When Meek Mill isn’t stacking L’s like Lego bricks, he can still make top-notch rap songs. The Philly spitter served up a reminder Saturday with Meekend Music, a free three-song “pack” that commemorates his 30th birthday and once again makes good on the potential many have seen since his days of killing Flamers mixtapes.
Meekend Music offers up every version of Meek Mill. There’s Murda Meek (“We play with Rugers, play with Glocks, we ain't playin’ ball”), Messy Meek (“I hit them little bitches like Remy”), Emo Meek (“Mama working, daddy dead, I just wanted a hug”), Motivational Purposes Only Meek—no Rolex mentions here, though, but Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe gets a shoutout. The MMG rapper once again subliminally questions Drake’s authenticity and saves some bitterness for ex-lover Nicki Minaj on the Honorable C.N.O.T.E.-produced “$Lay.” The project’s beats bump, lyrics are sharp, and guest verses by Young Thug (“Backboard”) and A$AP Ferg (“$Lay”) provide strong synergy. It’s an efficient song dump—Meek’s first since splitting with Nicki late last year.
Meek Mill’s musical career has been an uphill struggle ever since he torpedoed it by waging war on Drake two summers ago. Yet despite his struggles with piecing together an effective counter-offensive to records like “Back to Back,” Meek has proven he can still make solid tracks when he focuses. He dropped two well-received 4/4 EPs in January 2016—the second one included the formidable-but-forgotten “War Pain,” which showed guile by intercepting Drizzy’s “Summer Sixteen” disses. The long-teased DC4 was a return to form that yielded a few anthems (“Litty”) and did respectable numbers (87,000 first-week sales) with seemingly minimal juice from Atlantic Records. Meekend Music continues his trend of showing sporadic potential, but does the booster pack—and, to a larger degree, all of his aforementioned releases—do anything to shift his position in hip-hop?
You get the feeling that Meek is most comfortable rapping with a chip on his shoulder—forever spiteful of turncoats and doubters, and confident that he’ll overcome with odds stacked against him (Meekend Music’s “Left Hollywood” is his latest track to focus on his underdog narrative). It can be an endearing demeanor—ironically, Drake wears it well—but in Meek’s case it seems limiting. His off-wax pettiness makes it difficult to sympathize and root for the guy.
Still, Meek Mill is one of his generation’s premier rappers, and he can string together a run that moves him in the direction it seemed he was headed before his Twitter fingers went rogue. He has yet to follow his Drake beef with a proper studio album (DC4 is billed a mixtape), so if he can drop a major label project with both hood and pop appeal (à la “All Eyes on You”) he can creep right back into the conversation. Good music can shift popular opinion—artists like Chris Brown and Meek’s own boss Rick Ross are virtually scandal-proof. And there’s still a loyal set checking for the Dreamchasers MC’s brand of street rap.
Meekend Music, along with Meek’s other recent releases, is a promising jolt, but he’ll need to take more drastic, unexpected measures to reach beyond his core and make a big comeback. For instance, he could scour and examine the broken pieces of his failed relationship with Nicki Minaj for a postmortem—his own “Bye Baby”—and throw Kehlani on the hook. Maybe go for a total sonic overhaul and drop a soul-based LP like Ross’ stellar Rather You Than Me. How about a scripted “Tony Story” miniseries with all the grit and realism of Money & Violence that further immortalizes his fan-favorite saga? Or, hey, just find a young, fresher talent on which to hitch his wagon and reinvent himself.
It might seem as if Meek Mill’s career has been eclipsed by the tower of fails he’s erected—it has. But Meek has one advantage over many of his peers: He’s already seen the bottom, and now he’s got very little to lose. It just might be his most powerful position yet.