Studio albums have a way of working as a litmus test for hip-hop's up and comers. Mixtapes and guest appearances are one thing, but for an artist to prove that he/she can create a strong cohesive album while delivering on lyrics, beats, and bravado is another. Meek Mill seems capable of preforming this balancing act with Dreams & Nightmares, a solid effort that shows glimmers of brilliance throughout.

Meek Mill is a terror throughout this entire album, barley pausing to take a breath. His rhymes don't so much flow and ride the haunting strings and keys, as they do smash right through them. The album's title track "Dreams & Nightmares Intro" is a prime example of how effective Meek actually is at this technique, unleashing lines like "flexing on these niggas/I’m like Popeye on that Spinach" ripping through a slow tempo classic piano roll. Meek's anger spills over into the next 3 tracks; "In God We Trust," "Traumatized," and "Believe It" featuring Rick Ross -- 3 more heavy hitting/fuck-you-all prototypes that will make more than a few heads grit their teeth and pound their chests.

The album becomes slightly more in-depth by the time "Maybach Curtains" rolls around (pun intended). It finds Meek in a more vulnerable place, spitting lines like "This money shit ain’t funny/all the shit it brings/ you better lose your family and your friends/boy this shit is mean." The lyrics fit perfectly beside heavyweights Nas, Rick Ross, and John Legend, who each share their respective hood stories over sparse horns and jazz like keys. "Amen"  featuring Drake and Jeremih is a great song to bounce to, and the production by KeY Wane/Jahlil Beats is especially creative. Then producer Lee Major blows purple haze all over us in "Young Kings," which will no doubt be blaring out of subs all across Philadelphia.

Up until this point of the album, the young MC seems wise beyond his years. A savvy vet that incubuses the true meaning of hip-hop. After "Young Kings" however, the album seems to take another direction."Lay up" (albeit with a strong showing from Wale) comes off as syrupy and cliche, while "Who Your Around" featuring Mary J. Blige delivers another gooey chorus that off-sets Meek Mill's rugged style. A far cry from the guy that tore it up on the Self Made and Dreamchasers mixtape series. "Tony Story Pt. 2" and "Polo and Shell Tops" gets the heads bouncing all over again, with great production and strong lyrics. Leaving all the listeners to wonder why the MC felt the need to stray from his magic formula in the first place.

A strong case can be made that Dreams & Nightmares will not be remembered as the defining moment in Meek Mill's artistic career. However, The young MC has accomplished something far greater then an album of club bangers. He has shown that although he is capable of making hits, he is also capable of creating a cohesive album that flows from one song to the next. Meek's grandiose persona will help keep him in the tabloids for awhile, but his creative vision and unique style may engrain him in the minds of hip hop fans for years to come. Dream or Nightmare? Only time will tell.

You can cop the album on iTunes now.