Victor Vazquez, aka KOOL A.D., is a rapper/singer/producer/painter/ novelist/astrologist/male model/exotic dancer just trying to be free and live his life in a big beautiful world governed by brutal, soulless men enslaved by their own toxic ideologies.
Before I begin this review of Meek Mill’s new album, I’d like to voice a strangely controversial opinion: Meek won that beef with Drake. Now that there’s some distance, I think people are finally ready to overstand the treality of the situation.
Drake said in his corny breakout single “Successful” (released long enough ago that his teen fanbase probably doesn’t remember)—and I quote—”Diss me, and you’ll never hear a reply.” That same Drake got so triggered by Meek Mill tweeting that he has ghostwriters (which he verifiably does) that he dashed off to the studio to pen (possibly with the help of his ghostwriters) two entire songs, practically begging Meek to also write a song about him. Strikes me as needy. A cry for attention, which is par for the course with the dude.
Run “Charged Up” back without the fog of war blown up your ass by the Fake News and the Drake-hive. Dude sounds like he’s falling asleep. That ain’t hip hop. Sleep is the cousin of death; everybody knows this. Bruh even admits in his faked-based outro ad libs that he’s “not charged up” and “needing my battery,” or some corny shit like that. The underlying story here is he’s scared to go in, he’s pussyfooting, hesitant to take a shot back at Meek. At the time, Drake was notoriously friend-zoned by a woman he’d essentially proposed to on record, and she was dating Meek. In the same song, he admits that he didn’t have sex with Nicki Minaj, but he was “staring at the titties, tho.” How old are you, ten?) Off top, Drake lost already. He walked into this a dead man.
Drake knows he has nothing on Meek, so he had to come back on his wild underwhelming “hold on, hold on, do-over” track, “Back to Back.” Bruh admits that he “might be mad that I gave this attention.” I thought this was supposed to be a diss track, you polite-ass weirdo. “I waited four days” is hella funny, like, “I, a grown man, have waited four entire days for you, a grown man, to recite a poem about me over the musical stylings of a producer of your choice. I write to thee again to beg of thee a response.” This fool the type to show up to a Smack DVD battle in a costume; I can’t even. “Please, please don’t let these niggas near me.” Dog, you sound like a racist white woman trying to switch seats on a plane; you hella scary right now.
Drake’s refusal to accept who he is (as he simultaneously leans on the trappings of his privilege) is his biggest flaw: “Tell me who a real nigga, and who ain’t one.” That’s a real head-scratcher, the delusion of which is at peak “Started From the Bottom.” Meek Mill was raised by a single mother in South Philly public housing. His dad died when he was five, allegedly during a botched armed robbery. He was arrested at 18 for gun possession (while Drake was busy on the set of Canadian teen drama Degrassi) and beaten and framed by police. Through all that, he became an A-list rapper. Any one of those things makes him “realer” than a child actor from an affluent gated community in the Toronto suburbs.
On “Wanna Know,” Meek fired back with pure logic—very mean stuff. He opens with how Drake wrote a check to Chris Brown when they were beefing on some “make it all go away” and wore Meek’s chain for cred at the All-Star Game. He calls dude a pussy and a fan, and mentions Drake’s ghostwriter by name. These bars alone ether both of Drake’s tracks. Meek taunts dude like a middle-school bully and calls him a “fucking dork,” which is amazing. Meek rightly typifies Drake as a tourist and a wanna-be, mentions that he actually started from nothing, names two other ghostwriters, brings up the time Diddy smacked Drake in Miami, GETS DIDDY ON THE TRACK TALKING SHIT, and ends on when T.I.’s dude Cap literally urinated on Drake at a movie premiere and he was too scared to react. This track is devastating psychological terrorism: classic battle-rap stuff. Anyone who says Drake won has no idea what they’re talking about.
That’s all in the past. Meek dropped an album last week. I’m late to reviewing this, but I’m a busy guy—I’m in the middle of dropping a 100-song album and accompanying 100-chapter novel, publishing one song/chapter per day on Medium. Also, my internet has been acting funny lately, plus, I’ve been hitting the beach a lot. I finally got around to giving this album a listen, and it is, in fact, fire.
“Wins & Losses”
Classic opening title-track stuff. Patently cinematic, with spooky horror-movie pianos, theatrical mixing, the big, gated-slap-back-delayed-drum-flams or whatever-the-fuck-that-is sounds-like-a-big ass-shipping-crate-of-cocaine-landing-on-a-dock-at-the-beginning-of-a-gritty-New-York-crime-movie—the whole nine.
