For at least an hour after Meek Mill released his Dreamchasers 2 tape on Monday, the mixtape download site DatPiff was overloaded with traffic and basically couldn’t function at all. In rap’s current mixtape-based climate, crashing DatPiff is the rough equivalent of what going platinum in a week used to be. I can only remember it happening once before, with Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Allderdice earlier this year. And that demand speaks to something. Meek, who spent years as a fired-up underdog, is now a rap star. And Dreamchasers 2, more or less, sounds like the work of a rap star. It’s a done deal. That can be a good thing and a bad thing, but in this case it’s mostly a good one.
Meek’s been running around Philly’s unusually active underground rap scene for years, banging up against all the furiously talented State Property and Major Figgas veterans who dominate the city. But he came into his own when Rick Ross, in the midst of a Maybach Music signing spree, snapped him up. Most of Ross’s Maybach Music roster still consists of blog-approved rap-underdog types who’d never done much commercially before Ross got ahold of them: Wale, Pill, Stalley. And even though Wale ended up selling more albums than anyone had thought possible, Meek was the real breakout, his goofy-energetic nasal machine-gun flow ricocheting all over massive street-rap stompers like “Tupac Back” and “I’m A Boss.” It took me a while to come around on his first Dreamchasers tape, released toward the end of last summer, but it eventually emerged as one of my favorite of the year. On that tape, all of Meek’s underdog determination was on full raw display, kinetically freaking its way through elastic bangers like “House Party” and genuinely affecting memory-lane tracks like “Middle Of Da Summer.” On that first Dreamchasers, Meek was hungry.
Most of the best moments of Dreamchasers 2 recapture that same hunger. Early taste “Lean Wit It” is vengefully hard and merciless corner-boy rap with the sort of purposeful tension that nobody else can pull off quite like Meek. “Intro” and “Flexin” and especially the pure-gold Kendrick Lamar collab “A1 Everything” weld Meek’s all-out blackout flow to beats as sproingy and propulsive as his delivery. On the breathless “Burn,” Meek and producer Jahlil Beats manage the impossible trick of making Big Sean sound good. Those tracks are throwbacks to the brilliant urgency of the first Dreamchasers, and I hope Meek can keep that same sensibility strong as his star continues to rise. But another highlight — the one everyone seems to be picking out — is the Drake/Jerimih collab “Amen,” the one that shows a direction where Meek can push his talent if he loses his taste for making breakneck-yammer bangers. “Amen” is a smooth and celebratory track, an airy revel in all the good things coming Meek’s way lately. Like Drake, Meek sounds regal and contented in a way that he never has before. It’s a small taste of what I like to call the Life After Death leap — the treacherous moment where a young rapper goes from talking about needing money to talking about having money. Plenty of rappers lose their charm and charisma in that moment. “Amen” proves that Meek has what it takes to make the transition.
Dreamchasers 2 is not, for the most part, as satisfying a listen as its predecessor. It’s too long, and some of the second-half tracks are just awful. When he gets contemplative here, he veers toward puffily vague B.O.B.-style inspirational rap a little too far removed from the specific concrete memories of the first Dreamchasers tape. After the shockingly strong “Burn,” Big Sean shows up again on the execrable Lisa Lisa-flipping sex jam “Take U Home” and promptly returns to his old intolerable self; the Wale guest verse doesn’t help either. The shrill fuck-song “Face Down” is almost as bad. And as great as “House Party” was, it absolutely cannot survive a Mac Miller verse on the remix. Nothing can. So: Mistakes are made, but they’re the sort of mistakes that you can correct by selectively deleting tracks from your iTunes. And when Dreamchasers 2 is at its strongest, it’s another clear sign that Meek is an absolutely vicious and vital young voice, the sort of guy who can bring a sorely needed rapidfire determination to what remains of the rap mainstream. He’s a livewire, and we need livewires.
Download Dreamchasers 2 for free here.