It’s been a bad year for Meek Mill. In the wake of his very public 2015 beef with Drake—which he unequivocally lost—Meek continued to make missteps. Whether it was the numerous delays of his most recent project, DC4, or recent beefs with Game and fellow Philly MC Beanie Sigel, Meek couldn’t seem to get out of his own way. Throw in Meek’s ongoing legal issues, which forced him into house arrest for most of early 2016, and it’s easy to see why many would count him out.
As recently as June 2015, Meek was on top of the world; the well-received Dreams Worth More Than Money hit No. 1 on the charts, selling 246,000 units in its first week; he was in a new relationship with bonafide superstar Nicki Minaj; and it looked like his legal troubles (he was released from prison in Dec. 2014) were finally behind him. It’s been a spectacular fall from grace. To return to the upper echelon of hip-hop, and regain the momentum he’d painstakingly built since his debut, Meek needed an undeniable project.
Meek mounted his comeback on Thursday night, releasing the long-awaited DC4, the latest chapter in his Dreamchasers series. Though there was plenty of advance notice that DC4 was happening—it was first announced in the summer of 2015—the actual release date arrived without much fanfare. Meek announced the release in the morning, and by night it had hit streaming services. That was likely the right move. For fans, who have been waiting on a new Meek full-length, it’s a promised return to form. For haters, it could be the last piece of evidence to consider in the long trial of Meek’s post-Drake viability. After months of anticipation, there was no reason to drag anything out any further. No more time for Instagram snippets. It was time to release the music.
After DC4’s release, it’s clear that Meek Mill still has a career. The album, which is currently at No. 1 on iTunes, is a return to basics, providing exactly what Meek is known for—and nothing else. He’s in the pocket here, making safe choices that don’t encourage criticism, but also fail to generate any obvious peaks. DC4 displays what Meek’s core fanbase knows he can do well—street raps with catchy flows—without taking any risks.
Right off the bat, Meek gives fans what they want: a menacing, albeit obvious, sample of Carl Orff’s familiar classical composition “O Fortuna” kicks off the album, and Meek raps with his signature intensity about his comeback: “‘Member when they said I was done, done/Fuck that, they ain’t know I’m the one, one.” Naturally, his return is a common theme on the record, and his clear desire to prove that his music can still put him head to head with anyone in rap is achieved early on DC4.
Much of Meek’s appeal rests on his commitment to a specific sort of authenticity—it’s what he built his career on, and what ultimately dragged him into his conflict with Drake. “Shine” is an elite Meek track, possibly the best on the project, because it’s some of the realest shit he has rapped in a while. “It’s feeling like live niggas vs. corny niggas/They build more jails, I’m warning niggas, shots fire/Mama crying, traumatizing, they mourning niggas/Them cops killing us like it’s war with niggas” he raps, over dramatic, soulful production. The trend continues on the album’s solo cuts, like “Blue Notes,” and “Tony Story 3,” where Meek eschews guest features and relies on his core appeal.
Most of the songs don’t feature just Meek. Nine of the 14 tracks include guest appearances—Nicki Minaj, Young Thug, 21 Savage, Pusha T, Tory Lanez, and more, all contribute to the project. This isn’t unusual for Meek—most of his projects are feature-heavy—but there was the hope among some that for a project as as DC4 he might lean less on help and stand alone. He doesn’t, and this means that Meek has created a situation where another rapper can have the best verse on the project. Indeed, Young Thug’s verse on “Offended” is perhaps the strongest display on DC4. (Quavo also snapped on “The Difference”—he’s a star.)
The most interesting feature on the album comes early, when Tory Lanez’s shows up on the third song, “Litty.” Meek takes few, if any, direct shots at Drake on DC4, but the inclusion of Lanez, who also has ongoing beef with Drake, advertises an “us against the world” mentality. (Tory Lanez also appeared on Dreams Worth More Than Money.) It was another safe route for Meek to take, but also an easy way to shoot at Drake without actually pulling any triggers. Lanez’ verse gestures at Drake with the lightest touch possible. According to the official lyrics provided to iTunes, Lanez raps, “I just counted up a quick milla, a Q-M that’s a quarter milli.” However, anyone who listens to the song is going to hear the name of Drake’s alleged ghostwriter, Quentin Miller. The line sounds like it should be some shot at Drake, but it’s offered with such little conviction, and moreover what’s it actually mean? Quentin Miller’s initials match the initials for “quarter milli”—so what? It’s more curious than controversial.
While DC4 has its highs, there are still low moments, and possibly too many for a project released at such a crucial time. “Blessed Up,” the project’s second track, is monotonous—Meek is in wheel-spinning mode; it’s the kind of song we know he can deliver with his eyes closed, which is disappointing for a song so early in the album. The tape’s outro, which features Lil Snupe and French Montana, flips Meek’s classic “Dreams & Nightmares” intro—arguably his best song—in an attempt to recapture that same energy. The problem is, “Dreams & Nightmares” is so good—it’s the kind of song that fans remember where they were when they first heard it—that it’s unlikely that Meek will ever be ever to replicate it. Flipping it on the outro only reminds listeners how good things once were.
The album feels like training camp. It’s the kind of thing that the diehard fans want to see, and an opportunity for Meek to work out any kinks. But it makes no concessions to the wider audience he once had. This is a grounding, the first phase of the comeback. It’s not the most exciting album, but it also doesn’t make any obvious missteps. After the year Meek’s had, he needed something safe. Musically, Meek isn’t taking steps in any new directions, but for his career, DC4 is a step forward after a whole lot of steps back.