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.