Maybach Music Group / Atlantic
Maybach Music Group / Atlantic

2015 was set to be a landmark year for Meek Mill, who looked primed for a celebrated post-prison comeback after serving nearly five months due to a probation violation in 2014. The rapper made waves upon his release due to his relationship with fellow rap star Nicki Minaj (they even had a collaborative hit single, "All Eyes on You") and his debut atop the Billboard 200 with his long-awaited sophomore album, Dreams Worth More Than Money. 

Meek was on the verge of elevating his stock in the mainstream realm following his release from prison, but when he accused rap's brightest star, Drake, of employing ghostwriters to write his raps, it caused his own reputation to take a hit. The subsequent back-and-forth between the two took the focus away from his album and his growth as an artist. Instead he became the subject of ridicule. Perception can be construed as reality, and to a large segment of rap fans, the perception was that Meek Mill had come up short against a rapper just a tad bit wittier, with chess moves too calculated for his whimsical retorts.

However, Meek's reality and perception of the now infamous spat is that none of the broadsides against him negate his allegations; he's prepared to let his music speak for itself and justify his unshaken confidence and bravado. Redemption is a dish best served on a hot plate and Meek serves up a scorcher with the fourth installment of his Dreamchasers series, DC4. His first solo mixtape in more than a year's time, and since his verbal joust with Drake, DC4 arrives with much intrigue as to what the former underdog has on his mind.

Stepping up to the mound with DC4's first pitch, "On the Regular," Meek Mill strikes at the naysayers that prematurely predicted his demise. "Remember they said I was done done/Fuck that they ain't know I'm the one one/We get your chain and it's one one/I tell my nigga I want one," he spits atop production from MP808. He also takes the time to aim what could possibly be perceived as a shot against elder-statesman-turned-rival Beanie with the line, "Had a bag but you broke nigga/You ain't fuckin' with me bottom line/Out of sight nigga out of mind/And my Patek say I'm runnin' out of time." This comes in response to the Broad Street Bully's disparaging comments about him.

An impassioned pep talk precedes "Blessed Up," produced by Tarik Azzouz and StreetRunner, which is an instant winner that finds Mr. Philadelphia more confident than ever. "I got God watchin' over me from courtside/Ballin' like I'm Jordan 'cause I'm blessed up/And niggas want me gone but I'm still alive/Wake up every morning feelin' blessed up," Meek delivers, channeling a Game 7 LeBron James with the flow.

The Tory Lanez-assisted "Litty" continues the momentum with his Canadian collaborator designating his verse to shoot back at social media trolls. "Niggas talking 'bout my hair line/I laugh about it, I be feelin' them/See, we both be making M's/They be making memes, I be making millions/I just served up a Quentin Miller," Tory rhymes, name-dropping one of Drake's alleged ghostwriters.

After collaborating with Nicki Minaj twice on his last album, the Philly rhymer links with wifey for some quality rhymes on the Sonny Digital-produced "Froze," which also features breakout star and 2016 XXL Freshman Lil Uzi Vert. "I get it now, these niggas mad that she chose the kid," in reference to his relationship with Nicki and the perceived jealousy surrounding it. Meek turns in a solid verse, which outshines the bars served up by Nicki. However, she does scoff at the competition, talks heavy and flexes her status ("I get it now dudes is mad at these 80 M's/2012 I was balling like Tom Brady then/Movie, I'm living through these Scorsese lens").

Although some hip-hop heads may have jumped ship, Meek's laundry list of industry affiliates show solidarity in the form of guest appearances. Migos member Quavo, who continues to make a strong case for a solo turn, pops up on "The Difference," while Bronx upstart Don Q flourishes with his dominant showing on "Lights Out." "Offended," which features southern compatriots Young Thug and 21 Savage, is an indelible number with plenty of replay value that should get a fair share of burn in the clubs. Thank CuBeatz and Murda for crafting the beat.

The effort slows down on the tempo with the sensuous, YFN Lucci-assisted burner "You Know," but kicks back up with the help of fellow MMG rapper Tracy T, who captivates with his rousing rambling on "Way Up." "Two Wrongs," which pairs Meek with Pusha T and singer Guordan Banks, is an acquired listen and just short of a plodding affair.

One of the most underrated skills in Meek Mill's arsenal is his storytelling ability, which he puts to great use on "Tony Story 3," the third installment of his hard-boiled account of the perils, pitfalls and dangers when mixing drugs, money and murder. Picking up where he left off on his debut album, Dreams and Nightmares, the Jahlil Beats-produced "Tony Story 3" details the story of Paulie, Tony's murderer, besieged by the police and the streets, with the only options being death or survival.

DC4 concludes with the epic finisher "Outro," which includes a posthumous verse from Meek's slain protege Lil Snupe. Possessing a relentless delivery, Snupe's unfulfilled potential is evident, but bars like, "Niggas want to kill me 'cause a nigga coming up/Want to kill 'em but that shit my really fuck my money up/Focus on my grind gotta get the stacks/Tryna leave the streets alone but they steady calling back" prove eerily prophetic and give them additional weight.

After giving Snupe his shine, Meek lets off a barrage of haymakers and asserts himself. "Show me some evidence/Never was better than nor was you relevant/I'm too competitive walk in the club get my 357 in/My level went excellent/I cut the brick like its cards and I shuffle it," he raps, running roughshod over the OZ, The Beat Bully and Papamitrou-produced track. Slightly reminiscent of Meek's now classic Dreams and Nightmares opener "Outro" is an enthralling, goosebumps-inducing end to DC4.

The mixtape runs through familiar territory heard on Meek's past releases, but as a collective body of work, it holds up strong. With more than a year having passed since exchanging diss tracks with his Canadian foil, his perceptual fall from grace has turned into a comeback, with fans rooting for Meek Mill to regroup and realize his quest for rap supremacy. Whereas Drake, who was maligned by some for what they deemed a lackluster effort in Views, will have to contend with skepticism when appraising the strength of his pen, Meek has already hit rock bottom on various levels, but has bounced back and exhibited sheer resilience, integrity in tact.

While he may have taken a hit in the short term, DC4 is an undeniable mixtape indicative of Meek Mill's staying power, and stands among the one of the most satisfying releases of 2016.

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