There’s a really great twitter, @MeekMillRapLike, that meme-ishly collects all-caps comparisons for Philadelphia rap star Meek Mill’s delivery: “MEEK MILL RAP LIKE HE STEPPED ON A LEGO PIECE,” “MEEK MILL RAP LIKE HE TRAPPED IN A ELEVATOR,” “MEEK MILL RAP LIKE HE ORDERING FOOD FROM THE PASSENGER SEAT.” There’s a reason this Twitter exists: Nobody, and especially nobody at the A-list rap-star level, raps like Meek Mill. Meek has risen to stardom at a time when peevish fame-laments and pill-gobbling luxury-rap are the order of the day for rap stars. And yet he brings a ferocious urgency, a demons-chasing-me fury that’s all but disappeared from the highest levels of the game. Even at his most relaxed, on a song like the great churchy Drake-collab hit “Amen,” he has things that he wants to get off his chest. And now that he’s a famous rapper with famous-rapper concerns, those things are persistently refusing to go away. When Kenrick Lamar provocatively rattled off a list of his peers’ names on his landmark “Control (HOF)” verse, Meek was the only one of those names to respond by, more or less, threatening to murder Kendrick. On his new Dreamchasers 3 tape, Meek refers to himself as the “last of the street niggas,” and the tape makes two strong arguments: First, that this is true, and second, that this is an important thing to be.
Dreamchasers 3 probably shouldn’t be a mixtape; it should be an album. I mean, it is an album, just like the first two Dreamchasers tapes were. Those tapes were among the most popular and important rap mixtapes of the last few years. They both produced a ton of radio hits, and they’re what turned Meek into a star. But Dreamchasers 3 is Meek’s first tape since his first proper album Dreams & Nightmares came out, sold well, and proved that he could thrive in that commercial sphere. Dreams & Nightmares was a strong album, but it had issues. It was front-loaded, moving from the frantic badassery of the amazing “Dreams & Nightmares Intro” to the various radio-targeted widescreen triumph-rap songs that moved Meek further than he’d ever been from the electric Philly street-rap that had first helped Meek build his name. And honestly, Dreamchasers 2 had some of those same issues. But Dreamchasers 3 is the moment where Meek puts it all together, where the big, slick production style of his Maybach Music crew finds a way to mesh beautifully with his own all-out intensity. It’s a beautifully put-together rap album, and we are lucky to get it at all, let alone for free. It’s so good.
Dreamchasers 3 opens, the way you’d expect: Three tracks of churning, epic, guest-heavy triumph-rap. Diddy and Birdman yell about how superior they are to everyone else. Rick Ross huffs imperiously. Nicki Minaj delivers her hardest verse in recent memory. Meek himself wails through Auto-Tune in that post-Future style but still explodes with energy while he does it. But then, after those three tracks, there’s an abrupt change. The sound-quality suddenly turns muffled, and we hear three chorus-free minutes of excited mush-mouthed rapping, all done seemingly off the top of some kid’s head. The voice we’re hearing belongs to Lil Snupe, the 18-year-old Meek protege who was murdered in Philly in June. I’d never heard of him before the news stories about his murder, but that extended freestyle makes it clear that this kid had a lot of talent. As the track winds down, DJ Drama, the mixtape’s host, calls for a moment of silence, and then the tape actually fades to silence. It only lasts about eight seconds, but it feels much longer. When Meek returns, on “Lil Nigga Snupe,” he’s ratcheted his already-gonzo flow up a few levels of urgency: “They killed my lil nigga Snupe! My lil nigga was the truth and all they wanted was a coup! All they wanted was a coup! So what’s a nigga supposed to do? Tell them put the guns down? Or tell these little niggas shoot? Because they’ll do the same shit to me, do the same shit to you!” It’s a pained, determined, rigorous, and confused piece of rap music, and a reminder that there are real stakes to what Meek does. No matter how high he climbs, he can’t protect the people he loves. That’s true of a lot of rap stars, but with Meek alone, you get the sense that this knowledge kills him.
After “Lil Nigga Snupe,” Dreamchasers 3 returns to the same stuff that Meek always does very well, the same combination of fired-up money-rap and emotive came-from-nothing reminisces. It’s all great. From time to time, Meek will hijack elements of classic rap songs — Naughty By Nature’s “OPP” on “Hip Hop,” the Luniz’ “I Got 5 On It” on “Heaven Or Hell.” But those songs aren’t mere freestyles; they’re fully realized new songs with ghosts of memory dancing through them. Meek keeps a sense of weight and consequences intact; even when he’s rapping about Bentleys, you know he’s only second away from remembering selling drugs to his friends’ parents, or paranoically ranting on all the people who want to see him fall. The guests, who range from Future to Jadakiss, all seem to know that they’re on these songs with someone special, and they all raise their games accordingly. (Jada’s appearance on the Luniz-referencing “Heaven Or Hell” is a thing of terse beauty and Fabolous’s verses here make the case that that dude is due for another comeback.) And all throughout, the force and electricity of “Lil Nigga Snupe” echoes and reverberates. Meek exists in a fantasy-rap universe now, but he can’t or won’t let his music turn into pure fantasy material. He invests too much every time he opens his mouth.
After a few slow weeks, I had a hell of a time picking a Mixtape Of The Week this time out. There was old Chance The Rapper buddy Vic Mensa stepping out on his own on Innanetape. There was Chicago R&B singer Tink continuing to develop on the tough Boss Up. There’s Kelela’s forward thinking club-soul opus Cut 4 Me. There are new Cam’ron and Fiend tapes that I haven’t even had time to listen to yet. If we get some slow weeks, or even some not-furiously-busy weeks, one or more of those tapes might end up in this column anyway; I would love to write about that Kelela tape. But Meek Mill just cannot be denied. He’s too good. He’s really fucking good.
Download Dreamchasers 3 here.