I don’t know the wise man or woman who came up with the saying "you win some, you lose some,” but he or she understood the natural rhythm of life. There are no triumphs without tribulations and no success without failure. For the last two years, publicly, Meek Mill’s career existed in this cycle of Ls and Ws. The highs have been noteworthy but it’s the losses that have cast a lasting shadow over him.
The fourth installment of Meek’s Dreamchaser series proved he was focused on returning to form and not on fighting unnecessary battles. DC4 is a solid tape with a handful of glowing moments but ultimately failed to be an impactful release. Despite not producing an industry-shaking behemoth, the comeback mixtape put him back in the good graces of those who thought he might be finished. His name has been in the media but hasn't caused a big ruckus. No big scene followed the breakup with Nicki, he didn’t have a headline-worthy remark after Remy Ma unleashed “Shether,” and after a childish encounter with Safaree, he didn’t play the social media game of tag.
His only focus has been his latest album, Wins & Losses. It's a fitting title for Meek; he understands both sides, and not just as a rapper, but a man. We know a bit about his publicized life in the spotlight, but what about the private life? The wins and losses that the camera doesn't capture?
Instead of a big single, Meek made the most noise around the album through a series of mini movies. Only three videos have been released thus far, but they all intersect to create a narrative. Each part is a piece of a short film, finally crossing Meek's music with cinema. He's always drawn inspiration from the streets that raised him, and he’s finally in the position to create videos that bring that slice of life to life through a visual medium.
He mentioned at the end of "Tony Story 3" that the next installment would be a movie; the Win & Losses short film is a step in that direction. Actions and consequence appear to be an ongoing theme in Meek’s cinematic world, likely an indication of what kind of stories will be told on the album. If Meek is ready to truly be candid about his wins and losses over the last two years, I’m excited to listen.
In usual 1 Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
1. "Wins & Losses"
Part of me wants a whispering intro instead of the boisterous beginning Meek is known for, change things up for a change. A few seconds in and I can tell this will be big. It’s a slow, daunting build-up. Like you’re walking through a prison and cell doors are being shut. A voice. Someone talking about dreams. Sounds like if Will Smith was a preacher. Meek! Mentioned noodles and lobster. So far the beat hasn’t dropped like a bomb. Energetic Meek. Sounds like the battery is on his back. Okay! The beat dropped but it wasn’t the explosion we've come to expect from him. The fast flow was a cool touch. This beat feels poorly picked. A little messy, like a thrashing crocodile and not a rampaging Godzilla. Not the beat you pick to jumpstart your project, especially when Meek’s energy is high and electric. I do like the rapping, it just isn’t complemented well by this GarageBand beat. You can feel Meek's middle finger being raised high in the air. O-Dog reference. Production held this one back but rap-wise Meek is starting off fairly strong.
2. "Heavy Heart"
Piano. I hope we get something a bit more mid-tempo and moody. Take a shot every time Meek mentions hustling and a name-brand watch. “The streets loved me with a heavy heart.” This is a much better sound. Soulful with a bit of grit. Someone backstabbed Meek and he wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of mentioning his name. Stop making nobodies famous all summer '17. Paranoia isn’t getting the best of him but betrayal will change a man. Boyz n the Hood reference. Really like the hood movie references. Second verse starting off very strong. He’s being candid about being famous and being around people he’s known before the success. I wonder how many friends stopped picking up his phone calls after the Drake beef. People change when they think it's over for you, just ask O.J. You can feel the weight of his heart. Overall, a pretty good song. Third verse. Ha, big head Gina reference. Need more Meek over soulful palettes. DC4 had plenty of bangers but the songs with production in the realm of soul and jazz worked wonders for Meek. An early keeper.
3. "Fuck That Check Up" ft. Lil Uzi Vert
Philly connect. Nice bass, nice drums. You feel this one in your funny bone. Meek sounds good, bending his style a bit more, but not too much where it’s awkward. I like this tempo, feels like popping a bunch of speed and running on a treadmill, overflowing with hyper energy. The bass is ridiculous. Meek’s flow is moving faster than a jaguar speeding in a Jaguar. Not used to hearing him float with a breathless approach. Uzi got tagged in. No rock star ayes and yeahs. Uzi is doing his best to keep up and he doesn't sound bad. Slowed up. Hearing anthem potential. Meek really must have loved this beat because he’s on his third verse and still treating the blistering instrumental like a rail that a skateboarder is determined to perform a flawless grind upon. Love the energy, definitely worth a placement on the workout playlist for anyone who likes to pump iron and be reminded to fuck the check up.
