Man Of The Year: Meek Mill Turned Tragedy Into Triumph

2018 was the year his dream chasing found a greater purpose.

The power in the title of Meek Mill’s fourth studio album transcends the obvious—Championships, as in multiple, not singular. A detail so subtle its prime purpose was missed by many. Is Meek saying he’s made a career of collecting rings? Is he proclaiming that it’s “Trophy Life” from here on? What is clear is that Robert Rihmeek Williams’ path to the winner’s circle was a Game of Thrones bracket in which he was required to first win several championships. Isolate his 2018 victories and each alone would qualify a civilian’s year, or even life, as triumphant.

What Happened to Meek Mill from 2017 - 2018

This particular Man of the Year nod yearns for a deeper recognition and appreciation for the singularity of Meek’s 365. While we cheer and toast toward the space he currently occupies, we can never forget where he stood last year. 2017 was ugly for Meek. Luck nor the rap populace were on his side. He walked into the year viewed as a back-to-back loser in his two-year-old feud with Drake. Twelve months later, he was sitting in a Pennsylvania correctional institution. The crime: popping a wheelie with the hip-hop police’s bullseye on his spine. His judge (suspiciously appointed to all his cases since his first wrongful arrest 12 years ago) allegedly requested some free bars on a weird Boyz II Men song in exchange for his freedom. He declined and coincidentally got hit with more time for parole infractions than T.I. received for purchasing machine guns. Every year, from 2012 until ’18, Meek saw a courtroom or prison cell. Because he was falsely arrested as a teen, he has spent his adulthood wearing the probation system’s “invisible shackles.” He’s been transparent about how stressful it was going back to court for 11 years with his freedom in constant jeopardy. Being sentenced to 2-4 years in prison for joy riding could drive a person insane. Most would’ve shattered or shrunk. Instead, Meek gained weight. He won when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered his bail. He stunted when he was lifted away from the penitentiary by Philadelphia Sixers co-owner Michael Rubin’s helicopter. The chopper flew straight to Game 5 of the Sixers vs Bucks first round NBA Playoffs match, where Meek rang the opening ceremonial bell. Most glorious prison release ever.
2017 was also the year Meek broke up with Nicki Minaj. Although, the Queen’s rebound was illmatic, the Philadelphian King refrained from petty behavior. He transitioned out of his relationship like a G––gentleman and gangster. Lesser men would be incapable of preserving composure and pride while Billboard’s curviest slipped away. But Meek got the last laugh. He watched his ex spiral as her competition soared. Then her first week numbers came in. Three months later, his album was No. 1. Touchdown. To add insult to injury, the hottest feature on his album is Nicki’s arch enemy (Ok, maybe that was a little petty.) Regardless, success remains undisputed as the sweetest revenge.

Meek Mill Releases New Album: Championships

Championships is the unequivocal catalyst for Meek Mill’s Man of the Year crown. His career composition shut down the fourth quarter and positioned itself for a 2020 Grammy nom. An essential ingredient in Championships’ success is the music direction; it caters a pace and energy toward the 25-year-old, while the soul of the album serves the hip-hop parent. Youngsters got their 21 Savage, Kodak Black and Ella Mai appearances and the elder heads received a memory lane stroll scored by Mobb Deep’s “Get Away” (“Trauma”), Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” (“Intro”), Jay-Z’s “Dead Presidents” (“Respect the Game”) and a salute to “What’s Beef” that must have The Notorious B.I.G. proud of his now billion-dollar brother from another. That allows parent and offspring to enjoy a Meek Milly album together for separate and overlapping reasons. Championships is Mr. Williams’ first multi-generational opus.  
While Maybach Music Group, Atlantic Records and Roc Nation did a stellar job of securing the hottest features, Championships’ boiling points (outside of “On Me”) are when Meek flies solo. The victorious title track is a glove fit for Rihmeek. With his patented riptide delivery adding to the onslaught of saxophone blares and stutter drums, the Taurus juggles street credibility and advisory like a Libra. “You gotta tell ‘em put those guns and those percs down/Them new jails got ten yards in them, and that’s your first down.”
The equator is “Oodles O’ Noodles Babies.” Over some hot-buttered bass play, Meek’s pen is perfect. The content is as rich as Rozay––the MMG lieutenant manages to articulate empathy for his people, admit the mis-education of his past and contract a strength so purple that one could miss his admissions of PTSD. “When I went to court the judge tell me Meek, you a menace to society/You said you’d give a chance, your honor, why would you lie to me?’
The music industry owns a short memory and t-shirt that reads: “What have you done for me lately?” Despite his past accolades and riches, Meek has never before flown at this altitude. Pusha T’s Daytona album may have won the year’s best rap album competition, but its sixth track is an homage to Meek. That is Corleone levels of respect. So even though Championships arrived too late for Grammy consideration, its author will still be represented at the Staples Center in February. Swish.

