Meek Mill is not a bad rapper

Tuesday, November 15, 2016 - 4:18pm

Meek Mill

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Atlantic

 

Meek Mill is not a bad rapper. Let’s repeat that: Meek Mill is not a bad rapper.

If you’ve spent any time on Twitter in the last year, that might come as a surprise. After his horrible — absolutely horrible — handling of his beef with Drake, Mill became the face of “trash” rap, a nice hashtag that requires little effort or evidence to support, but takes up few characters out of the allotted 140.

But Mill’s rapping is not trash. Rather, Mill’s publicity skills and clearly anyone who could've said anything — seriously, anything at all — to him throughout that beef are. In some respects, he earned his criticism. A native of South Philadelphia, a product of a difficult upbringing which involved police brutality, the loss of his father to an armed robbery, and an intense, escapist focus on battle rapping in his teen years, Mill should have possessed the credibility and the experience to hold his own in a rap battle with a former “Degrassi” actor.

But Mill fell into the trap of appealing to Twitter to fight his battles. For a rapper who brandishes Glocks on his tracks, it came across as petty when he took to the internet platform to complain about Drake failing to “retweet” his album drop. Meek’s very valid critique about Drake hiring ghost writers rather than penning his own bars was buried in the Toronto native’s perfectly coordinated response.

Drake, following the cardinal social media rule which Mill seems to be completely oblivious to, appealed to the hashtag, to the slogan, rather than true credibility. Never mind that “Charged Up,” Drake’s initial response track, was underwhelming and skirted the issue at hand almost entirely. The true punch came in the timing — he dropped it on his brand new Apple Music Radio Show, just coming off a high from his well-received release If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, and curated and cut-down on his own social media to balance against Mill’s seemingly unhinged and childish slew of follow-up tweets.

While Mill should have just entered the studio and told it as it was, ignoring the internet entirely, he failed to understand the way these things work. By the time “Back to Back” came around he had already lost, his abysmal response track putting the nail in the coffin.

That background is essential to keep in mind with Mill’s first full-length release since that implosion. It’s clearly a moment which caused Mill an identity crisis as the public turned against him, and he uses DC4 to express some of that frustration. It’s a refreshing reminder of Mill’s rap prowess, but also brings up questions as to where that anger and that intense focus was when under pressure.

Still, DC4 largely succeeds in reaffirming that Mill still has skill behind the mic. He has a penchant for powerful opening tracks, and “On The Regular” delivers on this end. Recalling his first Dreamchasers mixtape and the opener to his last album, the track samples Carl Orff’s ominous “O Fortuna,” peppered with sharp gunshots. Mill is not holding his trigger finger back, and his bars are tight and pointed. But it’s no “Dreams and Nightmares,” and it won’t turn around detractors quite in the way his first track on his supposed “comeback project” should.

Like all of Mill’s projects, DC4 fluctuates between strong flashes of brightness and throw-aways. It’s the stand-out individual tracks which support his projects, not the works as a whole, and DC4 is no different in that respect.

Take the transition between “Shine” and “Froze.” The former feels like the clearest response to his past beefs, and functions almost like a diss track in its ability to brush off his detractors and look to what matters, telling us on no uncertain terms, if it “Wasn't for this music / I'd prolly be dead.” That high moment, though, moves to one of the missteps of the album, the Nicki Minaj and Lil Uzi assisted track “Froze.” It’s messy and lacks any cohesive rapping, save for a short stint by Minaj, to salvage itself. That back and forth can be a bit too common on this tape.

But while those two features don’t necessarily meet expectations, the guest list on this project is particularly important. It reads as a kind of who’s who of rap, as well as an alignment along pro-Drake, no-Drake lines. A number of rappers here have been involved in their own spats with the crooner, Tory Lanez and Pusha T being the most prominent.

At times those features have a tendency to overtake Mill himself. “Offended” is a Young Thug song in every way but name — that sparse, murky production and a never ending hook. You might have to listen to it more than once to even realize that Mill has a verse somewhere within the dominating interplay between Thug and up-and-comer 21 Savage. That the track is one of the highlights of the tape is a testament to the skill of the features, but also raises concerns for Mill’s own ability to craft a track.  

However, keeping to that back and forth mixtape pattern, Mill proves this worry wrong with “Lights Out,” perhaps the best track here. It’s classic Meek Mill, putting his angry bars at the forefront and keeping the production just bare enough to make its impact and fall away.

The end result is a mixed bag, equal parts moving and equal parts forgettable. The high notes, though, are high enough to place Mill back on his feet, and with some credibility regained at that. It’s not the roaring comeback that he could have used, and it’s hard to rationalize why he would continually push back and increase the anticipation for such a non-explosive tape, but nonetheless it’s a solid reminder that Mill isn’t done quite yet.