Meekz, Manchester and modern masculinity

Manny Meekz’s debut EP Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, inhabits a dark world of gritty alienation. The Gorton MC has delivered a project full of sober bravado, compulsive violence and forensic self-examination: I’m just a nasty little stone seller, he raps on 6 Figures.

But he’s not ‘just’ anything, not anymore: I’m just a nasty little stone seller/ first vid milli views with no pressure. 6 Figures is a highlight and this bar a moment of real clarity: at once both harsher and more introspective than the rest of the EP.

Initially bold and confrontational, as 6 Figures progresses Meekz sounds increasingly distant and detached. His voice is raspy, it echoes.

Photograph: Primary Talent

Meekz is more vulnerable on 6 Figures too. At times his voice cracks and breaks. The song reveals the tension that animates his music: his stark descriptions of a lingering past versus the contrasting success of his present career and relentless pull of his future ambitions.

It is the spaces in between in which his music lives, the cracks, the dark alleyways. At times on this song it all feels pessimistic and brutal, but never totally hopeless; his self-belief is insistent and ever-present: It’s gettin’ so close I can smell it.  

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The opening song, Manifesto, is a four-minute celebration of Meekz from leading figures in the industry. Giggs, Charlie Sloth, Kenny Allstar, they’re all there, bigging up Meekz, celebrating themselves for doing so – it’s exactly the kind of stuff rappers typically go in for. “The realest in the game,” Kenny Allstar says.

With rap, you can never really be sure who’s real and who’s fake. With Meekz, though – the gritty production, the cutting lyrics, the rasp in his voice – you can be sure it will always feel real, always sound horribly, traumatically real. That is the art, and he does it brilliantly throughout. 

His stark descriptions of a lingering past versus the contrasting success of his present career

Like Me is the EP’s third song and arguably its most popular. They ain’t deep like me / They ain’t street like me / I don’t even wanna be like me. This is classic Meekz: somewhere between self-love and self-loathing. He provides no gloss, no veneer of commercial glamour. Meekz is not Aitch, and there is a sense that he rejects that more playful, radio-friendly sound. The voice that he delivers his bars in is deep, hoarse, marred by experience: pain in my voice is what the struggle does.

His voice itself is striking, and it conveys the sense that finding peace is something he is yet to achieve. In spite of the ease of his flow, it is not a voice that sounds at peace and he spares neither himself nor the listener – Gettin’ dots ’til I drop/ Turned me so rotten/ I can feel my soul rottin’ – with his tight, self-aware writing.

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That last bar is from Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, the title of both the second song and the EP is itself. The music itself is excellent. Meekz’s ragged voice scrapes over a solitary piano at the start. The atmosphere builds for over a minute before the beat drops. This is the very best of UK rap, drawing from American influences but with stories spun in a pained Manc delivery.

Can’t rest, can’t rest, won’t rest / Believin’ in the process / Every day’s a progress. Meekz can’t stop, he won’t stop. His drive is deep, compulsive, a possible escape… around fiends with no teeth but I’m dough gettin’.

Photograph: Primary Talent

But Meekz’s tone is never celebratory. The violence, the dirt, it’s all part of the story. There is a sense of trauma, of anger and alienation, that sets him apart. Drill can sometimes feel like violence for the sake of violence. Or worse, fetishising violence to promote and sell music. This is different.  

Like many others, Meekz came up making waves on Soundcloud and YouTube. One of the internet’s few ironclad rules is that provocative content does well – if it doesn’t shock it doesn’t circulate. But Meekz’s music is more than just provocative content and shock-jock tales of violence. He is a skilled writer and talented musician, who does far more than just deliver blood and gore: he transposes us into his life.        

Meekz raps with an abrasive masculinity, nasty and confrontational throughout. Women are used and discarded whilst the vulnerable are robbed. To call Meekz problematic would be an understatement and also completely miss the point. Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop is not a guide for how to act morally. It is, however, a vivid portrait of how Meekz sees the world.

There is a sense of trauma, of anger and alienation, that sets him apart

The economist Noreena Hertz has spoken of ‘Generation K’, the post-millennial generation. The ‘K’ comes from Katniss Everdeen, protagonist of The Hunger Games trilogy. Hertz argues ‘Generation K’ experience the world in profoundly dystopian ways. Left angry and alienated by the internet, they have matured into a political landscape of Brexit, Trump and imminent climate disaster.

Members of SAGE, the government’s scientific advice committee, this week warned of a “lost generation”, whose lives and world view have been shaped by the “collateral damage” of the coronavirus experience. There is a serious risk that the mental health crisis among students and young adults will be severely exacerbated this winter, given the prospect of a second lockdown accompanied by shorter days and reduced financial support.

Photograph: Primary Talent

Meekz’s music is not dystopian. He trades in a form of grim realism, powerful exactly because it feels so real (so true I couldn’t tell it). And yet, he speaks of the sort of world that both Hertz and The Hunger Games evokes: one of harsh and destructive individualism in which people are left by the elite to fend for themselves and fight to survive.

Meekz reveals an urban underbelly rotted away by austerity, and his success – more of which is undoubtedly on the way – suggests that the dark world he evokes resonates with people. It should come as no surprise that his audience mainly comes from a generation that is disillusioned, that feels as if progress will be a struggle, that perceives the world as harsh and feels angry about injustice.

On Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, Meekz spends 25 minutes telling us about his life, his battles and why his music career matters. Musical success to him is an escape, yet in his music he takes us deep into the places and experiences that he wants to move beyond. In doing so, he reaffirms to some listeners their own ideas of a hostile world and braces them to face it as he has. This is somewhat ironic, but – to this listener at least – it is also part of the attraction.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop by Meekz is released on Young Entrepreneurs Music. Consider buying the EP from one of Greater Manchester’s independent record shops.

The featured artwork for this piece was created by Nia Thomas, follow her on Twitter.

Listen to Manny Meekz’s Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop