Meek Mill‘s long-delayed Dreams Worth More Than Money may be just the Philadelphia rapper’s second official full-length but it feels like much more.
Following up his 2012 debut, Dreams & Nightmares, Mill’s cultural footprint over the last three years has been greater than your average sophomore’s. That’s thanks to his Dreamchasers mixtape installments and appearances on Rick Ross‘ Maybach Music Group’s Self Made compilation series (his turns on “Ima Boss,” “Tupac Back” and “Levels” remain the most indelible moments of those albums and his career). And though his biggest moments have come from singles outside of his own LP’s, Dreams Worth More Than Money is surprisingly focused, presenting an uncomfortably lucid, non-pensive character study detailing the underside of the American Dream.
In an era of simmering social tensions and confusion, Meek boils over with tangible rage and red-hot clarity. “If you’re just hearing us, then it’s probably too late,” he rhymes, his anger directed at the standard cast of detractors — unnamed haters, non-supportive teachers, hateful judges. But he’s speaking through them as stand-ins for greater existential and societal forces, addressing bigger issues: outward manifestations of self-doubt, a dysfunctional educational apparatus and a lopsided criminal system.
There’s little space for nuance here. Meek is blunt, not slick; forceful not showy. He simultaneously raps with the intensity of an aspirational corner boy and the mentality of kingpin: “Look at all the young n—-s flexing from the bottom/ We just want the money, the respect and all the power,” he rhymes on “Check.”
Nearly every song on Dreams Worth More Than Money is big and anthemic — from the gothic opera of an opener “Lord Knows,” to the loudness of the Rick Ross-assisted “Been That,” to the spacey “I Got the Juice.” Perhaps a singular entity in rap with verifiable hood status and battle rap bonafides, Meek pummels through the music with his “yell-rap” conversation full of internal punch lines.
Despite using a separate set of producers for all but two tracks on the album, he makes every number his own by bulldozing his way through them each with a gravitational force that even pulls guest appearances into his orbit: On producer Bangladesh’s “Classic,” Swizz Beatz forgoes his party-starter persona and reaches back to his Ruff Ryders days, asserting that “the Glock 9 is on me in the booth.” And on “R.I.C.O.,” Drake stops by to claim that “we just might get hit with the RICO.”
The only one who coaxes Meek into using his inside voice is his girlfriend, Nicki Minaj, who slows it down with him on the obvious radio-aimed “Bad For You” and “All Eyes on You” — both contenders for the most loosely autobiographical “Bonnie and Clyde”-type numbers rap has seen.
Meanwhile, on “Cold Hearted,” Mill’s all reflection without the melancholy, telling his story with a breathless, steely-eyed reserve: “Mommy was booster, Daddy was a shooter/ So they couldn’t blame me when I went and copped the Ruger/ Looking at my homey, see the ghost of Freddie Kruger/ ‘Cause if he catch you sleeping he gon’ knock out your medulla/ Oblongata/ I’ma father and my son don’t see a lot of/ If I don’t get it, he gonna probably end up with a chopper.”
These moments of broad introspection season the album that make all the breathlessness and greed make sense. Meek Mill is boastful and honest — a rapper obsessed with the trappings of wealth that are dangled before Black boys and engaged in the happiness of pursuit. But he’s also dealing with generational neglect and determined to break the cycles in which he often seems to find joy. His dreams are worth more than money, but money is also the route to his freedom — it’s not just the American Dream, it’s the American Paradox.