4. "Whatever You Need" ft. Ty Dolla Sign & Chris Brown
Four songs in and I’m not head-over-heels. Soft piano keys. DJ Mustard tag and Chris Brown's voice. Chris has fallen on hard times but his voice still sounds good. I'm really starting to enjoy the simplicity of Mustard beats. He really doesn’t overdo it. Meek sounds comfortable. I wonder why rappers still aim to make the cliché R&B single for their female fan base. There has to be a better way of catering to the ladies. Ha. Meek’s woman asked him to put on some Tory Lanez. Sometimes, I forget he’s pretty famous. Ty Dolla is still criminally underrated. He has that rasp in his voice that lets you know he always has a blunt in rotation. I just can’t conjure up an excitement about this record. Meek isn’t doing anything new or bringing together people and exploring innovative ideas. So far, he’s comfortable and safe and, to be completely honest, I’m a bit bored.
5. "1942 Flow"
1942, huh? I tend to be a sucker for rap songs with the word ‘flow’ in them. The way Meek says ‘whores’ is hilarious, like a kid who's trying to sound cool by cursing. I like this amount of enthusiasm pumping through his veins. The song built up nicely. Snare kicking. Meek is floating! Okay, I’m happy. The way he’s punching the pocket like a boxer punching the bag trying to get the form perfect. “My teacher used to tell me you gonna lose nigga.” I hope that wasn’t his guidance counselor. Talk your shit, Meek. There’s a certain clarity to the way he’s rhyming right now that's enjoyable. “Getting chips off music like Rap Snacks,” haha I like, I like. Meek singing? Doesn’t sound too bad. I expected much worse. “When you see me out don’t ask me about Nicki” for all the TMZ reporters out there. By far, the best record on the album thus far. Bars and honesty. Ramadan line is nice. He’s still going! Ha. You can tell when a rapper has a lot to get off his chest by the amount of space they take up on a beat. Meek’s proud of his accomplishments. Still nothing new here but it sounds good to hear him rip a beat with that much passion and zeal. Hopefully, he keeps it up.
Production just doesn’t have any flair. Far more lackluster than I’m used to hearing Meek rap over. Yet, Meek sounds like he just got hired into rap and has something to prove. He’s starting to get into a groove. Beat just dropped and it hit harder than being close-lined by Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1984. Now, we're cooking. Love the bounce! Meek pulling off some cool tricks. Added a bit of Auto-Tune to his vocals. Starting to see more rappers add Auto-Tune mid-verse or to deliver a bridge. “Better not tell anyone I kissed you,” ha, he's a choosy lover. 21 Savage found love and Meek is now the cold-hearted player. Finally, a beat that is properly hitting; I should've never doubted him. I get why this record was selected as a single but I also see why it didn’t work on a larger scale. Meek’s bangers lately just don’t bang or fail to be captivating. "Issues" is cool but it isn’t the one. I'm still searching for the one.
7. "We Ball" ft. Young Thug
Early homage to Lil Snupe and fallen soldiers. Interesting vocals hum in the background. I hope it doesn’t get annoying. Okay. Meek's getting pretty deep about his feelings after Snupe’s death. He sounds deeply meditative. A bit of Auto-Tune in his voice. I wish this was over the “I Believe I Can Fly” beat (but fuck R. Kelly). I’m a sucker for personal lyrics delivered with Auto-Tune. It just adds an extra amount of oomph to each line. Another mention of ramen noodles being upgraded to lobster. Sadly, I can’t eat lobster. Thugger! Oh man. He’s matching Meek’s mood. Mentioning a fallen homie. Ha. That was a WILD note Thug just hit. This kid has a style for every one of Donald Trump’s lies. Another flow switch. Thug raps like he has six personalities and they all have something to say but he refuses to use the same voice. “I’m a boss I never needed no manager.” Thug has completely taken over the song but that tends to happen when you invite Thug to rap. I like Thug on this but would've been okay with just Meek or more Meek. It is his album.
8. "These Scars" ft. Future & Guordan Banks
Mentioned Instagram and rap beef juxtaposed with real beef in real life. It’s just different. Beat is bananas, it should be sold with fresh produce. It’s lively, shining with personality. Drums are knocking harder than the police before a drug raid. Meek sounds good. Stunt rapping. Guordan Banks giving you that raised-in-the-church soulfulness on the hook. Was expecting Future to sing but he’s doing excellent. Giving me Cee-Lo vibes. Future came with bars. Future ad libs are better than your ad libs. This flow is so funny. He’s killing it, though. I’m not mad at the animated style. Starting to feel like there’s too many features. I wanted to hear more about Meek’s scars and now the song is over. I needed more Meek over a beat that could set off fire alarms.
