When it comes to current music in Philadelphia, no artist comes close to the iconic status of Meek Mill. Mill’s underdog story turned him into a champion for Philly, most notably with the city’s ubiquitous embrace of his 2012 anthem “Dreams and Nightmares.” Despite establishing himself as one of Philly's largest artistic figures, his hardships didn’t disappear. Behind multiple high–selling albums and mixtapes, the rapper has been caught up in a whirlwind of legal issues and personal drama. This mixture of fame and troubles has consistently been a compelling theme in Mill’s music, and that theme continues in his newest album, Expensive Pain; however, the album is uneven in emboldening that message.
The album follows 2018’s Championships, which was Mill’s first full–length effort since his release from a prison in Chester, Pa. The record featured an even balance of celebrations and struggles, with the majority of the lyrics focusing on Mill’s incarceration. While a bit overlong, Championships was a statement that showed that the rapper was still his old self, giving the same energy and personality but with more to say.
Three years later, Mill still sticks to his roots. Expensive Pain gives a blend of vibrant bangers and slower, more emotional tracks, all portraying a life of triumphs that’s still weighed down by the same problems. Tracks like the album opener “Intro (Hate on Me)” and the single “Sharing Locations” show Mill taking a victory lap in a Rolls Royce over flashy and hard–hitting production. In contrast, moments like the title track and “On My Soul” are more serious, as Mill reflects on his family and friends, and the issues that they faced then and now. But despite multiple standouts on the album, there are some instances where things could’ve been fleshed out further or cut.
The intro is an energetic start to the album as Mill raps about riches and success while giving back to his family and friends. “Rockin’ Dior / I still remember me poor, I’m tryna get more,” he raps. While he mentions getting jewelry for his friends and even a black credit card for his mother, he also talks about bulletproofing their cars; violence never seems to escape them.
These moments of excess on this album serve as prideful displays of success. “Northside Southside” and “Outside (100 MPH)” are gritty tracks with sinister beats, both of which see Mill mixing flexes with threats. The single “Sharing Locations” is a highlight in this vein despite its plain production. Mill trades lines seamlessly with Lil Baby and Lil Durk. They have great chemistry on the track, serving an exciting mix of some of the biggest rappers in each of their respective cities. “Tweaking” highlights Mill's impressive efforts to boast about his luxuries over an elegant boom bap beat, while “Blue Notes 2” is a dramatic and memorable collaboration with fellow Philly artist Lil Uzi Vert.
However, some of the bangers don’t bring much to the table. “Me (FWM)” is built over a crude beat with an unpleasant piano melody. It has one of the weakest hooks from Mill on the album, and A$AP Ferg's verse doesn’t help either. “Hot” sounds more pleasant by comparison, but it doesn’t really make itself unique in any way, other than a middling Moneybagg Yo performance. “Flamerz Flow,” which is listed as a bonus track to end the album, has an exciting start but suddenly ends after only 90 seconds. While these songs aren’t necessarily bad, they just aren’t as captivating as other tracks.
Meanwhile, the slower songs offer some of the most captivating content on the album. Mill offers impassioned auto–tuned singing on the track “On My Soul,” reflecting on violence and drugs from his upbringing—from friends dying in the streets to his aunt dying from a heroin overdose. It’s one of the most powerful and emotional tracks on the album. The glamorous production and passionate delivery on the title track synthesize the album's themes: a tour of Mill’s wealth that doesn’t forget the downsides that still affect him. “Love Train” shows Mill conflicted between his love life and his money–driven ego, often progressing to toxic relationships. The final three tracks on the album are an amazing finish. “Angels (RIP Lil Snupe)” directly pays tribute to a friend and labelmate who passed away in 2013. “Cold Hearted III” gives some of Mill’s most impactful bars about his childhood trauma. While Mill delivers deeply vulnerable verses about his current outlook on social media, his home, and his calling on the final track, “Halo,” Brent Faiyaz, he provides a scene stealing chorus: “Should I just wear a halo? / ‘Cause I already know too many angels.”
Unfortunately, there are some misses on the slower side of Expensive Pain as well. The love song “Ride For You” doesn’t really fit Mill’s style at all, and neither him nor guest artist Kehlani sound excited on the track. While “We Slide” has an animated performance from Young Thug, the production isn’t unique or notable at all, and Mill’s autotune makes him sound an awful lot like Thug. “Love Money” just fails to make a notable identity for itself.
At the end of it, Mill comes away with a mostly good album. Despite a handful of tedious songs, there are many highlights that boast great production, compelling lyrics, or electric energy from him and his fellow artists. Through the shortcomings and all, Mill continues to pave his own lane, providing a solid voice for underdogs in Philly and around the world. His displays of suffering and success, no matter how flawed, are bound to inspire millions.