In a recent New York Times op-ed, South Philly-born, North Philly-raised rapper Meek Mill laid out a harrowing first-person account of how he has been railroaded by a lying cop and a judge with a grudge. Reading through this sad and horrific account, a broader question begs to be asked: if this could happen to a rich and famous Black Man, how many others have had their lives swallowed up by an unfathomably cruel and racist justice system?
Since his dramatic helicopter-led release from prison before game five of the Sixers vs. Heat playoff series, Meek has (metaphorically) hit the ground running. Dropping new music, spearheading several charitable efforts in the city, and refashioning himself as an advocate for criminal justice reform. Earlier in the year, his song “Dreams and Nightmares (Intro)” served as the official soundtrack of the Philadelphia Eagles storied Super Bowl run. As he sat in a cell, the streets were filled with his music while the people organized mass rallies demanding he be freed. Meek Mill had become the spiritual symbol of a city’s ambition and determination, but more importantly, his celebrity and (most of) his music would come to represent something bigger.
Meek began to display flashes of an increased social consciousness on new songs like “Stay Woke” from the Legends of the Summer EP. The song vacillates between sober meditations on violence and street life intertwined with plain-spoken critiques of American society itself. In contrast to the content of much of his earlier work, the song contained a seed of the methodology he’d explore in the future.
Coming at the very end of 2018, Meek’s fourth studio album Championships — released on Friday, November 30th — is in many ways an attempt to reconcile all of the real life dynamics that informed its creation. Much like the work of Tupac Shakur (who Meek references frequently), the music on Championships lives between a seemingly contradictory set of binaries. Loving R&B ballads like “Dangerous” live on the same project as the hedonistic, booty-shaking anthem “On Me” (featuring Cardi B.). Meanwhile, flossy bangers like “Splash Warning” briefly alleviates the tone set by songs like “Trauma” which speaks on the dehumanizing cycle of beef, street violence and police murder the young Black Men live through. None of the music here is uniform, most of it sounds inspired and all of it exists under the constant threat of violence, both interpersonal and systemic.
All of this tension invigorates the album as a whole. Championships surpasses 2017’s excellent Wins And Losses as his strongest project to date. Some of the album’s more lightweight moments, like the downright silly trap throwaway “Tic Tac Toe,” are balanced out with sharp and reflective cuts like “What’s Free.” Couched between veteran wordsmiths Jay-Z and Rick Ross, Meek’s verse is characteristically earnest. Pulling inspiration from Biggie’s classic “What’s Beef,” Meek articulates a desire for a freedom and a sense of security for himself and the rest of us:
“See how I prevailed now they try to knock me back.
Locked me in a cell for all them nights and I won’t snap
Two-fifty a show and they still think I’m selling crack
When you bring my name up to the judge, just tell him facts
Tell him how we funding all these kids to go to college
Tell him how ceasing all these wars, stopping violence
Tryna fix the system and the way that they designed it.”
“Oodles O’ Noodles Babies” crystalizes the overarching message of Championships as well as Meek’s life and career. Strive to win, but understand that the deck is stacked against you. Over a bouncy, Champagne Soul-inspired groove, Meek illustrates both the circumstances that he grew up in, while lamenting those that seek to pull him back.
Meek Mill headlines The Met Philly for two nights this spring, March 15th and March 16th. The 15th is sold out, tickets are still available for the 16th, more information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.