For the second time in as many years, brother D is off to the United States of Whatever for six months, leaving me here in Australia to pretend like I have something important to do with my life. Somehow he’s managed to fool another Ivy League school (this time Cornell, for all you New York State readers) into accepting him for a semester of law despite the fact that our legal system is entirely different to the US version. As he walks out the door onto a cheaply booked airplane with no doubt too many pairs of underwear and not enough heavy jackets to brave the blistering horror that is an American winter, my brother also returns, spiritually at least to Philadelphia. Philly is important; it’s the site of his previous US jaunt, the birthplace of his international romance which has now exceeded all expectations and will likely be resumed in a matter of days and his understanding that it is totally OK to be a white kid who likes hip-hop, as long as you can kick it with the locals. From what I’ve heard from D and read across the board, Philly is mad for the freshest hip-hop. Big names roll into their campuses (if they’re not dropping out them, like Chiddy Bang did) nearly every night of the week, and its impossible not to hear the same huge beats on the radio. And so we reach Meek Mill, a native of the very same area.
Maybach Music’s recent signing and well on the way to a Drake-like ascent to the top of the charts, Mill (known to his mother as the very ordinary Robert Williams) was only a small fry when D first heard him in a ridiculous remix of his own gargantuan tune ‘Ima Boss’ that included guest turns the fattest men in rap outside of Fat Joe, Rick Ross and DJ Khaled. The man is now serious business; he’s got a patchy-at-best debut called Dreams & Nightmares that received generous amounts of hype and important people are talking about him like he’s the next J. Cole. Of course, he’s not the next J. Cole, because he’s a trill rapper who loves focusing on ‘bad bitches’, money, sex with said bitches and getting money (bitches), often at the same time, leaving next to no room for any kind of nuance or introspection. But hey, if the guy is having sex with perfect 10s in a car that most of us only see in adverts – or at least he’s doing a pretty good job of lying about it – what’s the use in wondrin’, right? Sometimes you just need a banger of a track to get ready for the night, and with about 50 hours of flight time ahead of him, ‘Amen’ might just be it for D. He’s already heard it, too, because some girl opening for Mark Ronson dropped it the other night when we went to watch him DJ and drank whiskey and pickle juice shots together. He was Shazaming it before I even managed to say ‘Hey, this is a good beat!’ Sometimes we’re really in sync like that.
The core of ‘Amen’ is that chromatically creeping piano line that is so simple yet so smart that you’ll hate yourself for not coming up for it yourself. Of course, with the kind of music Maybach make, hooks are only half the battle. The rest comes from the half-time groove, punctuated by huge bass booms that could be the instrumental substitute for Rick Ross’ now infamous ‘Whoomp’ call that he puts on nearly every track that comes out under his imprint and those hi-hat spitfire figures that could only be constructed in a computer program and never played by a human. Combine all that together, throw in some gratuitous Fender Rhodes and you’ve got one hell of a song base that is very hard to mess up. Mill seems to know this, and so he sticks to one metaphor – going back to Church – and turns the song into the sort of evangelism that must keep Louis Farrakhan up at night. Drake shows up somewhere in the middle, obviously trying to remember how to be the same little terror that dropped YOLO onto the world and ends up bitching about having to look after everyone now that he’s so wealthy. With a beat this solid, nobody’s really paying attention, and soon we’re back on with Mill, those syncopated, tightened bit snares that sound like they’re being spat out of a Mac from ’96 and that chorus that you’re going to end up repeating no matter how contemptible and misogynistic you happen to find it. That’s how rap keeps surviving; for every innovator you’ve gone some lady-crazy Philly kid with top gun producers just trying to make a mark.
Safe travels Davey. Go find love, and when you’re done, bring us some more beats to nod our heads to.
Meek Mill ft. Drake – ‘Amen’