Meek Mill’s fifth studio album, "Expensive Pain," was released on Oct. 1 and at its best moments, it's thoughtful, introspective and impressive. It’s sonically strong, and pensive. Though, at times, it lacks focus as a cohesive body of work.
The “Dreams and Nightmares” rapper from Philadelphia has made his name on memorable, energetic anthems and more intense tracks that have real soul and depth. But if we’re being honest, Meek Mill has fallen off as a rapper in the last few years (though, his status still remains as a pop culture icon and a vocal, important social justice activist).
Following up from his most recent album, 2018’s "Championships," this album could have been the moment that placed him back on top of the rap game, and at times it has that potential. But at others, he missed the mark.
If nothing else, this album is his most intimate body of work. On the majority of the album he grapples with survivor’s guilt and isolation, despite his money and fame, and his relationships, hence the title “Expensive Pain.” He has grown through what he went through, and is using this album as a journal to reflect on his pain, his energy and his environment.
It’s incredible to hear his perspectives and experiences told so passionately, and the feelings it evokes for listeners is captivating.
Although much of the album is soul-searching and thought-provoking, the rapper loses his focus in moments and contradicts his album’s intentions by discussing his indulgences in his luxury life, which is part of what has given him so much pain.
Despite the lack of central focus, the album is hopeful. As I mentioned, Meek Mill has grown. The album is hopeful for his future, and he is focused on what he wants to accomplish. “On My Soul” is one of the best tracks on the project. In this track, Meek Mill raps, “Put it on my soul, put it on my soul/Ain't nothin' that I, it ain't nothin' that I can't hold/ I'm gettin' everything I aimed for.”
The album's featured guests bring their own unique style to the project. Lil Baby, Lil Durk, A$AP Ferg, Moneybagg Yo, Young Thug, Vory, Lil Uzi Vert, Giggs, Kehlani and Brent Faiyaz all make appearances and have standout performances.
Although each feature is impressive, and the variety showcases his versatility, it tends to add to the issue of lack of focus. For example, Kehlani on “Ride For You” and Brent Faiyaz on “Halo” bring a rhythm and blues element to the work, while Lil Baby and Lil Durk bring a harder, trap element on “Sharing Locations.”
Personally, “Me (FWM)” featuring A$AP Ferg is the best performance between Meek Mill and his guests. Both of their styles and flows contrast beautifully, yet somehow create an abstract track that checks every box.
Additionally, the album’s opener, “Intro (Hate On Me),” is another top track on "Expensive Pain" that feels like signature Meek Mill, but in the best way. This track is one of his best rap performances in a long time, with a fresh flow over an incredibly produced gospel-esque trap beat. Although reminiscent of the Meek Mill we know and love, opening the album with this track generates excitement for what’s to come from the rapper.
Other standout tracks that are honorable mentions include “Outside (100 MPH),” the title track, “Expensive Pain,” “Love Money,” “Blue Notes 2” with Lil Uzi Vert and “We Slide” featuring Young Thug.
Overall, Meek Mill’s "Expensive Pain" seems to be an attempt at balancing his serious soul with his desire for luxury and a superficial lifestyle. Although, individually, each song is impressive in its own way, the album as a cohesive unit falls just an inch short.