Meek Mill's Dreamchasers 3 was released September 29. The record shouldn't surprise folks already familiar with Meek's earlier Dreamchasers tapes: it's packed with high octane production and the Philly MC's searing, intense rap style. Likewise, his stories still prize directness, a rhetorical straightforwardness enhanced by his shout-flow. This delivery style allows him to cut through the white noise.
More than ever, Meek feels like one of the only rap stars of his kind, at least at his level of popularity, in 2013. The tradition he comes from hasn't been lost. But many artists who perform in this style seem more marginalized in the industry than they might have been a decade previous. (There are some promising signs that the industry could start to recognize this area as an opportunity for growth.)
As a rapper, Meek has a vigorous, kinetic delivery built through years of practice, reciting lines as if by muscle memory. Listening to him rap is like watching an athlete perform: there's a fluency to the way his words hit the track, the confident momentum of an artist stretching out to the full limits of his corporeal potential. It makes you want to rap, the same way watching basketball makes you want to take to the court and hit a three. His style is lean and muscular. Some rappers spit with intentionally laconic sluggishness, making theater out of effortlessness; by comparison, Meek is all lyrical calisthenics.
When asked if he feels that the style of music he makes is at a disadvantage in the industry, Meek responds, "Hell yeah."
Meek came by the Complex offices earlier this week. In person, he is direct, to-the-point. In keeping with the kind of focus and drive common to athletes, he doesn't spend much time on self-analysis, doubling back, or over-thinking. He executes. Questions have evident answers; there is no sentence that might begin, "Depending on how you look at it...." When asked if he feels like the style of music he makes is at a disadvantage in the industry, Meek responds, "Hell yeah." He's asked why. "I don't know. People know they’re going to a certain level, and they just shooting for the money. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, some people like to shoot for the money. The other side is where a lot of money at."
In other words, for Meek, the answer is straightforward and simple: rappers are looking at the short-term money, when the long term money is on the mainstream side. This is probably partly true. Although it doesn't explain why rappers don't perceive the mainstream as a possibility, or why the mainstream is welcoming fewer rap stars into its machinery than it did, say, a decade earlier. But while it doesn't seem like he's spent (wasted?) much time thinking about the mechanics behind it all, it does open a window into Meek's perception of what "the style of music he makes" actually is.
"It’s a decision you make, but you know me. I be rapping about how I’m feeling. If I’m in Miami, you can tell by my rap I was in Miami that week, if I’m talking about Club Liv, Collins Avenue, things like that. If I talk about the hood, I was probably in the hood that week. I go off of shit like that. Maybe when I start living that type of life, maybe I will start crossing over and spitting shit that’s more subtle or not raw. My shit is extra raw, a lot of profanity."
A Complex commenter recently questioned Meek's bona fides as a "lyrical" rapper. In hip-hop, the word "lyrical" gets thrown around an awful lot without its meaning ever really being unpacked. Being "lyrical" is dependent on a highly subjective magic formula, and once you've decide its ingredients, that divides you from other tribes of rap fans. It has something to do with a rapper's rhetorical style: Dexterity, rhyme schemes, punchlines, wordplay. It's some intangible blend of all (or some) of the above. Perhaps one of the biggest divides—as it's been since the period when Pac and Biggie were at their respective peaks—is between fans who enjoy rap for its ability to be direct, and those who enjoy the process of abstraction. (Most rap fans like artists in both categories, of course. For more on this, check out Brendan Frederick's must-read 2Pac essay in our recent list of the 10 Best Rappers of the '90s.)
Meek is in the former category. He is direct. His strongest work seems to tap directly into an autobiographical vein. It is, as he describes it, raw. As far as pure rapping talent, he is practically acrobatic in his fluency, honed through years in Philly's battle-rap DVD circuit. He is both a technically adept rapper and one who feeds on emotionality. In Meek's less-remarkable songs, flexing the intricacies of his delivery end up making him feel more distant, shielded. But it is the blend of technique and truth on his best work that has garnered him such a substantial fanbase.
"Lil N**** Snupe" is a tribute to Meek's murdered protege. It is also one of the most powerful songs of Meek's career.
