BACK IN NEW YORK, NBA Commissioner David Stern is still reading draft picks, and Wale’s tantrum has finally subsided. He’s refocused his disgust to the Thai takeout platter laid out on his desk, aside a MacBook Pro and cascade of colorful snapback caps. His feet are kicked up on an icy white comforter as he sprawls against his headboard, eating edamame beans and discarding the pods into a plastic container atop his nightstand. Wale is easily MMG’s most impassioned—the crew’s case study for its members’ no-ceilings swagger. It seems that despite reviving his career, Mr. Folarin just can’t seem to shake the chip that’s been resting firmly on his shoulder since releasing his 2009 debut, Attention Deficit, which sold 28,000 copies in its first week and effectively put his music career on life support. But these days, despite his intense soliloquy moments ago, he owns a cooler mind state (“I want the fans to know I’m evolving”) and some hardware to validate his hard work—his Miguel-featured single “Lotus Flower Bomb” topped Billboard’s rap charts, while “That Way” hit the Top 5. Clearly, Wale is no longer an underdog. So where does one advance from an album called Ambition that actually lives up to its name?
“I did a lot of soul-searching, it’s a lot more personal,” Wale says of his third studio long-player, expected late 2012. “I want to expand, man. Talk to more people, more of our culture, that urban environment. My recent music has been a little more conscious or self-reflecting. I almost fear my next album not being as commercial as Ambition, but that’s just where my heart and mind is right now.”
Meek Mill is similarly staying true with his solo debut. He moved to Los Angeles for four months to record, helping inspire his sunny, divinely sacrilegious single “Amen” with Drake and Jeremih. Yet, his unfinished Dreams and Nightmares album is sonically moodier. Once you delve into the contents of his metallic external hard drive, on which MEEK MILL is scribbled on an affixed strip of masking tape, it’s apparent. Waka pops up for a raucous, rainmaking ode to big-booty bitches (his words). Elsewhere, Meek jostles with Wale, French Montana and J. Cole on a posse cut about never returning to a piss-poor lifestyle. And, of course, there’s tough talk (“I chase you down with the metal like we was running a race, but it’s no relay/And fuck the D.A.,” he snaps over piano keys on “The Life”).
“I wanna give both sides of my life—what’s going on now, the sort of rap life… and what it took to get here,” Meek says. “Me, DMX, 50 [Cent], we came in with no fear, like, fuck everything. Fuck making pop songs, fuck making R&B songs, I’ma stick to this street shit and still get this money. A lot of people think street rap can’t get you money. People in my ’hood gon’ buy my album. It’s all about them having that connection with you.”
“Meek has the potential,” adds New York radio station Power 105’s personality DJ Envy of Meek’s breakout chances. “But if it happens, it’ll be one of those things where he makes a
record just for his people and it crosses over on its own.”
WHETHER RICK ROSS REMAINS MMG’s top seller, God Forgives is expected to be a monster release. He’s managed to one-up every solo album since his 2006 debut, Port of Miami. And although the album rollout has been bumpy—the single “So Sophisticated” received a tepid response and Ross’ Usher-guested “Touch’n You” was upstaged by the duo’s “Lemme See,” for Ursh’s recent album—Ross is in a positive space, both artistically and as a boss. It’s the personal side that’s concerning. “It’s all about grinding, going hard and hustling. That’s my strong point,” he says. “I just hope that none of this is stressing me.” Ross has been paying special attention to his sleep and stress levels since he suffered a pair of seizures last October. While he’s had several “health talks” with doctors, Ross’ 24-7 drive is the root of his happiness, so he’ll only slow himself but so much. “I try to get more rest. Do I do it all the time? Of course not. I got shit to do, goals to accomplish. I just try to balance.”
In the case that Ross ever tires of steadying the scales, he’s built a lofty musical estate featuring stars that are already shooting and some pretty anticipated newcomers. As the heavyweight approaches hip-hop’s Social Security age group (he turns 37 in January) the question begs: Is a future seat solely behind a desk—feet up, shades still on—a distant possibility?
“I wouldn’t be able to tell you that,” Ross answers. “I just love to be around music, in whatever capacity. If it’s just putting out artists or making music myself or producing, we have a lot of different things going on. I’ma be a big boy in this game for a long time.”