Meek lets the motivational speaker Eric Thomas get the first bars. Weird choice, but I fucks with it. Eric Thomas got a crazy story: dropped out of high school, lived on the streets ’til a preacher told him to go to college, got a job at Olive Garden, and ended up a motivational speaker. He’s going in here—hella screamo.
Meek comes in with a Bible quote: “Any weapon formed against us shall not prosper” (Isaiah 54:17), coupling that with, “Li’l nigga started with Oodles of Noodles, now we eatin’ lobster.”
The “Meek Mill yells his raps too loud” argument is the squarest criticism of bruh, and is lightweight racist and classist. Like, too loud for whom? This is hip hop, not the fuckin’ library. If you want to hear a quiet song, go listen to Bright Eyes, you herb.
All in all, a flawless entry. A solid 10/10.
This joint’s straightforward; earnest; heartfelt. The beat’s hella pretty. He said, “You suck at friendship.” That’s a funny bar. He’s really going in on this one, some of the best bars of his career maybe. Meek’s not always a punchline-heavy dude—he’s more delivery- and flow-oriented; hella Toni Morrison-esque. Take the couplet “Hate is fake and love is real / Niggas said I wouldn’t win I told them yes the fuck I will.” When I type those lyrics out and look at them, they seem so simple as to read as trite, but when you hear them in the patented Meek Mill half-crying scream, they’re imbued with a very deep pathos that dissolves any would-be cliché. The delivery is the engine of this song, as it is with most of his songs. I like this joint a lot. This is dude in peak form: effortlessly acrobatic; emotionally invested; practiced, but not forced. 10/10.
“Fuck That Check Up”
Meek’s doing those “new” styles everybody be doing lately, that Gucci, Three Six, Migos, Future, Young Thug, etc., etc. style, southern, nursery-esque, triplets, and what have you, but he still keeps it Meek Mill and inserts his own flows where he can. Uzi do his li’l flowy thing, too, like a young, cis, male Toni Morrison. Content-wise, Uzi’s verse is par for the course: designer hat and bag, automatic weapon, killing somebody, then having sex with their cousin (OK, maybe a slight curveball there), cash in the trunk of the rari (another twist: his rari has the trunk in the front), he’s rich, don’t call him on the phone, diamonds, up all night, spending two hundred thousand dollars on jewelry and clubbing, reinvesting the rest in, presumably, various drug sales, but also perhaps studio time and music video budgets and what have you. Like most of these “new cats,” it’s not really about what he says so much as how he says it. His verse is more like a drum solo that also happens to communicate words in the English language.
I like Meek’s little tap-dancey cadence on the last handful of bars:
Ever fuck a bad bitch in the bando, air mattress
Going HAM-o, poppin’ cash shit, Bape camo with the masses
Dirty young bull living lavish
Gets yo’ mans up, go to Paris
20 grand up when the teller hit
You can tell we ain’t never had shit, no way
“Whatever You Need”
This one has Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign on it. Not the biggest fan of Chris Brown, or even most modern male R&B in general haha, but Ty Dolla $ign be doing his thing. Meek is a dutiful student of the pop formula, so he needs to have a track like this, but I can’t help it—I like it more when he screams about selling drugs with his violent friends. 7/10.
“Niggas takin’ shots, they can’t stop me, they ain’t real enough” is an elegantly succinct distillation of the essay I dropped earlier on that whole beef. Apparently, I took this Drake thing more personally than Meek did, haha, wow, I was tripping; I was going in for no damn reason but the fun of it; I shoulda been a public defender. Isaiah 54:17 resurfaces again; no doubt. He says, “Money, power, respect / Eating breakfast on a jet.” He never says the word that conjoins these two ideas (lox), instead letting the listener piece it together. That’s what I call an “invisible bar.” 10/10.
This beat clean. Meek singing an autotune hook seems wrong on paper, but he pulls it off. I like how he goes out of his way to mention he was paid a couple million dollars to wear Pumas, which is about how much money it would take for someone to convince me to wear Pumas, too, HIYOOO. (Naw, J/K, ay Puma, holler at me.) Telling a woman he’s having sex with to kiss the diamond-encrusted chain framing a picture of his dead homie is an insanely strange, but oddly compelling—even touching—bar. 10/10.
Meek is autotuned again, and, like how he let Uzi’s vibe rub off on him (pause) on “Fuck That Check Up” he’s doing a similar thing here, meeting Thugger with his own sing-song style, which I would not have expected to work, but does. The Isaiah 54:17 line has becoming a recurring motif here, spanning multiple songs, here coupled with a slightly edited version of the “instant noodles to lobster” metaphor from the first joint. See, before, it was Oodles of Noodles brand and now it’s referred to as just “ramen noodles,” which I’m assuming is the Maruchan brand that became synonymous with “ramen” in hoods across the nation since probably like the ’80s. I do that self-referential shit all the time too—it’s not lazy, it’s art, haha.
