As KRS-One articulated throughout his catalog and in his many teachings, "Rap is something you do, hip hop is something you live." As the culture continues to evolve today, many feel it's not only important, but vital to preserve and honor the fundamental elements: Graffiti, emceeing, breakdancing, deejaying and knowledge. This column called "Each One, Teach One" aims to do exactly that. It will highlight various lessons that can be passed between new and old generations alike.
Whether your introduction to Meek Mill was guided by the mainstream news cycle, such as through his high-profile relationship with Nicki Minaj, or more rudimentary, such as through his Dreamchasers mixtape series, the Philadelphia rapper has successfully navigated his way through the good times and the bad. This moment in time belongs to him and calls for celebration.
As fans begin to digest his fourth studio album, Championships, out today (Nov. 30), many are singing its praises as a comeback album from a rapper entering his prime. While that may be true to a degree, it is arguably more fitting to look to the new release as yet another example of Meek's resilience and tenacity.
The music industry, especially in hip-hop, doesn't allow much room for error or growth but Meek demanded it. It's less about a "second chance" and more about not having a "plan b." Meek was going to find a way or make one, a statement that becomes increasingly true when you look at his career trajectory, the obstacles he's faced and the work he's put in for over a decade now.
Throughout the past three years specifically, Meek's narrative, both in the court of public opinion and in his own words, has significantly changed and evolved. However, his mantra of being a self-declared dream chaser and therefore being motivational by nature, has not wavered. This is the case both with and without factoring in his own recent incarceration, unjust sentencing and ongoing legal battle, making his perseverance that much more potent and paramount. Before we get into that, let's take another look at how it wasn't all that long ago a powerpoint of memes accompanied a live performance of Drake's "Back to Back" at OVO Fest.
Considering Meek has not only weathered his way through losing a headline-dominating beef with Drake, someone with one of the largest platforms in the world, but went on to earn his respect is monumental. While the collaborative "Going Bad" dominates the conversation—in the moments when JAY-Z's verse on "What's Free" doesn't—the song further enforces that their reconciliation makes room for a different kind of discussion. After all, given his personal experiences being unjustly caught up in the criminal justice system, Meek is on a different kind of time and wavelength now. Watching him come into his own as someone with a newfound purpose is a full-circle moment that commands attention, respect and most impactfully, the floor.
Meek's innate self-awareness has brought him to this very moment: he is in control of how he responds to what happens to him and that is undeniably powerful. As he raps on "Get Free," "When you bring my name up to the judge, just tell him facts / Tell him how we fundin' all these kids to go to college / Tell him how we ceasin' all these wars, stoppin' violence / Tryna fix the system and the way that they designed it / I think they want me silenced (shush)," he explores the topics of freedom, preserving and agency, all while remaining authentic to his own experiences and perspectives. The entire song is an impactful one, marred only by Rick Ross' reckless, disrespectful and irresponsible decision to include a homophobic slur (his 2009 apology would like a word with him).
While part of Meek may have never forgotten what made him great in the first place, even if his self-esteem was put to the test after his back-and-forth with Drizzy, his ability to see the only way out is through is admirable, wise and relatable. His strength continues to be knowing who he is and what he stands for, even in he realization in knowing those things didn't arrive overnight.
As exemplified throughout the months since his release from prison, Meek admits he doesn't have all the answers but knows something has got to change. He sees how he has been blessed with resources to help over the years and while this current chapter may be a new beginning of his activism work on a wider scale, it's merely an extension of the community building he has been doing ever since he found early success in music. Those may be the things that get grossly buried by a high-profile beef or celebrity break-up, but Meek is taking back the focus to what is important in the long run. And this is why every "L" he's ever taken over the years is now insignificant; he's deemed it as such and the masses at large are beginning to listen.
During his press run for Championships, he sat across from Ellen DeGeneres to talk about his advocacy work calling for prison reform on national television and during their conversation, revealed that he and his fellow inmates used to watch her show from behind bars. When you break down where Meek came from and what he's been through, it's hard not to view that as being an extremely surreal experience.
Meek, however, takes the spotlight in stride, explaining that his new album has music for his day-one fans and for people who only learned about him through his legal situation. Interweaving his work as a criminal justice reform activist with his music allows Meek to do what he loves to do and is good at—rap—all without abandoning the larger driving force behind his newly refined destined purpose. He remains grateful to those who are choosing to give him the airtime, something that has been a constant throughout his time as a rapper coming from nothing and making a name for himself. Those humble admissions that he didn't first realize the scope his own legal situation aren't necessarily surprising to a degree but further speak to how, for Meek, he really is just trying to do the best by everyone as he can. It truly has become increasingly difficult not to support him and it's not without merit.
Of the many things we can learn from Meek Mill, one is that no action is too small and every voice matters. From organizing turkey drives for the homeless on Thanksgiving to kickstarting back-to-school fundraisers for those in need of supplies, Meek's call-to-action to get involved and focus on what's important is one that can resonate with everyone. That transcendence is an integral part of leadership and Meek's decision to move forward with intention is exactly why he's become exactly what he is and is destined to be: a champion.