Meek Mill Legends of Summer and Experimenting with New Artist

Once again, Meek’s ascent summons closer analysis for maximum appreciation. What makes his level up that more special is he first had to break his glass ceiling. After the release of his post-prison EP, Legends of the Summer, even his most loyal fans still considered the Philly bull reliable. But reliable for a die hard becomes predictable for a casual fan. They all knew the specific energy and content that came with a Meek Mill banger like “Millidelphia.” You’re going to be showered with granite bars. He’s going to scream at you––maybe because he’s threatening the life of a hater or is excited about a new foreign car. Regardless of topic, it will be inveighed. Thus, we never envisioned an elastic Meek, stretching out of his comfort zones.
Two years ago, if you bet that Meek would create music aimed at Latinos––specifically, putting a reggaeton rapper on his album––your pockets would’ve lightened. Never mind his olive branch to Drake (“Going Bad” can’t touch 2012’s “Amen” FYI). The Dream Chaser exhibited a caliber of maturity that eventually became a game changer.

The Miguel collab “Stay Woke” was smart. The BET Award performance was a moment. Meek figured it out: He could be unapologetically street and still defend the streets; he could dare you to sleep with his woman and with the next breath speak out against systemic oppression. That’s who Martin Luther King Jr. really was. Also who Angela Davis was. It’s not as if anyone would mistake the Westside product for a conscious rapper.  

Meek and Social Justice Reform Post Prison Release

Who Meek Mill is today is the best version of himself with more sky to climb. His interviews are now meaty. He’s never sounded more articulate, more personable, more informative. His Fall press run trumped any of his prior marketing campaigns. He sat across some of the country’s widest voices—from Ellen DeGeneres to Trevor Noah—and continued the work of forefathers like Chuck D and TupacNoah referred to Championships as “the most gripping album I’ve ever listened to,” punctuating its author’s trauma report: “It’s not funny. It’s not cool. It’s scary.”
Meek widened America’s eyes toward its own illnesses. For example, he spoke from a personal perspective on how a low self-worth and desensitization to the judicial system prevented him and so many others from fighting inaccurate charges. He spoke on humans who remain in jail for years because they can’t afford a $100 bail. Another highlight was when CNN’s Michael Smerconish questioned Meek’s subjugation theory regarding the prison system and blacks. Many a rapper would’ve unraveled. Mills stood his ground and clarified that his point isn’t relegated solely to race, but more so class and residence. Yes, African-Americans are imprisoned at a higher rate than any other race (globally), but in the USA, the system fails poor people as a whole. Rubin learned that this year and credits his rap buddy for the new education. "Meek always used to tell me, 'Michael, there's two Americas—there's America and then there's Black America.’,” Rubin told Bleacher Report last Spring. “I didn't believe him and I kept telling him there's one America. After going through this experience with Meek, I can tell you he was right and I was clearly wrong.”
How many other rappers are teaching white billionaires about the Disunited States? Which MCs are being referred to as the face of prison reform? What an honor. What a blessing to chase a dream and along the way find a greater purpose. Meek Mill had to walk through the fire to find a better Robert Williams. Now he’s an A-list activist whose evolution threatens to trade places with Rick Ross like Drake did his lyrical label boss. After all, the only destination for a champion is the number one spot.
Once again, while we applaud and raise champagne to Meek’s succession of Game of Thrones championships, we can never forget where he stood last year. In December of 2018, he stands 6-foot-1 as Man of the Year. But this exact time last year he was just #ND8400.

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

Select the types of notification you would like to receive from us. Please note, you must choose at least one.

By clicking subscribe, I consent to receiving newsletters and other marketing emails. Newsletters are subject to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. Users can unsubscribe at any time.