5 Things We Learned From Meek Mill's 'Championships' Album on First Listen
Meek Mill is a changed man.
The past few years have been quite the eye-opening experience for the 31-year-old, as he has gone from a hungry rapper from the streets of Philly looking to prove that he belongs among hip-hop’s elite, to one of the faces of the American criminal justice reform movement. It’s certainly not what Meek envisioned when he first set foot in the rap game, but the cards he has been dealt have led to a significant moment as he approached his fourth studio album.
Expectations were incredibly high for Championships -- released Friday (Nov. 30) -- given the challenges Meek has had to deal with as a man who was just released from prison back in April. Would he accept the responsibility of being on the front lines to address a flawed criminal justice system, or would he recoil from the political spotlight and simply focus on being the best rapper he can be?
Those questions are answered on Championships, as Meek Mill blends his old experiences as a hard-boiled rapper from the streets and the success he’s experienced with his newfound passion in the political realm to take a victory lap and celebrate his accomplishments while showcasing his maturity. Here’s what immediately jumped out to us about the 19-track set upon first listen.
Jay-Z’s Scene-Stealing “What’s Free” Verse
Although much of the pre-release conversation about the album surrounded Meek Mill’s reunion with Drake on “Going Bad,” the real gem of Championships is JAY-Z’s stellar verse on “What’s Free.” There was a time where people suggested that Shawn Corey Carter was getting old, washed and out of touch. Well, JAY heard your criticism and has been absolutely relentless whenever the spotlight shines in his direction these last few years.
As Meek Mill tackles the corrupt justice system that incarcerates African Americans at an alarming rate and Rick Ross talks about… well… nothing obviously related to freedom, but includes an especially timely (if unfortunately phrased) bar aimed at 6ix9ine, JAY-Z slugs it out of the park with a verse that tackles the journey to financial freedom. There are few, if any, MCs who can convincingly handle the subject of black excellence against the abysmal backdrop of racism in America like Hov can, while also touching on his shaky relationship with Kanye West and railing against the powers that be not to "Michael and Prince" the two of 'em.
Yeah, this is Meek Mill’s album but JAY-Z has made himself the immediate topic of conversation with his appearance.
Meek & Drake Burying the Hatchet
Part of Meek Mill’s maturity has been the ability to make amends with former foes. His 2015 rivalry with Drake was one of the most heated rap beefs in recent memory, and could have understandably led to a relationship beyond repair. It was unfortunate considering that magic that Meek and Drizzy had when they teamed up on songs like “R.I.C.O.” and “Amen.” But time heals wounds and the two forces have managed to get past their previous indiscretions to collaborate on “Going Bad.”
Easily one of the most discussed collaborations on the album, the Wheezy-produced track finds the duo at their most boastful, like they haven’t missed a beat. There’s not a lot of meat to pick off the bone here, as Meek leaves the weightier rhymes for other tracks. If nothing else, it just feels good to see these two long-time collaborators working together again.
Meek's Hard-Earned Maturity
Sometimes, the tumultuous life of a rapper ends up being worn like a badge of honor rather than being a learning lesson. Meek Mill’s heavily documented run-ins with the law have opened the Philly rapper’s eyes to a flawed criminal justice system, and caused the 31-year-old to become more outspoken about a system that targets minorities at an alarming rate.
Instead of playing the victim in his bars, Meek takes on the responsibility of using these experiences to educate his fans. His newfound passion bleeds through on Championships, and adds a dimension to the rapper that should be applauded. Whether he’s recalling the traumatic experience of being locked up on “Trauma,” or how being a black in America is a difficult hurdle to overcome regardless of your financial position on “What’s Free,” Meek Mill has made it a point to showcase his growth as both a rapper and individual.
Another Memorable Intro
“Dreams & Nightmares Intro” set a high bar for Meek Mill's opening tracks, and how he sets the stage for what’s to come on his projects. That particular intro has long been recognized as one of the most significant songs of the rapper's career, and expectations have always been high for his openers since.
The first track on Championships follows this trend, as producer Papamitrou samples Phil Collins' classic “In the Air Tonight” for the set's “Intro.” Meek slowly builds momentum over what starts as a bare bones sample and builds to a rumbling baseline as the bars get increasingly more aggressive and the drums slap harder and hard. By the time the song peaks, sirens are blaring, basslines are grumbling and Meek Mill is flexing. It’s damn impressive how Meek Mill has mastered the art of the intro and this album continues that remarkable trend.
Remnants of the Old Meek, Still Living On
For those who were concerned that Meek Mill would become too preachy after his dealings with the justice system, fear not. The qualities that made Meek Mill a star are still intact and shine throughout on Championships. There’s introspection (“Trauma”) but there’s also time for Meek to indulge in women (“24/7”), materialism (“Splash Warning”) and some good old-fashioned shit talking (“Tic Tac Toe”).
And he has plenty of special guests to help him get these messages out: From Cardi B aiding on “On Me” and Fabolous dropping in for the Spanish-tinged sounds of “Uptown Vibes” to 21 Savage stopping by on the street anthem “Pay You Back,” Championships is a celebration that Meek chooses to share with friends. There does end up being some filler on the album, but considering what Meek Mill has been through, that can be forgiven as his fourth album is a showcase of the new and improved Robert Rihmeek Williams.