Meek Mill's Dreamchasers Tour at the Fillmore Miami Beach August 13

"Whenever somebody got a dream," Meek Mill muses, "they want it to be reality."

Coming up in North Philly during the late '90s, Mill was a wiry 12-year-old kid named Robert Williams, hanging out on street corners and battle-rapping with other dudes from the neighborhood. He fantasized about doing arena shows in NYC and Cali. He imagined seeing himself on MTV. He envisioned a mansion filled with women and cars and watches and clothes and limitless stacks of crisp $100 bills.

So he picked out a new name. He rounded up a few homies: Mel-Luv, Dat Nigga Lil, Young Pooh. And he put his own crew together. They were the BloodHoundz. And even though they lasted only long enough to drop a few mediocre mixtapes like Grimey, Thirsty, Starvin' & Hungry and Blood In, Blood Out, this was the moment Meek Mill officially got in the game.

Several years later, on the cusp of turning 20, he rattled off a few solo tapes — 2007's The Real Me, followed by 2008's The Real Me 2 and Flamerz — that seemed to set him up for the kind of rap superstardom that almost instantly leads to arena shows, MTV spots, and mansions filled with women and cars and watches and clothes and limitless stacks of crisp $100 bills. But then he got busted on a gun charge, convicted, and sentenced to eight months in the pen. So he served his time, scrutinizing the pages of XXL Magazine, committing entire unrecorded mixtapes to memory, and plotting his next move.

Upon his release in early 2009, Meek was relentless, dropping five tapes in 12 months. He just wanted to stay out of prison. He wanted to escape the streets. He wanted to survive. And he began calling himself a dreamchaser. "Just somebody who's chasin' their dreams and goals, tryin' to better themselves and achieve, no matter what arises," he explains. "Never quittin'... That's the only way to conquer."

No doubt, it's this deep focus and ceaseless grind that convinced Rick Ross, the hardest-hustling man in rap, to make Meek Mill a minted member of the Maybach Music Group and then put him on the 2011 collabo slab Self Made, Vol. 1, not to mention "Ima Boss," its big Billboard Hot 100 hit. "I work hard. Just like my whole team," Meek says. "MMG, man... We work hard. We do it. That's why it's called chasin'. We speedin' and catchin' up to something that's runnin' away from us."

And even though it's been 16 months since Self Made finally put him in line for those arena shows, MTV spots, and mansions filled with women and cars and watches and clothes and limitless stacks of crisp $100 bills, the 25-year-old street rapper hasn't even pumped the brakes. He's been named to XXL's Freshman Class. He's dropped two more multimillion-download mixtapes, Dreamchasers and Dreamchasers 2. He's co-starred with Ross, Wale, Gunplay, Stalley, and Omarion on this summer's Self-Made Vol. 2. He's even scored a Top 10 solo hit, "Amen." And now he's prepping his own full-length MMG debut, Dreams & Nightmares, slated for late October.

"The dreams are being on tour and television, gettin' paid for doing what I love to do," Meek says. "And the nightmares were just makin' it to this point — the hard work and bein' in the streets.

"And there's lots of darker stuff," he adds, alluding to past misdeeds, unnamed acts of violence, perhaps death. "You know, growin' up in Philly, man," he says, halting for a few seconds to contemplate the specifics before choosing to paraphrase his thoughts in a bluntly poetic way, "you just see darkness and things that happen in the night.

"It's real. I've seen too much. And I ain't no gangsta. But I've done a lot of things that are bad. The world... Just look at the news. Horrible stuff happens. And I seen it growin' up.

"I just think rap is better when it's about everything. You wanna tell your kids about real life instead of not lettin' them know. 'Cause if they run across it on their own, they'll just be blind to the truth," he insists. "It can be religious. It can be anything. It's just that a lot of people gotta be able to relate to the stuff you sayin'. And people can relate to you talkin' about the church or the streets or pimpin' women out.

"Rap," Meek Mill muses, "is everything."

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S. Pajot