It’s fitting that the last verse on Meek Mill’s Dreams and Nightmares states, “Niggas hatin’ on me, know they wanna be me/At the table with my niggas, eatin’ lobster and linguini.” Aside from boasting about his seeming affinity for seafood—just like MMG’s big fish Rick Ross—Meek trades in his long road of struggle and despair with triumph. Over the past 18 months, the yelping spitter out of North Philly has gone from a local upstart on Berks Street (“with them nappy braids that lock”) to XXL’s 2011 Freshman and now Maybach Music Group’s gros bonnet—strapped with a boiling buzz near spillage.

“I used to pray for times like this, to rhyme like this/So I had to grind like that, to shine like this,” Meek rightfully avers over the strings and piano strokes of the album’s title track. The “this” represents a moment of victory, or “Dreams,” he’s yearned for since displaying that fervent hunger on street-lauded mixtapes in Mr. Philadelphia, Flamers and the Dreamchasers series. Skillfully balancing the two worlds, he swiftly segues into the stormy “Nightmares” portion of the track, in which he sounds almost possessed (“It was something about the Rollie when it first touched my wrist”), hounded by demons of the past while shooting incandescent claims (“I'm ridin' around my city with my hands strapped on my toast/’Cause these niggas want me dead and I gotta make it back home”).

If his MMG boss' rags-to-riches ode sounds much more like a hammy motion picture, Meek’s street-ridden recollections make for a more realistic documentary. This shadows all over Dreams and Nightmares, an album that finds Meek exhibiting a dichotomy between achievement and the tainted journey. Despite his newfound wealth, the Philly rapper steers clear of the associated fame and its pitfalls while boastfully wears his Audemars Piguet watches. When these moments come together, they make for the album’s unmistakable highlights.

It’s perfectly exemplified on “Traumatized,” where Meek brings in a new level of emotion and vehemence detailing his grief-stricken past. The hallow clangs provides the perfect space for him to offer a harsh warning to his father’s murderer. Elsewhere, Meek keeps with the dreams and nightmares motto, displayed on tracks like the Cardiak-produced “Polo & Shell Tops,” “Maybach Curtains,” and the Mary J. Blige-assisted “Who You Around.” The latter finds the vocally animated MC meditating on personal friendships gone awry—mostly with those he’s shouted out on past mixtapes (B.H., Dat Nigga Lil, etc.). “Shit got realer, niggas got richer I said the money train coming, niggas missed it/ I even tried to spin back around to come and get you/ But niggas wanted more from me than my own sister,” he vents over the airy record.

His skill as a storyteller is succinct and clearly has an eye for detail, which is why records like “In God We Trust” as well as the street narrative “Tony Story, Pt. 2” deserve, repeated listens. And when he’s not detailing the struggle, Meek’s surely living the dream, as Ross enters on the rollicking “Believe It” cut, along with two additional appearances (“Maybach Curtains” and “Lay Up”).

In interviews, Meek described wanting his debut to be a classic in the vein of masterworks from Nas (Illmatic), Jay-Z (Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life) and 50 Cent (Get Rich Or Die Tryin’). Unfortunately, this effort falls short in comparisons. While there are indeed high moments, Dreams and Nightmare doesn’t offer anything refreshing and instead delivers recycled approaches used on previous MMG compilations and his much thrilling Dreamchasers series. The lyrical tenacity showcased on these aforementioned projects doesn’t seem to appear here either as on the Kirko Bangz-featured “Young & Gettin’ It,” along with the frowned-upon auto-tune use, finds Meek delivering aimless lines like “Eat the pussy I prolly/If it smell like water.” It sticks as a guilty pleasure, but nonetheless stands as a lowbrow moment.

Dreams and Nightmares doesn’t break new grounds in hip-hop, however it does serve as a respectable release from the rapper who’s on the verge of universal acceptance—a road similarly traveled by his cohorts Rick Ross and Wale. —Ralph Bristout (@RalphieBlackmon)