Meek Mill: Dreams and Nightmares

In focusing on the MMG company line more than the striking talent and affecting heart of Meek Mill's rap tales, this is a missed opportunity, a decent album that could have been a brilliant one.

Meek Mill

Dreams and Nightmares

US Release: 2012-10-30
UK Release: 2012-10-29
Label: Warner Bros. / Maybach Music Group

Maybach Music Group works curiously backwards. Head honcho Rick Ross has become, as he claimed he would, a don in today's hip-hop world, an untouchable hit and tastemaker that has assembled a popular stable of rappers, himself included. But for a group of rappers that want to be "rich forever", they often give their best work away free. Rick Ross's Rich Forever was a mixtape that doubled as his far-and-away best full-length. Wale had a decent sophomore record in Ambition, but the Eleven One Eleven Theory tape was far better. And then you've got Meek Mill, the most curious and unknown rapper of the bunch, which isn't to say he hasn't been busy. Mill has given us two great mixtapes, Dreamchasers and Dreamchasers 2, that prove he is as smooth a rapper as there is working today. He's got the immediate fire of Ross's carefully regimented rhymes and the intricate flow of Wale's tricky wordplay, but he manages to sound like neither of his MMG partners.

But if this year's Dreamchaser 2 showed Meek Mill at the top of his game, Dreams and Nightmares tells a story more about MMG than Mill himself. It's another safe full-length from the group, the kind of thing that will sell copies but stifles the charm and creativity of the rapper in the spotlight. There are moments of greatness from Mill here, and as a whole it is a well-built record. But it also feels professional in all the coldest ways. It's a record that proves MMG a conglomerate, a very direct money-making machine, rather than making money through creativity.

So it's no real surprise that Meek Mill spends a lot of time yelling on this record. In fact, the whole record feels ham-handedly strident. It seems necessary for Mill, a guy trying hard to make a name for himself even as he is charged with building the MMG brand at every turn – yes, we do get the woman saying "Maybach Music" tagline more than once here. Sometimes his shouting is a brilliant turn, as with the on-fire opener "(Intro) Dreams and Nightmares". The song builds its anger, and Meek Mill spits long verses, line after blistering line, and you know right away that Mill is, at least here, trying to bring his A-game, separating himself from any laid-back, half-assed rapping with some true skill. Later in the record, Mill screams out the gunplay anxiety of "Tony Story Pt. 2" and the effect is brilliant. No one since Ghostface has so perfectly undercut the uber-masculine image of gunplay with the very real fear of death underneath. The best moments of Dreams and Nightmares are the ones that tell us about Mill himself, whether it’s the nostalgia of young crime and hood cred on "Polo and Shell Tops" or the deep loss and regret of "Traumatized". These moments give us unique insight, and let Mill turn his clever wordplay towards telling his own story. They also often come with, say, the soulful sampling of the beat on "Traumatized" that shifts away from the MMG-approved, blustery, horror-flick piano runs and banging bass on most of these – and Rick Ross's, and Wale's – beats.

But much of the rest of Mill's yelling, or strident rapping high in the mix, sounds like him trying to simply be heard over the machinations of Maybach Music. Those overdone beats, Rick Ross's ever-present persona. The boss here – Ross is "the captain," according to Mill, who is merely a "lieutenant" – inserts himself into this record all over the place, including three decent but undercooked verses. We also see Wale on "Lay Up" and his transformation from thoughtful, socially conscious rapper to flossing ladies' man has never sounded so awkward. In fact, the whole idea of a sex jam feels plugged in on Mill's record, a song created to target a demographic. And besides, Hall & Oates nailed the basketball metaphor decades ago with "One on One".

The album is full of those kinds of safe choices. "Amen" would be a revelation here if it hadn't already been introduced to us on Dreamchasers 2. There's a song called "Young and Getting It" and a song called "Young Kings" and you're bound to get ear fatigue hearing, over and over again, about getting money and, more vaguely, about the pressure – or strength – to sell drugs. Mill himself gets caught up in these safe steps at times, like when he phones in a reworking of Notorious B.I.G.'s "Juicy" on "Maybach Curtains" (though Nas bails him out with a great verse). He also sometimes goes for the easy punchline ("running shit, diarrhea") instead of the carefully built, intricate lines he does so well.

This is all to say that Dreams and Nightmares is an album worth bumping loudly. It's got an immediate impact and the rapping is solid throughout, and sometimes brilliant. But it's also a hugely frustrating record, one that should introduce us to one of the finest, undersold rappers going, but instead is built to reinforce the MMG empire mythology. They want to be rich forever – and Mill spits the company line, by the way, saying he wants to get money and "fuck fame" – and it turns out they will do that, or continue to do that, by making records that feel more like safe business moves than bursts of creativity. These are excellent rappers, fascinating storytellers to a person, and they do let that come through sometimes. But their commercial releases feel all too commercial, and Meek Mill has, unfortunately, produced an album with flashes of brilliance that too often gets caught up in that same cycle. In focusing on the company line more than the striking talent and affecting heart of Meek Mill's rap tales, Dreams and Nightmares is a missed opportunity. It's good, but coldly so, and could have been so much more.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.