Meek Mill returns to music after a difficult year. WIns & Losses promises much in offering a mature reflection on these experiences and his evolution as a man and artist.
It would be safe to say that Robert Rihmeek Williams, or Meek Mill as he is better known, has had a difficult couple of years. That is something he is seemingly acknowledging in the title of his third album, Wins & Losses. A high profile dispute with Drake, the break up of his relationship with Nicki Minaj and the loss of close friend Lil Snupe have all taken the attention away from Meek’s music since the release of his frustratingly inconsistent sophomore album, Dreams Worth More Than Money.
Meek promised much with the release of Wins & Losses, fuelled by the experiences of the past year or so and presented with the opportunity to present a mature reflection and bring with it a more complete record than anything he has released before. Meek explains that Wins & Losses is his opportunity to provide "a real perspective of my life, what we call wins and losses". There are flashes of this throughout the album, but ultimately these ideas feel underexplored. Instead, he delivers everything you might expect of a Meek Mill album, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in this instance seems like a missed opportunity.
Meek has always been best in short, sharp bursts that manage to capture his frenetic energy and passion, whether it is classic debut album opener "Dreams and Nightmares" or guest features such as his verse on Wale’s MMG clique cut "Ambition". First track "Wins & Loses" tries to repeat the formula of "Dreams and Nightmares" and "Lord Knows" in providing that signature burst of emotion and power. Beginning with a motivational spoken word sample, the song starts building ominously to the drop of drums about half way in and marks an unrelenting statement of intent. The production from in-house Dreamchaser producer Papamitrou does not quite match its predecessors, with the drums in particular slightly underwhelming, but none the less provides a good framework for Meek.
Meek has always sounded best rapping over rich, soul sampling beats (see "Bue Note" on his last mixtape, DC4 for proof of this) and his latest record is no different. He sounds at home and driven on records such as "Heavy Heart", "Price" and "Made It From Nothing". They provide the fitting sonic platform for Meek’s tales of street life, hardship, and suffering. He has been peddling the same narrative since he emerged, as a young, exciting talent from Philadelphia and arguably his output has not evolved considerably since then.
His albums tend to follow a clear formula and Wins & Losses is no different. There is a blend of street observations, boastful reflection, clique tracks and pop-rap collaborations. Nowhere is this more evident than on single "Whatever You Need" which features Chris Brown and Ty Dolla Sign and maps almost perfectly onto "All Eyes on You" from his last record. Despite the strong, if understated, DJ Mustard beat on "Whatever You Need", "All Eyes on You" was sparked into life by the interplay with then beau Minaj. With this gone the lyrics are reduced to largely generic sentiment that certainly isn’t offensive, but feels like it could have been so much more. "Fall Thru" follows a similar format and with a bigger star on the hook could have been an unexpected chart hit.
The personal moments come in flashes, in particular on highlight "1942 Flows", a reflection on his childhood, the feelings of always being looked down upon and his recent successes and wealth. He offers a moment of direct commentary on his break up, addressing the likes of TMZ directly asking them not to ask about Minaj. However, there is a pervading sense of what could be considered a lack of humility as there is no open acknowledgment of the Drake beef, which he is almost universally accepted as having lost. Instead, there are numerous comments on not selling his soul for the music, his frustrations at those who do not give hip-hop the same level of care and his disgust for perceived fakers. There are no direct barbs, but there are no real signs of letting go either.
While it would be good to hear more from Meek on a personal level, there is a time and place for what he often does well, challenging his peers with a seemingly endless supply of confidence and bravado. "Fuck That Check Up" is another collaboration with Philly compatriot Lil Uzi Vert, set over snapping drums and hi-hats, with a huge bassline underpinning the track, that sees both artists sounding fired up. "Connect the Dots" is the now assumed MMG track (with Yo Gotti and Rick Ross) that reminds us what a great foil the hyper flow of Mill is to Ross’ growl over a trademark Ross beat. Meek’s biggest high energy moment, however, is pleasingly a track with no features, "Glow Up", where he lets loose over a C.N.O.T.E production.
Elsewhere Future and Quavo complete the star roster that makes the album feel like a throwback 2000’s major label record where all the biggest artists of the time are pulled together on a blockbuster release. There is also a place for emerging artists such as the soulful Guordan Banks (on the impressive "These Scars"), Verse Simmonds and Lihtz Kamraz showing Meek's willingness to foster future talent as well as building his own legacy. Alongside all the bravado there is are satisfying moments of wider social reflection, mainly on the (somewhat obvious) Jay-Z sampling "Young Black America" featuring the Dream. This is Meek’s moment to reflect on what it means to be black and growing up in America. However, the success of the song leaves a sense of frustration that there wasn’t more of this across the album.
The release of supporting short film also brings many of the tracks to life, a visual accompaniment to the strongest moments of storytelling and a sign of artistic evolution as his art comes to life. It is Meek's street narratives which are his greatest strength, journalistic to some, escapist for others, but often this is overshadowed by shallow commentary on how he has left this behind and now has the cash, cars, homes, and ice to show it and this often takes priority across the course of the record.
Running at 17 tracks, the album is also too long, particularly with the content being so repetitive, and Meek’s personality appears all too fleetingly. Tellingly, the feature from Young Thug on "We Ball" sees Thug overshadow Meek with ease. When his character does shine through, and the lyrical material and storytelling match his talent, he proves why he has a seat at the high table of hip-hop in 2017. However, the lasting memory of the album is that it seems comfortable, familiar, without pushing any boundaries enough. It is a safe album, and a good listen in places and evidence of Meek's skillset. However, it doesn't feel like it will be enough to reverse the losses that so many feel he has suffered of late.