Meek Mill and a brief History of Philadelphia.
I won’t pretend to know everything about Robbert Rihmeek Williams, better known as Maybach Music’s Meek Mill. But if I’ve learned anything from my intermittent exposure to pop culture over the past year, he hasn’t had the best last 12 months. From legal issues over a probation violation to a much debated and criticized and most importantly, baffling beef with his contemporary Aubrey Graham aka Drake, Meek has made a string of bad, if not confusing public relations choices that has left me and others scratching our collective heads.
Why, Meek? You made it? You won.
Philadelphia is my home town. I am obligated to simultaneously dislike and champion anything coming out of the City of Brotherly Love, because Philadelphians have an eternally burning internal conflict where we know we are the birthplace of this entire nation whilst also being a city that bombs it’s own citizens and glorifies a fictional movie character over actual people who have made considerable contributions to society. Philadelphia is a place where you’d think Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing and Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer were the only songs ever written and the last greatest contribution to the world were #3 76er’s jerseys. It’s a conflicted town. A chocolate city where the murder rate continues to be among the top in the country, graduation rates are unfathomably low, but they keep opening up popup beer gardens in the ruins of closed schools.
Meek Mill is also from Philadelphia. Meek Mill is a RAPPER from Philadelphia. His rapper name is Meek Mill. Rappers from Philly don’t make it this far. Mostly because of the aforementioned reasons, but also because Philadelphia hip hop since the backpack era is so deeply rooted in freestyling and battling and technical rhyme schemes that are more akin to advanced mathmatics than actual music. With that, you begin to wonder where Will Smith even came from. For anyone not from Philadelphia I would think that the accent, the speed and subject matter would make it so unpalatable for casual listening and definitely alienate itself from any pop audience.
The last time any Philadelphia rappers of that ilk broke pop music’s glass ceiling was in the early aughts when Jay Z and Dame Dash’s Roc-A-Fella records seemed to — at least to me — sign every Philly rapper they could. And for the life of me I look back on that time and I wonder why. Not that that era didn’t produce classics (Freeway’s Philadelphia Freeway, Beanie Sigel’s The Truth, etc) but why Philly? And why then?
Perhaps it was that we were on the heels the second wave of conscious rap and a new thing called ne0-soul (redundant, much?), also lyrical southern and midwest rap was all but running the mainstream. So, the obvious alternative to rappers who could rattle off dictionaries about social change, were rappers who could not only recite dictionaries, but make up entirely new ones about the “streets” and various street corners with Native American names where they conducted business. Hip Hop also caught it’s second wind among the muck and mire of Limp Bizcuits and Kid Rocks. Thanks to Eminem and an aptly timed release of Jay Z’s Blueprint (9/11/2001), every would need to assemble their team. And Philadelphia was and had always been an underutilized reservoir of talent too complex and yet too unrefined for mainstream.
Meek is and was no different. Which is what makes him such an anomaly. He is an overnight success that took over a decade to come to fruition. Which isn’t an uncommon occurrence by any Philadelphia measurement — look at The Roots. But it was the cosign of Miami “Boss” Rick Ross and massive 2011 street hit (approaching fifty million YouTube views) in I’m A Boss which features Philly in all of it’s bearded, oil slicked splendor (plus a series of very well received mixtapes), that brought Robert Williams from South Philly, to mainstream success, almost universal adoration in the hip hop community — short some local dissenters. His star was undeniable even though, you know, he’s from Philly!
It is around this time that my excitement also waned. I was generally proud that another dark skinned brother from a town — my town — that claimed so many lives just like his had made it. And made it not on some shiny gimmick, but because he just rapped his ass off until somebody paid attention. The music however, wasn’t for me. And in the years to follow Meek didn’t blip on my radar aside from the occasional gossip blog post or a friend asking me if I had heard his new tape or album (no). And he also went to jail.
Fast forward to December 2014, Meek Mill is out of jail. a moment immortalized by this meme. Fast forward again to March of 2015, Meek Mill sells out the 19,500 capacity Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia in a welcome back concert where Meek, showing his true Philadelphia self-saboteur colors, calls out the biggest rapper in the world and begins one of the most peculiar, one-sided rap beefs(?) in recent history.
The exchange between Drake and Meek could be the subject of an entire volume about things you should not do if you are any combination of the following:
a) a rapper
b) a rapper that just got out of jail
c) you’re dating someone who is 10x more famous than you
d) you were the supporting act on said significant other’s tour
e) you’re any of the above with the fortune/misfortune of being from Philly
It seems that that moment of victory— selling out an arena and unquestionably cementing himself as the people’s hometown hero was also a cue to engage in dumbassery I thought only reserved for artists with questionable hair and religious affiliations (Lupe)… and B.o.B. Not multiplatinum selling 27 year old millionaires. Oh wait.
All of this brings us to present day: Meek Mill announces to a group of Philadelphia high school students that he intends to further his formal eduction by enrolling in college. After donating fifty thousand dollars worth of water to Flint, Michigan. Decisions as non-linear as anything he’s done since March 2015, but perhaps some of his most valuable. Not just for him, but for those kids and Philadelphia at large. Meek is the hometown hero. More so than any other rapper that I can think of that cycled through the fame machine over the past two decades. His decision to do something else, to enrich himself culturally as well monetarily can potentially set a profound example for a generation of children who wouldn’t otherwise think that any of that was valuable. Meek is no Warren Buffett, but who is? And who cares!? Meek is from Philly!