Young Thug starts his verse with some intense imagery, watching the gas station surveillance footage of his dude King Troup being shot and killed and then vomiting, imagining shooting dice in heaven with dude when he dies too, and then, in a startlingly abrupt gear shift, punctuating this opening quatrain with Troup “kicking shit with all these bitches like he’s Kevin Gates,” a vaguely executed double entendre that, while describing Troup flirting with women in heaven, also alludes to Kevin Gates kicking a female fan in the chest at a show (she apparently was grabbing his dick, which is still no excuse), a very insane juxtaposition, an audaciously inappropriate, shockingly ugly punchline in the midst of earnest grief; unapologetically (even nihilistically) flippant, the type of uncomfortable complexity that so many Thugger fans find compelling, I guess, real ghetto shit, in other words. He goes on to mention he “don’t feel no love,” that he’s high on pharmaceutical painkillers, that he “don’t see no purpose,” that he’s in the county jail eating sandwiches, that he’s high on codeine/promethazine cough syrup, etc., etc., the whole time crooning like this is a dancehall love song. And this is like an average Thugger verse. Very weird dude. 10/10.
I forget which rapper was the first to mention their favorite bank-teller chick by name, but it’s an excellent trope. Guordan Banks is hella ’90s, in a good way—hella churchy. I feel like he only wears dress shoes. I just did a quick Google Image search on bruh: a fedora, of course. Shoulda called that. I appreciate that Meek has Future on this joint. Remember when somebody asked Future about his collabo tape with Drake and he was like, “That never happened?” Hahahaha. 10/10.
“Connect the Dots”
Classic Meek horror-movie organs beat. That spooky trap shit. Is it me, or does Papamitrou seem slept on as a producer? Rick Ross and Yo Gotti rapping on this one. Ross admittedly had some bars in his day, but I can’t fuck with him after that creepy-ass Cosby bar on that UOENO joint. Also, he was a corrections officer, which is not hip hop. Gotti do his thing tho. Still, I’ma have to give this one a 1/10.
Autotune love song—not my thing, but clean production. He starts off ad-libbing, “Sad to say it, but I love you / Don’t take no offense, but you’re my bitch.” Very mixed messages off top. “Fucking on you good, got you busting like you Rambo” is a funny ass line tho, I’ll give him that. Oh wait, he opens his verse talking about corresponding with the love interest while he was locked up, and Nicki says she first started talking to Meek when he was locked up, so this song is like a lamentful tune about Nicki Minaj? OK that makes it a little more interesting. But they broke up a while ago though right? So he’s like trying to get her back? Or he wrote this while they were still together but A&R insisted on keeping it on the album to fulfill that love song requirement for all pop rap albums? Or he made the song when they were still together but left it on the album *because* he wants her back? Or he just felt the song was a bop and put his feelings aside? Or it’s about some other chick he was also talking to while he was locked up and their subsequent side relationship? A stretch, but possible. But, I mean, dude was just saying that he was “act[ing] like [Nicki was] dead and it’s killing [her]” and “don’t ask me ’bout no Nicki” like four songs back on “1942 Flows,” so what happened in those four songs that would make him sing this love song now? Like I said, very mixed messages here. Love is a complicated thing, I guess. And if this song is about Nicki, then he just dissed Safaree with that “lame left you scarred” line? Ah, who cares, I guess, not my business. I actually kind of like this song, a real puzzle, haha. Still weirded out by the Ross feature on the last track, tbh. If Meek don’t want his label head on his tracks and dancing all in his videos, he should come over to Dum Shiny. (Dum Shiny is my record label I pretend to have sometimes.) Not a bad song tho. 6/10.
Lihtz Kamraz really do be lihtz! Haha, that was a dumb joke. Lihtz Kamraz is a weird ass name; I fucks widdit. Dude can sing, too. Another handful of casual Drake disses (“Mansion on the hills with the better views,” as in Views, and “Came from the bottom,” as in “Started from the Bottom” and some sort of “Energy” reference I couldn’t quite catch, but I’m p sure was aimed at “Drizzy”). Again, very succinct, compact disses—no need to retread these themes too heavily. Another couple Nicki disses (“Seen that bitch turn her back like a fraud,” as in “No Frauds,” and, “Showin’ the real monster,” as in “Monster”). Again, compact. Still wild confused about that “Fall Thru” joint tho, but whatever.
