Meek Mill manifested his dreams and confronted his nightmares on the timeless intro of his debut album.
Meek Mill might not ever be able to capture the energy of the Dreams & Nightmares intro ever again. It’s not that his pen isn’t as sharp -- in fact, it’s quite the opposite -- or there’s a loss of relevancy. It’s that energy and eagerness of a new, budding artist that’s so infectious. The hunger. The drive. The ambition to touch that metaphorical brick. All of that was encapsulated on the intro to that album. Sure, like many debuts, it was littered with records targeted for radio. That being said, Meek didn’t compromise his strongest suit -- his pen.
The first two Dreamchasers set the tone for Meek’s career. A title that essentially captured his M.O. to this day. Both projects begin with ferocious intros. On the first Dreamchasers tape, DJ Drama declares Meek Mill’s entrance with the same sample of “O Fortuna” The Undertaker used at Wrestlemania XX. It’s been used over the years in various forms of media but Meek’s slow-burning flow roars through the operatic samples and grandiose drums. There are moments where it’s near prophetic as he plants the seeds for accomplishments that he’d later manifest in his career. “I had a dream like Martin Luther King” might be one of the most overused bars in hip-hop, though in retrospect it seems like it foreshadowed the meme-worthy conspiracies theorizing Meek Mill and Martin Luther King Jr.'s family connection.
Even on the second Dreamchasers, though, that intro was so important to set the tone for the tape which would subsequently set the tone for his major-label debut. The haunting choral chants that jumped through the beat. Meek carries that same ferocity, though it was directed elsewhere. The song opens up with a snippet of Mike Tyson’s interview after his fight with Lou Savarese where he declares he’s the “most brutal and most vicious and most ruthless champion there’s ever been.” Meek made it this far with all odds stacked against him but his opponents weren’t limited streets foes. He became MMG’s flagship artist and the rappers that he had to compete with are who now seem like the last of a dying breed -- commercially acclaimed rappers who, artistically, came from a lineage of the LOX, DMX, Dipset, Jay-Z’s, Nas’, etc. Rappers, who like Meek, began their careers proving their skillset on the block. Meek was barring out with his class of peers on Dreamchasers 2 like Big Sean, Drake, and Kendrick. That was his purpose, ultimately, and he succeeded in ways that many others wouldn’t be able to.
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“Dreams & Nightmares Intro” remains one of the most impactful rap songs of the past decade. Fans of Meek who’ve followed his career since YouTube freestyles reckoned this moment would come but the way he carried himself in his arrival has been immortalized in hip-hop. Meek’s conversational delivery over a celestial piano progression feels like he’s delivering a soliloquy. “I used to pray for times to rhyme like this/ So I had to grind like that to shine like this,” he raps as he opens up. It’s reflective; an internal dialogue Meek’s having with the rest of the world that parallels to both the external and internal demons he’s had to fight over the course of his life. The circumstances of his environment that, even at this point in his career, was relevant to how he had to live. The paranoia that lingers from experiences in the streets. Watching all of the work he’s put in pay off while relationships change as the money rolls in. “I'm gettin' cream, never let them hoes get in between/ Of what we started, lil' n***a but I'm lion-hearted/ They love me when I was stuck and they hated when I departed,” he continues with ease. The calm before the storm.
“Hold up, wait a minute/ Y’all thought I was finished?” The duality of the song lingers in that singular moment when that MMG tag hits. The beat drops and Meek’s voice drastically shifts with urgency. It’s a celebration, though. That same position he’s fought for in every battle, every beef and every obstacle that stood in his way as a young man from North Philly has finally been obtained. Still, he pledges his loyalty to his community, whether it’s through bringing his day ones with him on the ride to stardom or being the king of his city.
That’s why that song is so powerful in nearly every occasion it’s played. The Philadelphia Eagles used it as their intro song at the Super Bowl when Meek was fighting for his freedom over a probation violation. Lebron James and the Cavaliers were turning up to it after beating the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. Ultimately, it’s a celebration of perseverance in the face of adversity. Meek drove an ATV onto the Summer Jam stage in 2018 and opened his performance with that song. It was one of the first times he performed in New York City since being released from prison for popping a wheelie in that same city. The excitement was evident, even on a livestream that’s mic’d for the viewer to listen to solely the artist. The audience rapped it word-for-word, overpowering Meek’s vocals over the sound system. The reaction is the same on every stage. He’s performed the song alongside artists like 50 Cent, Drake, and Jay-Z over the years, and oftentimes, it elicits an even bigger response than the artist who brought him out.
Meek’s career, riddled with legal issues stemming from his teen years, has evolved with the money. As it should. He’s no longer the hungry rapper that sat by Rick Ross’ side during Funk Flex freestyles. The loyalty remains but Meek has transitioned from to a boss in his own right. It’s evident in the way that he now sits next to people like Michael Rubin, Robert Kraft, Van Jones, and Jay-Z in the fight for prison reform. It’s evident in the way that he emphasizes giving back to his community and constantly pulling through on those commitments. That intro to his debut album delved into the duplicity of his life at the time, and an issue that we see many emerging acts today face. It also inspired other artists who've used the same template for their own rags-to-riches album intros, such as Cardi's "Get Up 10." The song celebrated both Meek's aspirations and dwelled the nightmares that haunt him but beyond that, it became a definitive moment in hip-hop.