for office, Meek never stood still, remaining in constant motion, rapping along with each track, his jewelry swaying as his body moved in time with the beat.

Days later he’s still in perpetual motion. High above the streets of midtown Manhattan on the 39th floor offices of Roc Nation—where Meek Mill signed a management deal this past May—Meek sits, then stands, then moves along the conference table. He’s surrounded by the trappings of a rapper promoting his major-label debut: a stylist, publicity reps, assorted friends from Philly, a photographer, and this interviewer.

Another notable presence at the table is Joe the Jeweler of Shyne Jewelers, 339 South Street in Philadelphia. Joe’s been Meek's jeweler for three years. Meek has directed clients his way (Joe mentions Sean Kingston and “a lot of athletes”), while Joe's services are focused primarily on one thing, which he conveys in a mild Israeli accent: “The quality of the diamonds—clarity. A lot of jewelers do nice work, but sometimes don't use the best quality. Meek wants only the best.” He makes up a word to describe them: “Un-compete-able.”

Since Meek was picked up by Rick Ross in early 2011 on the strength of his single “Rose Red,” the Philly rapper has been one of Maybach Music Group’s most reliable hitmakers, racking up smashes like "Tupac Back," “I’m A Boss” and "Amen." With the assistance of MMG’s non-stop promotional assault, Meek has grinded his way to the top in one of the worst music industry climates in history.

 

'I don't feel stressed out from nothing in the rap game,' he explains. 'Everything's cool with me. I've been in jail before. Things like that is what I stress about.'

 

Many are relying on Meek to prove that the traditional street rap audience will still purchase records in an era where digital outlets like LiveMixtapes, WorldStarHipHop, and YouTube supply listeners with an unlimited stream of free content. Meek claims to be unconcerned: “I’m excited about [the release]. I ain’t worried about it.” He’s good-humored about the promotional demands of the industry, but remains political and guarded. Meek answers questions quickly, and it's hard to avoid the feeling that he's sticking to a well-rehearsed script. If he seems restless and distracted, perhaps it’s because he left his son in Philadelphia to come to New York for this interview.

Meek looks taller and skinnier in person, with a surplus of nervous energy that keeps him moving, eyes darting around the room. If you stay focused on him, waiting for eye contact, he will meet your gaze, challenging. But moments later, he'll be off again.

“I don't feel stressed out from nothing in the rap game," he explains. "Everything's cool with me. The money's been flowing, the raps been flowing. I ain't got too much to stress about. I've been in jail before. Things like that is what I stress about.”

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