Meek Mill is ready to turn the page. Two years ago, he stood on the verge of rap superstardom with the success of his sophomore album Dreams Worth More Than Money and his A-list relationship with reigning rap queen Nicki Minaj.
After years of grinding, battle rapping on the streets of Philadelphia, and putting out mixtape after mixtape, Meek was ready to bask in his long-brewing success. Sadly, that quickly unraveled. He started a beef with Drake about the Toronto MC not personally penning a verse that he gave to Meek for “R.I.C.O.” Over a year later, he and Minaj split; the rap world that was only really starting to get to know him left him as a punchline for someone taking L after L.
Those public battles may remain on Meek’s mind, but they aren’t the driving force of his third studio album, Wins & Losses—though he provides a couple lines aimed at Drake on the clean version of “1942 Flows.” The album opener and title track lacks the intensity of his classic “Dreams and Nightmares,” but the lines, “Niggas tryna turn my lights out, it’s still lit / Streets calling and they said they was some real shit / Young bull looking like he hit a real lick,” shows that no matter the gossip, Meek has no plans to halt his career. The passionate urgency of his voice hasn’t left, but perhaps now the world around him is ready to move beyond the tabloids that he says he stopped reading a long time ago.
For most of the decade, Meek’s formula has been to put up a divide between radio and street tracks. In the early 2010s that resulted in the Rick Ross-assisted “Ima Boss” versus the chaotic “House Party.” “All Eyes On You” with Nicki Minaj and Chris Brown off DWMTM contrasted with the aggressive Drake-assisted “R.I.C.O.,” although that, too, was primed for radio—to a point. Wins & Losses follows the same dynamic with “Whatever You Need,” while deeper cuts like “Fuck That Check Up,” “We Ball” or “Connect The Dots” have more of a chance of being street hits. That market segmentation is a binary that many rappers in 2017 ceased to recognize, but Meek Mill, in many ways, remains a rapper who would’ve thrived in the ‘90s when one’s grit and lyrical prowess could be better marketed to young fans.
Wins & Losses further confirms that Meek isn’t a rapper who seeks out ways to constantly reinvent himself. Even as he has scored hit songs, Meek has never truly stepped out of the rap world. He has never popped up on a random EDM song or lent a verse to a major pop star. Even the 2017 requisite Quavo track “Ball Player,” produced by fellow Philadelphia native Maaly Raw, is the energetic buzzing track that back in the day, Meek would’ve easily torn apart.
While he may still be remaking the same party and street records for the better part of a decade—most of the songs can be traced to his 2008 hit “In My Bag”—that also means his more socially conscious moments remain unrelenting in their detail and scope. One example is “Young Black America” featuring The-Dream, on which Meek addresses police violence:
White man kill a black man, they never report us
Black man kill a white man, they gon' start a war up
He goes on to rhyme: “Could’ve been a lawyer until they came and shackled you / Felons on your records so them jobs ain’t getting back at you.” Meek’s early mixtapes often gave first hand accounts of mistreatment at the hands of the law, but as he’s grown a bit older, he’s trying to impart those lessons in different ways.
Hip-hop continues to move in directions that put less emphasis on the raps themselves, whether it’s Drake’s globalist approach, Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert’s rockstar lifestyles, or even the trend of “SoundCloud Rap.“ To his credit, Meek isn’t so diverse; he’s always understood his lane as that of a storyteller. The narrative around him changed over the past few years, but instead of trying to remake himself, he remained in his pocket. Wins & Losses shows that he made the right decision because his story, triumph, and dedication don’t age, no matter what’s being said on social media.