9. "Connect the Dots" ft. Yo Gotti & Rick Ross
You can probably look at this lineup and imagine exactly what this song sounds like. I'm starting to feel like Ross has his own trap kit for beats. Thunderous like “Hold Me Back” and “Trap Trap Trap.” It literally feels like a Timberland boot is kicking my ear drums. This might be Meek’s “BMF.” Yeah, Meek definitely made this song or some variation back in 2011-2012. Doesn’t mean that I still won’t get crunk and sucker punch an elephant while this plays at obscene volumes. It makes me miss that Lex Luger era when "Hard In The Paint" caused an earthquake every time it dropped in the club. Yo Gotti and MMG have a great working relationship. Gotti did as Gotti has always done. Ross! “You scared of violence so you gotta cut the check." Crazy coming from the guy that had gang members threatening him in YouTube videos. Ross is still spitting like he’s recording for Rather You Than Me. “Still fly commercial but I don’t do TV shows” is my favorite line thus far. Ross is catching all kinds of bodies. He should’ve kept this and made “BMF 2.”
10. "Fall Thru"
Sounding like a love song. Also sounds familiar. Sample? Not sure. Lovey dovey Meek. I find it funny every time rappers mention sleeping with women in the trap. You know the Motel 6 really doesn’t cost that much. Maybe the Marriott if you're really digging her. I just can’t imagine one of these model chicks will be thrilled by the bando’s decor. I guess this song is sweet, adorable like DMX serenading a baby dolphin. “If you was a car you ride it like a Benz do,” and who said romance doesn’t exist in rap? Seriously, I really like this beat. It has the smoothness of a freshly waxed marble counter. The hook would work for the likes of T-Pain or August Alsina, but not exactly a match for Meek. I can see this becoming a sleeper single women love but it would’ve been much bigger if he sold this to a singer who could have turned it into an undeniable hit.
11. "Never Lose" ft. Lihtz Kamraz
Lihtz is new to my ears. Decent singing voice. Aggressive rap style. Is he a Dreamchaser? I do like the passion, he makes me feel like I will never lose. This is a far darker than the other production. Fiery flow from Meek. Sounds like he’s the Human Torch in the booth. You feel it in your soul that this man will not take another L. Yeah, someone pressed the switch. Meek sounds larger than life and prepared to step on any adversary in his path. Burning a hole into the beat. I dare Kanye to enter the studio and to take a mic from Meek, he’s rapping as if Obama himself couldn’t interrupt this stream-of-consciousness. A good song, a mid-album highlight. Meek picked up the energy following the love song.
12. "Glow Up"
Honorable C.N.O.T.E. is always getting placements. He's a very underrated producer. Meek took a deep breath and tried to blow the beat down like the Big Bad Wolf. I like this. He’s in blitz mode, rushing the beat like he’s on the defensive line. A little loud but that's to be expected. Finally something with banger potential. Honorable tends to lace artists with the thumpers that make you want to jump on a couch and yell to the ceiling. Anytime God is mentioned on trap anthems, I imagine the song being played in church. Meek would burn the building down with a joint like this. The three-count makes me want to say levitate, levitate, levitate. The flow Meek is utilizing on the second verse is the embodiment of a figure skater in the zone. The glow up is certainly living up to its name. This will wake up anyone that started to feel a little exhausted by the album's length.
13. "Young Black America" ft. The-Dream
Oh shit! Meek sampled Hov’s “Momma Loves Me." I know those drums anywhere. This is very nostalgic. A simple loop. Sheesh, that line about a white man killing a black man. Could’ve done something different with the sample, anything really, but I’m going to vibe out. Meek is keeping it real. This is definitely Meek’s portrait of what it means to be black in America. Some really cool moments on this one. Beat sounds real glitchy. Need more Meek over loops like this. He is cutting through the beat like a laser. What was the last album that Dream was on that wasn’t JAY-Z or Kanye? We're getting singing with a touch of a rap style. Not mad at this at all. Might be time for Dream to press the button on a new project. Momma raised me.