Sidenote: I got nothing against Nicki, I think she’s a great rapper. I remember digging her freestyles and stuff right before she blew up. She be having bars when she wants to. Not a huge fan of her poppier stuff, but respect the hustle. That being said, Remy Ma murdered her on “Shether.” Anyway, Meek getting live on this one, 8/10.
Dude, I get it—you got a Wraith; it’s a tight car. This beat slap, though; C.N.O.T.E. a beast, he got slappers. Trippy stereo-panning delay. Meek doin’ a sort of Kendrick interpolation here, sort of DNA flow here, kick pattern a lot like DNA too, matter fact. That whole “bro bro/whoa whoa/low low/yo-yo/Jojo/photos” scheme at the end of the first verse has shades of Danny Brown, too. Another Drake diss, responding to Drake’s “Do Not Disturb” diss, where Drake references a photo of Meek and Drake smiling and shaking hands. Meek here sets the record straight saying it was Drake who asked to take the picture. Funny details here, it’s like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. What else? Oh yeah, ha, codeine with Fanta; very Latino. 9/10.
“Young Black America”
I like Meek’s sense of narrative. He’s a good storyteller. He’s got a couple Scorsese-esque stories on his older tapes. This one is more just a sprinkling of vignettes illustrating the general malaise and desperation caused by the poverty inflicted by institutional racism and its discontents. One scene I found striking was, “They was playing ball, fouled him hard, said I’d be back / Broad day, threw his life away soon as he clapped / Gave that boy a life sentence, made his mama relapse.” A real economy of language here, a macro view of the ripple effect of violence within the larger context of poverty and addiction, distilled into three simple bars. Imagery…Toni Morrison…beat slap. 9/10.
Meek do his thing on this one. Verse Simmonds do his thing too—not bad for a modern male R&B singer. Lyrically sparse, nice harmonies. Damn, Meek Mill is a huge fan of Patek Philippe–brand watches, apparently. This gotta be like the fifth or sixth mention on the album. Decent joint. 7/10.
I have a Blue’s Clues bar, too, but Quavo put a specific-ass Blue’s Clues reference in the hook: “Feelin’ like Blue’s Clues / Here come the mail.” I had to Google what he was talking about. This fool really watched Blue’s Clues, haha. Meek telling a jeweler to “bust at my neck” is a tight line for reasons too nebulous for me to really fully explain properly, like it’s not quite like a double entendre, but more like a metaphorical repurposing of the slang terminology, telling somebody to fight you, but as applied to asking a jeweler to make you a very cool necklace. That’s my smart-dumb way of trying to say, “That’s a tight bar.” Pretty sure “bust at my neck” is a Philly thing, right? There’s probably hella Philly shit on this whole album that I’ve been missing, come to think of it. Philly got hella good rappers. Black Thought, Peedi Crakk, Beanie Sigel, Malik B, Dice Raw, Freeway, Spank Rock. 10/10.
“Made It From Nothing”
This is the song Drake wishes he could write and never will. (I’ll say it again: “Started From the Bottom” is an insult to actually poor people when coming from a child actor raised in a gated community in an affluent suburb of Toronto.) Teyana Taylor can sing; she’s lightweight slept on. Not a fan of Ross, but I did laugh at how he pronounces”ray-men noodles” despite myself. Ramen noodles, Patek Philippe watches, and the Rolls Royce Wraith seem to be the three major motifs on this album. 5/10.
He ends it on some classic “ramen noodles to lobster” Meek. I really liked his little hop-skip flow on: “Trappin’ since little kid, did a little bid / But I bounced back like the bullet did when it ricocheted, hit the little kid.” how he kinda double-timed it for a few bars, and almost ran out of breath, very emotional, well done. I like how he says that not having a dollar for the ice cream truck made him a boss, sort of a Tavis Smiley–esque anecdotal means of illustrating that recurring rags-to-riches motif. Very uplifting song, Eric Thomas vibes. 10/10.
In conclusion: This is another solid entry into dude’s oeuvre. It’s not his strongest release—all the bars sounded newer on the Dreamchasers and Dreams and Nightmares tapes and, it’s replete with all the contradictions and deprioritization of tact historically sewn into the lining of the genre. It’s also far from a bad album, and better than a lot of shit that’s come out recently. In other words, there’s some Wins and some Losses (HIYO!). Uneven but honest. It starts out hella strong, but halfway through, I realized the main reason I wanted to review it was to write a defense of Meek’s Drake diss track. But the album’s good, too…better than anything Drake put out, for what that’s worth, haha. OK, I’ma stop hating on Drake now; I’m a fool.