meek mill wins and losses album review
Photo: John Bazemore/AP

Do We Owe Meek Mill An Apology?

Over the last several weeks, an interesting idea has taken hold–namely that you, me, Safaree (?) the rap community and the internet as a whole owes Meek Mill an apology. It’s an idea that he’s embraced, and for good reason. It’s been a difficult couple of years for the Philly MC, to say the least. Almost immediately after launching his first No. 1 album, Dreams Worth More Than Money, he found threw himself into a beef with Drake that quickly left him badly damaged and seemingly confused. As the 6 God launched “Back to Back” and quickly cast Meek as a meme, the Dreamchaser was caught flatfooted and left scratching his head, trying to figure out how his polished pen and battle rap pedigree could still leave him on the losing end of Quentin Miller-gate. After all, he had Nicki on his arm and a track record of consistently providing for his family by putting numbers on the board. He also made quality street music. How could a childhood television star who made music for tweens so quickly make him his son?

In an era when music more accessible than ever and popular opinion unfolds in real time, the span in which a star’s shine can dull has collapsed. Ten years ago, a label might start asking questions after two or three bad releases; today, the wrong Instagram caption can bring a career to an end. For a while, it seemed as if Meek might never recover. He stumbled out the gate in the battle and soon fell right into more trouble with the law. His relationship with Nicki soured, and ultimately came to an end, and the general consensus was that Meek had misplayed his hand and the dream he’d been chasing was done.

But in the past several months, that perception has begun to change, and he’s begun to right the ship, largely thanks to a streak of solid projects–including Dreams Worth More Than Money and DC4. Instead of floundering about hoping the fans would somehow start to see it his way, Meek got back to doing what he does best, pinning his ears back and hammering home the point that while his material is for public consumption, the criteria by which he judges his successes is a personal one, and not based on singular confrontations with peers.

Now comes his third solo album, Wins and Losses. It’s his first studio album since DWMTM and things started to go south, and while it likely won’t shoot to the top of the charts (he’d have to fend off Tyler and Lana Del Rey, which would be a tall order), the project certainly lives up to its name. The album’s concept is a simple one. Meek might have had some setbacks, but anyone who counted him out and laughed when he was at his lowest–even when his freedom was at stake–should wonder whether they were ever right count him out at all.

Throughout the album, Meek works hard to deliver on the theme. On tracks like “Made It from Nothing” and “Young Black America,” he revisits his underprivileged upbringing and precarious nature of life on the streets, reminding listeners–and perhaps even himself–that no matter how bad things get, there’s a good chance he’s already survived much worse. When not knowing is the norm and the dark cloud of distrust hangs over everything, the occasional loss comes with the territory. No one loss will sink the ship and it’s how you recover that’s key. Fittingly, then, Wins and Losses finds Meek acknowledging his Ls without dwelling on them. Instead, he tosses such anecdotes off callously, an approach that gives him the distance he needs to avoid being defined by them to this day.

From the album’s onset, Meek is in his bag, rapping voraciously over a spartan instrumental with a desperate air, then transitioning into “Heavy Heart,” the somber street ballad that’s already become the unofficial anthem of LeBron and Kyrie Irving’s impending break-up. Though the album consistently showcases Meek’s versatility, whether it’s the Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign-assisted “Whatever You Need”—one of Meek’s better attempts at R&B glory—or his auto-tune work on the stressful “Issues,” the project places a heavy focus on showcasing Meek’s strong pen game early and often.

The beefy tracklist (17 songs) and varied guest features prevent Wins and Losses from being as cohesive as Dreams Worth More Than Money, or even DC4, but a vague arc does emerge over the course of the album driving home the theme of the hard costs incurred on the way to achieving–and cashing in on–greatness. Even on the album’s celebratory records, like the Quavo-assisted “Ball Player” and “We Ball” with Young Thug, Meek reminds listeners that the bottle-popping should be taken with a grain of salt. “When they killed my nigga Young Snupe, I see my young nigga/ In the casket he ain’t have no blood in him,” he raps on “We Ball,” a pointed reminder not to lose sight of the darkness just beyond the sparklers’ glow.

So, do we owe Meek Mill an apology? Yes, his so-called Twitter fingers probably got the best of him and his comeback to “Back to Back” was lacking (to say the least), but his work both immediately before that notorious moment (DWMTM) and after it (DC4) are some of the strongest entries in Meek’s discography to date. And while Wins and Losses may not be an instant classic, it stands as both a reminder and a statement of purpose for a talented MC who’s skills bar for bar can’t be denied. Don’t get lost in the hip hop soap opera, when it comes to this rap shit, Meek Mill is still winning. And there’s a good chance we all owe him a note.

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