Upon signing with Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group imprint in 2011, Meek Mill seemed destined to fill the role of the label’s in-house “street” rapper. Meaningless guest spots, uninspired and somewhat worthless mixtapes added up to little-to-no label support for his debut album (if it would ever be released).

Meek Mill

Dreams and Nightmares
Warner Bros

As time passed, however, something incredible happened — Meek Mill became a rap superstar. He was no longer the MMG back-up plan — he was the future.

By 2012 he was on tour with Drake, signed to Jay-Z’s management team and featured Mariah Carey songs, all while remaining the very same corner boy. This is Meek Mill’s appeal: He is the voice of the streets, a ghetto superstar. And though he has made it big time, he definitely hasn’t forgotten where he came from.

Meek stays true to his roots on his debut album, Dreams and Nightmares. The record’s main flaw is summed up in the title — the album has dreams (the party songs) and nightmares (the hood songs), and really nothing else. Dreams and Nightmares is more of a polished mixtape than an actual album, filled with the same gritty street tales, booming trap beats, three Ross guest spots and head-scratchingly stupid lines.

The title track starts off the album perfectly. It begins with a calm, piano-laden beat, with Meek lazily rhyming about his journey to stardom … and then bam! The real beat comes in. “Hold up wait a minute / Y’all thought I was finished?” Meek yells to the listener, almost offended, and then goes on to absolutely demolish the track, barking out lyrics with bombastic energy.

The album then plays out expectedly, with mixed results — there are the dreams, laced with money, women and alcohol, and there are nightmares, filled with drugs, guns and the hood. The album sits at a solid 14 tracks, but it feels a lot shorter, considering that many of the songs are carbon copies of one another.

One of Meek’s strengths has always been his storytelling. On “Traumatized,” the better of the two street tales on the album, he viciously swears to kill his father’s murderer, and vividly recounts growing up in the hood with just his mother.

“Believe It,” featuring label boss Ross, is vintage MMG head-splitting trap music. It’s something that Meek was born to do, and the two work off each other like Shaq and Kobe in their primes (Yes, Ross is obviously Shaq). Rozay brings his A game, and comes close to outshining Meek simply on the basis of his ridiculous chorus: “I gotta bad bitch in my Chevy / Sellin’ Miley Cyrus in my brand new Monte Carlo / I got that Justin Bieber please believe it / A quarter million hangin’ on my collar.”

Best of all is “Amen,” the first single, featuring Drake. The song, with a buoyant piano loop and an infectious chorus, strikes the perfect balance between pop hit and hood anthem, and Meek sounds perfectly at home.

Some dreams, though, can turn into nightmares.

“Maybach Curtains,” featuring Ross, Nas and John Legend, had the potential to be a classic track, but instead became a complete mess. Legend is out of place, the beat sounds cheap and the song as a whole is utterly cheesy. Meek follows the trend of rappers buying a Nas feature in order to appear serious, and, unsurprisingly, ends up getting completely outshined — hearing the two rapper’s verses back-to-back is like watching a high school basketball team play the Miami Heat.

On the first track, Meek raps, “Double M / Yeah that’s my team / Rozay the captain / I’m the lieutenant.” Dreams and Nightmares, then, is a success for Meek, as he has finally risen from the unknown private he was two years ago. Only his next album, however, can prove if he has what it takes to move up to captain.

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