Meek Mill’s strength has always been the way in which he conveys pain on a record. Having suffered countless setbacks and tragedies, both growing up and throughout his adult life, the Philly rapper is something of an expert when it comes to using music as a form of therapy. The cold, hard streets he’s spent most of his life hustling on, the friends he’s lost and the prisons he’s called home; these are just a few of the subject matters that have anchored some of of Meek’s greatest hits over the years.
For his fifth studio album, ‘Expensive Pain’, the introspective rhymes are still ever-present – the problem is an abundance of overbearing production that too often drowns out the poignancy and emotional intent of his storytelling. He’s renowned for his penetrating intros – his 2012 underdog anthem ‘Dreams And Nightmares’ is widely considered one of rap’s great landmark moments – but Meek falls short with the opening track on his latest effort. ‘Hate On Me’ sounds more like a throwaway mixtape cut than classic overture; not even the iconic Nas sample can help bolster its appeal. ‘On My Soul’ benefits from arguably the album’s best production along with some of its most honest and heartfelt lyrics, but Meek’s decision to use unnecessary autotune on his vocals extinguishes it sensitivity.
All is not lost, though. Among the 18 tracks are a handful of highlights, which – had they been compiled separately – could have made for one hell of an EP, ‘Tweaking’ sees Meek concisely weave in and out of the brooding backdrop, pondering with extreme lyrical finesse the pitfalls and spoils of fame while also recognising a generational divide: “Old n***as hatin’ on the young n***as, damn / Young n***as wildin’ out, beefin’ on the ‘Gram.”
Meek’s collaborations with Kehlani (‘Ride For You’) and Brent Faiyaz (‘Halo’) see him go two-for-two with R&B linkups – something in his artistic arsenal that often gets overlooked – while ‘Love Money’ and the album’s title track provide the best examples of his navel-gazing proficiency. On ‘Northside Southside’ he switches gears, delivering a raw account of street life over eerie sonics and chattering hi-hats as Giggs rides shotgun.
‘Expensive Pain’ has its moments, but overall feels like a rushed project that lacks the quality control of previous albums within Meek’s catalogue. From the album’s announcement to the hurried delivery of his bars on certain tracks and the haphazard sequencing, it feels disorganised and unusually chaotic. Meek knows how to put together a solid project – he’s done it numerous times – and this one could have been a lot better.
Release date: October 1
Record label: Atlantic / Maybach Music