14. "Open" ft. Verse Simmonds
Three more songs to go. Singing. Assume this is Verse Simmonds. Rather Trey Songz-esque without the braids. Meek will use a double-time flow to rap over a lustful beat. Kendrick really set the bar high with “LUST.” and "LOYALTY.," but this song isn't hitting the bullseye. Verse has a verse and has entered the Jeremih stage. We didn’t deserve “Birthday Sex.” Has anyone ever thanked a woman’s mother for her ass? It’s said often but I don’t think that many men are bold enough to follow through with such an outrageous boast. My interest in this song has completely waned. Another hook that isn’t bad but I have no desire to ever hear this song again. Zero desire.
15. "Ball Player" ft. Quavo
The stripper claps. Bouncing drums. Quavo! Another solo placement. I can’t tell if this is a Quavo hook or verse but he has a Blue's Clues reference and I’m astounded. Meek is jubilant like he mixed Red Bull with his Red Bull. Quavo just confirmed his verse-esque hook is indeed a hook. Even for Quavo this hook is just okay. It's not catchy enough. His verse is making me miss Offset, which is rather rare because Quavo tends to deliver with features. Although, hearing Quavo compare himself to Blue's Clues and how mail makes him want to yell is reason enough to revisit this song again and again. “They didn’t want to go to college but their brain is intelligent.”
16. "Made It From Nothing" ft. Teyana Taylor & Rick Ross
Strings. Lush, beautiful strings. Piano playing. A voice. Highly altered. Nope. Teyana's voice just came through with the fury. She's pouring all her passion into this. Meek is talking family without the dirty laundry. I like how the music is building around him. Teyana Taylor doesn’t come out for anyone, Meek grabbed a real one. Another verse by Rozay. Rather personal. His chemistry with Meek is impressive knowing how long they've been rocking with each other. A third ramen noodle reference, I know what I’m eating tonight. Teyana sounds good. This is cool...
Meek confessing that he hasn’t been as happy since getting money. True, true. Meek being frank about the reasonability of having to watch out for EVERYONE when you’re the biggest, most known breadwinner. I don’t know why Meek doesn’t get more of these fleshed out instrumentals. Jazzy with a bit of trap. The price of being great, I like the song's premise already. Cutting off homies that don’t say thank you is the mood for 2017. Reminiscing led to some great lines. “No price on the money, no price on the lord.” A man’s soul is being poured. Liking this personal Meek who is confronting his position in the world from the vantage point of how others view him. He’s coming to terms with what it means to be great and the price of said fame. A beautiful piano closing.
Meek is still producing hard hits and telling tales that put you in foreign cars and poverty-stricken street corners. This is the rapper he has always been, likely the rapper he will always be. The formula has built him a loyal following and an immense amount of support for his authenticity and dedication to producing what’s real.
Wins & Losses follows in familiar footsteps, and that may be both his gift and curse. It’s another Meek album that successfully falls in line with DC4 and Dreams Worth More Than Money. He’s enlisted similar suspects and achieved similar results. Both the features and production aren’t outside of Meek’s comfort zone. But even when he sounds like he’s rapping with the energy of a man with something to prove, it doesn’t feel fresh.
I'm walking away from my first listen feeling like I've heard it all before despite the promise the album would be diving a bit deeper:
“Wins & Losses,” Meek explained. “I’m letting the people know how I feel right now. I just wanted to give people a real perspective of my life, what we call wins and what we call losses. I lost my case, we lost Lil Snupe, Chino lost his brother. Where we come from, that’s a loss. When you talk L’s and W’s, you get an L, that mean you got life in jail. It’s critical, it ain’t what they talking about, so I wanted to give my perspective on it, let people know what I’ve been through.” — "Meek Mill Opens Up About His Recent L’s"
Personal moments happen in flashes, not enough to make you believe that you know Meek any better than before listening to the project. He’s like a flame that’s determined to burn each song down. It’s intriguing to watch him glow, but you quickly realize that the fire doesn’t get any hotter.
The length of Wins & Losses also causes the album to drag—17 songs are five or six too many when each track tackles a similar subject. With nothing new to say, there’s little Meek offers in the way of his lyrical performance that doesn’t feel familiar. I really enjoyed his music when paired with a story. The short film works so well because the scenes are paired with songs that do an excellent job depicting what we're watching. It adds to the listening experience in a way that the music doesn’t do as a stand-alone.
Meek may have found a place of comfort but in order to keep my ears stimulated, I needed more. The more that he promised but failed to deliver.
Maybe next album.
Early Favorites: "Price," "1942 Flow," "Glow Up"
Early Not-So-Favorites: "Fall Thru," "Wins & Losses," "Open"
By Yoh, aka Yohspective, aka @Yoh31