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“Meek Mill is the Hip Hop Rocky Balboa”

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Everyone loves a good rags to riches or redemption story, and Meek Mill is the literal embodiment of both. Like the fictional character from his hometown of Philadelphia, Rocky Balboa, Meek is considered rap’s “People’s Champ.” The parallels between his music career and the ongoing Rocky movie saga are eerie, and tales of overcoming adversity have proven to be a strong lure for the public. Meek went from being a teenage freestyle rap legend to being signed to one of the biggest labels in the industry. Amidst that transition, his highs and lows have been heavily documented. From his constant run-ins with the law, to earning a #1 album, to dating Nicki Minajand then there’s that infamous rap-beef he had with Drake, from which many thought he would never recover. Just like Rocky, Meek has beat the odds, achieving the seemingly impossible.

Meek served time in prison for violating probation on a nearly ten year old gun charge. Since being released, he has been a man on a mission. His fourth studio album, CHAMPIONSHIPS, is more than just a milestone. It’s a testament to his resolve and a gift back to the people who rallied around him for the #FreeMeek campaign. Meek’s story transcended hip-hop, inciting a national discussion on the criminal justice system. “What’s happening to Meek Mill is just one example of how our criminal justice system entraps and harasses hundreds of thousands of black people every day,” JAY-Z wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times. In April, Meek was granted bail and released. “While the past five months have been a nightmare, the prayers, visits, calls, letters and rallies have helped me stay positive,” he said in a statement to Billboard.

No one in rap has more eagerly anticipated album intros than Meek, so he made the wise decision to open the album with an epic flip on Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight; a perfect beat for getting some introspective bars off. He follows with it Trauma,” sampling Barclay James Harvest’s “Taking Me Higher,” more popularly known for it’s use on Mobb Deep’s “Get Away.” Meek holds no punches on this track, detailing not meeting his mother’s expectations of him, and expressing his disappointment in knowing that a black judge wants to sentence him to prison time. Hearing Meek be so candid with his experiences over the past two years is really refreshing. Meek is at his best when he shows vulnerability. Club anthems and celebrating wealth are great, but Meek knows his honesty is what sets him apart.

On the Cardi B assisted On Me, Meek switches the album’s tempo by delivering a definitive club anthem, and displaying chemistry with a female rapper that many felt was lacking in his collabs with Nicki Minaj. Cardi floats on the track so well, I’m wondering if this was a track that didn’t make her debut and later got gifted to Meek. Uptown native Melli appears onWit The Shits and we’re given another example of effortless chemistry. On24/7 featuring Ella Mai, Meek leans on nostalgia again, creating a sensual moment with assistance from Beyoncé’s “Me, Myself and I.”

Meek always raps with the same hunger he had when he sported “nappy braids,” but on CHAMPIONSHIPS he truly has laser focus. Spending time in jail is never a positive, but it’s pretty apparent that his most recent stint gave him a new purpose, with him returning to society as an activist and displaying signs of overall growth as an individual. We are witnessing the maturation of Meek Mill, ladies and gentlemen.

On What’s Free, which samples the Notorious B.I.G.’s “What’s Beef,” Meek details the similarities between incarceration and slavery. I think they want me silenced/ Oh, say can you see, I don’t feel like I’m free/ Locked down in my cell, shackled from ankle to feet, he raps. JAY-Z steals the show dropping gems galore all over the track, which also features Rick Ross who manages to hold his own amidst these two gifted lyricists. In what many have championed as the possible rap verse of the year, Hov takes aim at his icy relationship with Kanye West and his disdain for President Trump: No red hat, don’t Michael and Prince me and Ye/ They separate you when you got Michael and Prince’s DNA, he says. Later, he re-downloaded his Twitter app to further explain that he and Kanye are fine: The line clearly meant don’t pit me against my brothers no matter what our differences are (red hat) now go pick up Meek album. Drake and Meek on there together, he said.

One of the more disappointing songs on the album is the Drake accompanied, Going Bad.” After seeing these two burying the hatchet on stage during Drake’s tour, more was expected from their first song together since settling their dispute. It is possible the success of their previous collaborations is what made this feel so underwhelming. Meek punctuates the album with Cold Hearted 2,” closing the album out with as much energy as he opened with. He uses the time for introspection, reflecting on the disloyal friends that left him for dead when things got rough.

Meek Mill took all the lumps and bruises but still got up to his feet before the ten count. CHAMPIONSHIPS gave Meek’s career a second wind after many missteps and bumps in the road. On his fourth project, the Philly spitter checked off all the boxes, giving his fans everything they want while showcasing his elevated mindset and maturation. CHAMPIONSHIPS is Meek’s best, most focused project to date using nostalgic samples, great collaborations, anthems, introspection and vulnerability. Meek will never be as popular as Drake, or win as many awards as Kendrick, but the North Philly native has become the poster child for those who no one expected to make it, but succeeded. Meek is the voice of the streets, and with the backing of his Billionaire friends (Robert Kraft, Michael Rubin & Jay-Z), the underdog is now rap’s own Rocky Balboa.