One track on Dreamchasers 3 stands out as a particularly stark example of how powerful this approach can be, at its best. In it, Meek's technique served the song's overarching purpose. "Lil Nigga Snupe" is a tribute to Meek's murdered protege. It is also one of the most powerful songs of Meek's career.
Lil Snupe was a prodigal 18-year-old rapper from Jonesboro, Louisiana. He was a true rising star. He had been signed to Meek's Dream Chasers label in 2012; his mixtape R.N.I.C., which featured Meek, Trae, and Curren$y, has been one of DatPiff's most popular this year. He also released show-stopping openers on both DJ Mustard's Ketchup mixtape and MMG's Self Made 3.
June 25, Snupe was killed in Winnfield, Louisiana, shot twice in the torso. The alleged killer, 36-year-old Tony Holden, surrender to police a few days later. Police told the press at the time that Snupe's shooting was the result of gambling on a video game.
"I’m proud of all the songs," Meek said about Dreamchasers 3. "But the Lil Snupe song meant the most to me." Meek first met Lil Snupe during a show at Grambling University, when the latter rapper was only 17 years old. "We were on our way back to the airport, a little kid knocked on the window and gave us a demo. We listened to it, we liked it and he popped up in Philly one day and was hanging with us."
On Meek's Dreamchasers 3 tape, there's an interlude, a recording of Lil Snupe describing his first time in a Bentley. "Meek Mill just put on an instrumental. We ridin' through Philly in a Bentley! He like, 'Rip that Bitch.' We goin' like 10, 15 minutes strong! He's like, aww yeah Lil Snupe, I'm gonna change your motherfuckin' life."
But Snupe didn't just pop up in Philly; he took a Greyhound Bus all the way from Louisiana. "When he landed—he was on a 30-hour drive—he told us his back hurt," says Meek. "I came to get him in a Bentley. I knew he probably never been in a Bentley, but I knew it would motivate him and make him chase harder."
He would spit off the top like it was written. Rap real tight for hours and not mess up. That’s unheard of, I’ve never seen nobody like that. —Meek Mill
To Meek, Snupe's potential was real. "He would spit off the top like it was written. Rap real tight for hours and not mess up. That’s unheard of, I’ve never seen nobody like that. The skit on Dreamchasers 3, he’s just rapping and I’m telling him what to rap about. Rap about your day. Rap about your week. How’d you get here. And he could just change up. He had energy and charisma. He wasn’t scared to go out on stage, no matter of it was 20,000 people or 5,000 people out there, he always just go out and hold it down."
During the trip, Snupe got into a battle with a rapper named Retro, and won Meek $10,000 from Retro's sponsor, DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles. "I gave Snupe the money when he won," says Meek. "And he was rocking with us since."
Over a spacious audio canvas courtesy Boi-1da, Meek doesn't go for the slower, more deliberate rap style other artists might adopt for a R.I.P. anthem. Instead, "Lil Nigga Snupe" feels like it's doubling down on the intensity, the urgency, that is a core part of the Meek Mill project. The song has the feel of a track composed basically as it was performed, rather than planned out in advance.
He raps faster and more intricately as he goes, as if through application of ultimate effort, Meek could somehow undo the past. It's the best way he knows; after all, look at how far pure indomitable will has driven him so far. But the faster he moves, the sooner he runs up against a hard wall: "So what's a nigga supposed to do, tell them put the guns down? Or tell a lil' nigga shoot?/'Cause they'll do the same to me, do the same shit to you."
Meek spoke about his process recording the song: "It was easy recording, when you're spitting from feeling. It only took about 45 minutes. First 10 minutes in the studio with Boi-1da, I heard the beat and put it on. I don’t really write. I don’t write at all—I just go in the booth and go."
There's something especially poignant about how Meek flexes his abilities to cope with the senselessness of Snupe's killing. The song's furious energy at once indicates the catharsis that comes from the sense of control he gets rapping so precisely. At the same time, it points to its futility, the reality that no matter how potent Meek's abilities, the one thing he can't do is make sense of something so irrational.