There's a tragic yet inspirational beauty to the cover of Meek Mill's DC4 mixtape, which features an illustration of a mug shot he says was taken after he was brutalized by police at the age of 18. It harks back to a young, fiercely determined Philadelphia street dweller looking to turn his rap skills into a pathway out of situations like the one that led to the image. Released in 2011, the first Dreamchasers mixtape was his debut solo project on Rick Ross' Maybach Music Group label, and it crystallized the Philly spitter's knack for percussive flows, pummeling anthems, and intense street raps that could be as vicious as they were aspirational. He continued in that vein with DC4, the fourth installment in the Dreamchasers series. With hammering production, agile flows, and a star-studded list of features, it's like an exhibition for a heavyweight champ. But it's got the ferocity of an underdog. DC4 begins with the soundtrack for a climax, sampling Carl Orff's legendary "O Fortuna" for "On the Regular." Attacking the orchestral soundbed, Meek lets loose a classic barrage of dope-boy exploits for an opener fit for gladiators. For "Froze," he, fellow Philly native Lil Uzi Vert, and Nicki Minaj bounce across a demonic trap beat for a flex anthem that meshes melody with invincible braggadocio. Teaming with Young Thug and an ascendant 21 Savage, Meek combines glimpses of rap-star luxury with tongue-in-cheek death threats that evoke a rare level of sly menace: "When them things hit 'em, that's an L, n***a/So you should be home before mama got dinner for sale, n***a." As earnest as it is forceful, DC4 triples down on all the fortified arrogance of previous entries, with bigger and bolder production to match his status as rap superstar. By 2016, Meek had released multiple acclaimed albums and mixtapes, so this one felt like a victory lap. And yet, in between the shouts and flashing diamonds are moments of crystalline reflection. For "Blue Notes," Meek sprints across bluesy guitar as he remembers life in the trenches and the motivation that pulled him out of them: "Started with nothin', we had to inspire to be." Years removed from the day he took the photo that would become the DC4 cover, Meek remained a dreamchaser—hungry and still on the hunt.

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