Meek Mill's ascension to hip-hop's major league was fuelled by endless headlines, creative about-turns, and high profile beefs. A colourful decade-long run that culminated in 2018's 'Championships', the Philly artist then seemed to take a step back, focusing on collaborations, and his extra-curricular activities.
His first full length in three years, 'Expensive Pain' is a lavish, all-star return, one that emphasises his credentials as one of Stateside rap's MVPs while also illustrating the pitfalls that seem to come with that role.
First, the positives. A record laden with colossal highs, 'Expensive Pain' features some jewel-laden features; Kehlani is exquisite on 'Ride For You', raising hopes for her incoming album, while the inclusion of Peckham don Giggs on 'Northside Southside' is a brilliant attempt to bust outside the box.
That said, 'Expensive Pain' does falter at point. Spread across 18 tracks, Meek Mill's creative contouring isn't fully consistent, leading to some awkward moments; 'Love Train' and 'Love Money' feel insubstantial, while the mid-section loses its punch.
While some collaborations - Lil Baby and Lil Durk blitzing verses on 'Sharing Locations' for example - feel natural, others feel rather more bolted on. Brent Faiyaz stumbles on 'Halo', for example, perhaps pointing to the difficulties of collaboration in the time of COVID-enacted Zoom meetings.
But perhaps that's churlish. Meek Mill has already ascended to the top tier of Stateside hip-hop, while his album playback - at Madison Square Garden, no less - has already sent fans into meltdown. A record that will varnish his halo and add to his prestige, 'Expensive Pain' is a project fuelled and restricted by his profile.
Words: Robin Murray
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