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Review: Meek Mill’s Career May Be a Pillar of Salt But on ‘4/4’ He Rubs It in Drake’s Wounds

Meek Mill's 4/4
SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: January 22, 2016
Label: self-released

New surprise EP 4/4 isn’t just the first major Meek Mill release without the word “dream” in the title, it’s the first to not have the word anywhere in the lyrics. He’s not dreaming anymore; he’s where he wants to be. If you think Drake is his worst nightmare, maybe consider the trouble he’s witnessed, seeing his 18-year-old protégé Lil Snupe getting murdered and spending his own time in and out of prison as recently as 2014. But in 2015, dude scored his first number-one album, and he’s one half of hip-hop’s preeminent power couple — the other being a Best Rapper Alive candidate in her own right, as well as a proud sex symbol — exposing him to national audiences that only know about hip-hop when it’s discussed on daytime television. Cannot make it clearer: Meek Mill is having the time of his life.

Yes, he is confused about how to handle the Drake situation. But the man is perfectly well-versed at being the underdog. If anything, Meek is in the better position of the two: Imagine being No. 1 and still having something to prove, somewhere to ascend to. Even Drake supporters can’t possibly believe he has terribly further to go, which is why we didn’t wait for his “real” album to drop before naming him SPIN’s 2015 Artist of the Year. Reaching Billboard’s summit and still managing underdog status feels a lot less stressful than reaching your cultural boiling point with a runaway hit that could only reach No. 2. Drake has certainly made a career on beating the odds, and sure, Views from the 6 has less riding on it than Swish, which people are kind of worried about. But no one is “worried” about the next Meek Mill album. We know what it will sound like; this is the kind of rapper who earns four straight 7.4s from Pitchfork in a row. Fans aren’t stressing. There is a beauty in that reliability — which, of the current rap MVP crop, only the monomaniacal Future really comes close to sharing with Robert Rihmeek Williams.

Williams can’t Internet as well as Drake, and neither can Taylor Swift, what else is new? He’s no slouch though, trolling on the rumored evening of Views from the 6‘s long-awaited release with this straw of four spitballs aimed in Canada’s direction. There’s no such thing as a vacuum, but if there was, 4/4 would be considered a triumph for just being four songs that sound great to hear. “Pray for Em” has one of the most electrifying beats the man’s frantic presence has ever graced, with a gospel choir ripped straight from Young Buck’s “Get Buck” or Lil Wayne’s “Best Rapper Alive,” while Jahlil Beats’ 8-bit massacre under “FBH” even manages to make Pac-Man sound menacing. “Gave Em Hope” saws an orchestra in half while Meek’s razored, lasered double-time dribbles down the beat to sink layups as his inflection rises toward the end of each line. He’s rapped so much of his ass off by now that it’s remarkable he still has any left for Drake to kick.

Right, that guy. Cleverness is not Meek’s strong suit — it took until Dreamchasers 2 for him to jump on “The meek shall inherit the earth” — so the best diss on 4/4 is “I pray that the money don’t go to my head,” where fans and detractors should both be able to agree it’s too late for Aubrey Graham. If we’re to be completely honest and admit that “Im Da Plug Freestyle” would’ve benefited from not being a freestyle — that there are more concise ways of saying “I get to f**k Nicki Minaj every night” — then we must also cop to the fact that Meek was never going to be a Drake or Nicki in the first place. He’s a workhorse free of abstractions, Employee of the Month, not the boss. His vision is, as Mike Tyson once advised Canibus, to “eat, eat, eat MCs for breakfast, lunch, dinner.”

The fact that Meek’s extraordinary (if narrow) abilities have gotten him to this echelon at all is more reason to celebrate than to make a laughingstock out of the fact that he was schooled by the streets, not the boardroom, and therefore doesn’t know what ghostwriters are doing in rap. He would lose if he started using ghostwriters of course, but he probably also thinks Drake would’ve had more success if he took dancing lessons. Drake’s rejuvenated him, helped him stave off complacency, spin it however you want. There’s something to be said for Meek Mill’s one-man-army against rap’s reigning turtleneck because his cluelessness and fury have soul — something Philly is already known for. Ladies go for that, you know.