Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

Meek Mill ft. Miguel – Stay Woke

Now #free…


Julian Axelrod: Meek Mill’s first months of freedom find him testing the waters with a sampling of his different modes: hype Meek, romantic Meek, “Dreams and Nightmares” Meek, etc. It feels like he’s still trying to figure out how to return to rap after going through hell, and “Stay Woke” gives us an excerpt of his internal monologue. It’s moving and insightful, obviously; after everything he’s been through, how could it not be? For all the discussion of his singular delivery, Meek also has an ear for vivid imagery. His recounting of his upbringing hits especially hard: “I used to play the quarterback, my dog would go receiver/That was ’til the ball got flat by a dope needle on the pavement.” But it also feels calculated, like he’s giving us the post-prison rumination he thinks we expect. Miguel’s chorus feels especially superfluous, like Meek scribbled some vaguely triumphant platitudes and found the wokest R&B singer in his contacts to record it in one take. Yet even as the song buckles under the weight of its own expectations, it’s still a joy to hear Meek barking over ominous pianos like he never went away. All the freedom and pathos you need is right there in his voice.

Alfred Soto: It’s hard to understand what Meek raps about here, so swept up is he in the wash of words and by trying to hone his anger — or resignation? “How can I pledge allegiance to the flag/When they killin’ all our sons, all our dads?” is the question of the hour, and he nails it.

Ryo Miyauchi: Three verses weren’t ever going to be enough to fit what Meek wants to discuss, and he leaves with more questions than he started. The clearest section is the second, where he tries to understand the SoundCloud generation and how he sees some of their foolishness in his own past as well. His food for thought doesn’t call for a replay even with a Miguel feature, but it’s a nice check-in from a free Meek Mill nonetheless.

Thomas Inskeep: Meek Mill was, to me, destined to forever be a B-list rapper — until his absurd incarceration. Since he became a cause célèbre, there’s an urgency to his bars, a “black CNN” quality (thanks, Chuck D) to his lyrics. Miguel’s the perfect R&B singer to provide the hook, and does so just so. The production here (not trap, thank God, but very much of a NY state of mind) accents it all perfectly with crisp snares and some eerie ’90s echoes in the background.

Micha Cavaseno: Emotive content and evocative imagery has always suited Meek Mill. The MEEK MILL RAP LIKE meme, as well as an obnoxious feud with everyone’s favorite Canadian carpetbagger, horribly distorted his perception in the media, but he’s still been one of the best rappers in America for at least a decade. His turn to political and pensive content following his recent jail stint has been fascinating, and in a world where political rap is usually only pushed from “conscious” artists,” a real shot in the arm. That said, “Stay Woke” is dreary both to effect and to a fault. The Miguel hook is greasy and dull, while the beat is far too generic. Were this a pre-Dreamchasers mixtape cut to offset his various “Rosé Red“s, it’d be a revelation. Instead, it’s a confirmation and reconciliation for a rapper who, in so many ways, has never known how to be treated fairly.

Jonathan Bradley: “Stay Woke” is Meek Mill in “Dreams and Nightmares” mode, absorbing into his voice such weight of accumulated struggle that he ceases to sound like a mere man, his voice haunting the track like a specter representing an entire community. The past few years of arrests, grotesquely unjust imprisonment, and subsequent freedom has made him larger than his impressive yet hardly indomitable career, a marker of an American justice system that requires of black men only that they lose. Jay-Z wrote op-eds about Meek in the New York Times, and Meek explicitly connects the personal experience of becoming a cause with national debates about police brutality and the carceral state, but he also focuses sharply on neighborhood stories that don’t make the papers; “I used to play the quarterback, my dog would go receiver/That was ’til the ball got flat by a dope needle” is a couplet as richly detailed as the history of, say, black arguments for civil rights going hand-in-hand with military service. And yet “Stay Woke” might have set Meek an impossible task: to all at once make policy arguments, bear witness to his specific circumstance, claim back his personhood from a state that tried to take it away, and still be the hot street rapper we know him to be. Unexpectedly, the soft rock grit of the beat helps; it made me want to revisit fellow Philadelphian Beanie Sigel’s “Feel It in the Air.” “The label couldn’t drop me,” Meek raps at one point, “I’m too valuable” — but he pronounces it like “voluble.” Good thing he’s both.

Reader average: [3] (2 votes)

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One Response to “Meek Mill ft. Miguel – Stay Woke”

  1. really into Jonathan’s blurb, and not just because we both quoted the same line