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Artist Meek Mill Al­bum Cham­pi­onships La­bel At­lantic/MMG ★★★☆☆

In re­cent years, Meek Mill has be­come bet­ter known for his brushes with the law than his mu­sic. On con­tin­ued pro­ba­tion since a 2007 ar­rest for posses­sion of a firearm, he was last year sen­tenced to two to four years in prison for vi­o­lat­ing his pa­role by per­form­ing a dirt-bike wheelie in New York. The ap­par­ent in­con­gruity be­tween this act and Mill’s ar­rest spawned the wide­spread hash­tag cam­paign #FreeMeekMill, a New York Times op-ed penned by Jay-Z ad­vo­cat­ing prison re­form, and a pe­ti­tion for the rap­per’s re­lease that re­ceived over 400,000 sig­na­tures. Mill was re­leased in April after serv­ing five months.

Where Mill has al­ways made the strug­gle be­tween the in­di­vid­ual and ex­ter­nal forces – so­ci­ety, money, race – felt in his pugilis­tic rap, his fourth al­bum is a max­i­mal­ist tes­ta­ment to the self-made man, or at least Mill’s ver­sion of that all-Amer­i­can nar­ra­tive.

It opens with a sam­ple of Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight that’s so un­ex­pected as to be shock­ing, yet Mill some­how makes it work. As it crescen­dos to Collins’ in­fa­mous drum fill, he cre­ates an Eye of the Tiger for the Creed gen­er­a­tion.

Cham­pi­onships is ma­ture Mill: he quashes his long­stand­ing feud with Drake on the trap-heavy Go­ing Bad, and fea­tures a rare glim­mer of late-ca­reer bril­liance from Jay-Z on What’s Free. The al­bum has some filler – the mum­ble rap of Splash Warn­ing and Up­town Vibes’ reg­gae­ton – but mostly it is a cine­matic tale of a man freed, though still car­ry­ing the bur­den of rep­re­sen­ta­tion. “Two-fifty a show and they still think I’m selling crack,” he raps.

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