Yes, he’s looking up at Paramore…
Patrick St. Michel: MEEK MILL RAP LIKE he’s been waiting for this moment. MEEK MILL RAP LIKE he’s keenly aware that a Maybach Music drop and major-label debut guarantee absolutely nothing going forward, that everything can change in 2014 so he better turn the title track into his autobiography just in case this is his one chance. MEEK MILL RAP LIKE he’s been gifted a gorgeous piano line and swelling string section, as good as anything on the Drake album, and knows he has to take advantage of the emotional complexity it implies. MEEK MILL RAP LIKE he can alter things with just his voice, like when he decided to pick up the intensity in his voice the music has to shapeshift along with him, no other choice. MEEK MILL RAP LIKE he knows he’s one of the best rappers around, and he’s not afraid to show it off.
David Turner: This is how you grab one’s attention. It isn’t the aggression in Meek’s delivery that makes the song so compelling. It’s that every word feels like it could and should change the listener’s life. Passion is what makes Meek Mill one of the most impressive rappers of 2013, because where other rappers duck and weave these emotions into their music, Meek leaves it all on the table and doesn’t let one look away. The blood is on the streets. The time was served. The Aston Martin sits in the lot. Meek’s verbal images blankly stare, confront a listener and are gonna start a conversation even if you don’t want to have it.
Iain Mew: A narrative of nightmares that turn into seeming dreams, played out in a song that turns from a seeming dream into a nightmare. First, Meek Mill is triumphant over dreamy piano. He did it (without an album). He acknowledges the difficulties along the way and the haters, but he got what he deserved. He’s made it to the top. And then he looks down. The nightmare hits in a vertiginous rush, in the suddenly eerie sounds and in the startling mid-song drop of the Maybach Music ident, but most of all in Meek Mill’s intensity. “Y’all thought I was finished??”. He talks about the present but he also runs through downsides past with exactly the same heightened force as if still experiencing them all right at that moment. It’s the most amazing way of showing that the climb had too much of an effect to only talk about the destination.
Zach Lyon: I used to pray for times like this, to rhyme like this so I had to grind like that to shine like this. He used to Dream of achieving the success he currently has, and he needed to work hard to get to where he is today. Success is what makes him a hater’s Nightmare. It was time to marry the game and I said yeah I DO. See, but these fucking RapGenius nerds always stretch these lines to fit their own projections of the romance of uncouth, unbackpack rap, which conveniently throws away half the song. Who the fuck hears this and reads that as “married to the rap game” without any caveats? Did you listen? Get over it: this isn’t about congratulations or sentiment. “Dreams and Nightmares” is about a dichotomy, about two lives lived, but Meek is only interested in the ways those lives create each other. N—- please, before them triggers squeeze. To fire a gun, more specifically a handgun. You’re fucking welcome. I did it without an album. [beaming] I did shit with Mariah! Meek Mill did it without an album, wherein “it” refers to “achieving success within the rap game” and “without an album” refers to “not having an album out at the time.” The subject uses Mariah Carey (born March 27, 1970 in Long Island, New York), a popular and respected singer of “rhythm and blues” (“R&B”) as a yardstick for his own success. Okay but how the fuck are you not gonna mention the beaming? It’s right there in the script. When I bought the Rolls-Royce they thought it was leased. Then I bought that new Ferrari hater rest in peace. Is there room to talk about how he’s basically rapping over “Tonight” by Elton John? I’d like to find a compromise. “Dreams and Nightmares” is about compromise (it’s a burbling, festering hell-broth of compromise), stop forgetting that. HOLD ON WAIT A MINUTE. Y’ALL THOUGHT I WAS FINISHED? Okay look, the joke is that it’s an intro. Sometimes “Intro” is in the title. It was never even a single, it wasn’t released in 2013, it shouldn’t be here because this isn’t The Intros Jukebox. It just got a video and become a weird summer hit in Baltimore and then DC (apparently not even in Philly!), so I thought it was a single. The joke is WHEN I BOUGHT THAT ASTON MARTIN Y’ALL THOUGHT IT WAS RENTED? FLEXIN’ ON THESE N—-S I’M LIKE POPEYE ON HIS SPINACH DOUBLE M YEAH THAT’S MY TEAM ROZAY THE CAPTAIN I’M LIEUTENANT. See, the thing about Hell — CAUSE MY MOMMA NEED THAT BILL MONEY MY SON NEED THAT MILK. THESE N—-S TRYNA TAKE MY LIFE THEY FUCK AROUND GET KILLED. There is no such thing as purity in success and Meek wants you to get that. Success in the music industry isn’t purer than the success anywhere else. “Else”. ALL I KNOW IS MURDER. WHEN IT COMES TO MEEEE! I mean, there’s glee here, there’s glee in success, there will always be glee in impurity. This isn’t a linear narrative, it isn’t called “Dreams (Occurring After) Nightmares” and it isn’t called “Started From the Bottom”. Time doesn’t work like that. This is some BILLMEEK MILLGRIM HAS COME UNSTUCK IN TIME shit. I’M LIKE REAL N—- WHAT UP. REAL N—- WHAT UP. Have you ever heard a beat so scared of its rapper? Can you imagine it existing before his part was recorded? IF YOU AIN’T ABOUT THAT MURDER GAME THEN P—- N—- SHUT UP. You are explicitly being asked not to romanticize the past by romanticizing the present. Fucking geniuses, as you moralize all over hip hop, stop talking about Hell like it isn’t there anymore; nightmares are eternal. WITH THAT PUMA LIFE ON MY FEET. LIKE THAT LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD. Meek Mill wears Puma brand shoes and is the little engine that could. Also a reference to Antonioni’s La signora senza camelie (1953). THEY GON’ REMEMBER ME! I SAY REMEMBER ME! What impresses me most is how good Meek is at rapping in caps but avoiding exclamation points, and how effectively he rations the exclamation points he does use. Also, here’s like a career’s worth of pathos in two lines, courtesy of his voice. (Suggestions: Meek will always be remembered in the rap game.) AND IF I LEAVE THINK THEM PRETTY H–S GON’ STILL SUCK MY DICK? THERE WAS SOMETHING ‘BOUT THAT ROLLIE WHEN IT FIRST TOUCHED MY WRIST HAD ME FEELIN’ LIKE THAT DOPE BOY WHEN HE FIRST TOUCHED THAT BRICK. What I say is that I essentially have my own Comics Code about drugs, that songs about hard drugs need to angle themselves in against territory for me to be able to listen to them. That isn’t true; I listen to them anyway, I just feel weird about myself the whole time and my brain starts typing things too fast and I get internally sweaty. There are obvious moral qualms about most of at least half this song, about murder and the use of female bodies as barometers — I’m not a part of the “never acknowledge any of this” crowd — but speaking only personally, I flinch when I see a fucking recipe for “Cheesy Bread on Crack” on Pinterest. That’s my full disclosure. That said, when the RG geeks talk about this line like he’s comparing himself to some other hypothetical dope dealer — he felt similar to a — and not he, Meek Mill, convicted dope dealer, gun possessor and violator of parole, I want to strangle them. And everyone else who doesn’t recognize the dehumanization in whitewashing the lives of the artists they love. Not past lives; lives. That’s the magic in “Dreams and Nightmares”, a song about the pleasures of walking through Hell as a tour guide rather than just telling stories about it from the reserved seat in Heaven — Meek forces his onto you his humanity, anthemizing the similarities between rap game success and game game success, poisonous and violent though one may be; they both compose a life. (Introducing your rap game Taylor Swift.) And still, this is the shit that happens! It has nothing to do with how reliably this song gives me chills (and the chills), or how it made me cry like the first twelve times I heard it. I can’t entirely explain those, but I can explain how impressed I am that Meek wrote a song in response to his RapGenius editors before they even heard it. And I’m so, so glad someone had the audacity to think Meek Mill leased a car. I’m gone. Holy shit, did you know this song is almost four minutes? It always feels half that long or twice that long. Weird!
Anthony Easton: The anxiety about money needed for his son’s milk and the bragging about Rolls-Royces not on lease might be a perfect breakdown of the American problem of capitalism.
Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: The problem with working freelance is that downtime between jobs becomes a necessary evil. While you look for the next gig (or consider giving up the gig for something stable you can easily hate) you develop bad habits. Sleeping late, eating crap, not showering, watching reruns of 106 & Park everyday. Watching the teen-friendly chart countdown became a daily practice for a while at the start of 2013, soon becoming one of life’s little comforts: its audience was always loud, Bow Wow’s intonations were always goofy and its charts beside the point. One morning, “Dreams and Nightmares” appeared, Meek Mill’s knotty verbal barrage a visceral shock compared to the surrounding videos (even when broken down into spasmodic clean edits). It became the one song from those viewings that tapped into senses of triumph and frantic uncertainty, senses I dealt with everyday trying to find employment. At times it was a battery in my back to move forward; other times, I used it for frustrated flails of aggression. It was messy, furious, bleak, inspiring — a complex emotional universe in one song. There’s no happy ending to my story — I found work, then work dried up and I’m looking for more — and the song’s much the same, halting with little idea of what lies around the corner. But at least “Dreams and Nightmares” is there these days to help deal with what may come, gnarled and brittle yet all kinds of thankful.
Brad Shoup: You wonder how either of those nouns apply. The man’s eyes are wide open, staring down those millions. It’s not a total commitment: Meek ticks off strip clubs like they gave him Purple Hearts, but I think I hear disbelief when he mentions Mariah. There’s also a caveat about milk money, but it’s a sandbar in the ocean of his raw ambition. (It’s the flashback of a final couplet — the feel of a luxury watch on his skin — where you feel the motivation.) He snaps and bellows, rolling deep with an electronic choir, hitting his marks and blowing by you. He mentions Batman & robbin’ and Gs moving in silence as if Eminem and Weezy never existed… dicey. But to linger is silly; he’s three blocks away. I wish we could give him an Oscar, but he’d probably melt it down.
Alfred Soto: He’s married to the game, sure, but the attachment to rhyming for its own sake represents a deeper commitment (“I don’t say a word,” he lies), but he can’t concentrate cuz like Kevin Gates and Pusha T the nightmares recur. For sure he’ll find a better backing track than Maybach Music string swells soon enough.
Will Adams: Meek Mill’s performance is stellar, probably the most impassioned thing you’ll hear for months, and the midway switch is just as thrilling the tenth time as it is the first. He moves so fast, though, that it’s easy to get jumbled up as he oscillates between past and present. The force on display might just be enough to sit back and let it play out, like a dream you can’t control.
Katherine St Asaph: This is how you pull off both concept — soft/loud, dream nightmare, piano-as-poignance/piano-as-bullets — and substance: the American dream as lucid dreaming you’ve got to prolong, the place where “successful” becomes “terrified.”