When the autobiography of Robert Rihmeek Williams—better known as MMG rapper Meek Mill—is written, the word “easy” should be omitted from every passage and paragraph.
The Philadelphia-born and bred rapper has encountered and overcome enough adversity before and during his music career to never have such a word attached to his name. Instead of being broken by the many hardships, though, Meek has fought like the fictional son of Apollo Creed. Through it all, he took the sour with the sweet, hustled against the odds, and now stands as hip-hop’s poster child for prospering despite the many misfortunes.
The release of Championships, Meek’s fourth studio album, is like a homecoming. This will be the first album to follow Meek’s unjust time in prison. Only seven months separate Meek's bail and the release of his latest album. Championships is also his first full-length project since settling his feud with Drake. There are no bars or beef separating the symbol of hope from being rightfully uplifted by peers and celebrated by fans. No one with a heart is rooting against him.
If the quality of music matches what is present on "Oodles O' Noodles Babies," the album’s stellar single, he will triumphantly cement the second coming of Meek Mill the rap star.
In usual 1-Listen album review fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish. Let's go, Meek!
No one in rap is pressured to have a great intro like Meek. Phil Collins sample. I’ll give Meek a pass since I’m certain this is Beanie Sigel/Philly homage, but no one else should flip “In the Air Tonight.” Eh, I’m not feeling the beat, but Meek is rapping like a starving wolf with his fangs out and I’m excited. “I heard your daddy was a rat so you’re a fucking mouse, nigga.” Martin Luther reference. The drums dropping gave the beat new life as if the Dragon Balls were gathered and a wish was made. Well, that was short-lived. What was attempted with this sample is underwhelming as Fallout 76. Not even Meek being on a million can help make up for it.
A woman’s voice. Sounds like a sample. BANG! Type of drums that kick with a steel toe boot. Interesting, the flip is Mobb Deep’s “Get Away.” Well, the same sample they used. [Editor's Note: The sample is Barclay James Harvest's "Taking Me Higher."] Meek is always good for wearing his heart on these hard-hitters, but “Trauma” has him deep in the crevices of his being. Black in America bars. “When the drugs got a hold of your momma and the judge got a hold of your father,” yeah, a hook that will shake you up. The deep breaths on verse two was a nice touch. Hearing him be so candid about these experiences from his vantage point is refreshing. “Watching a black woman take my freedom almost made me hate my people.” Sheesh. This is REAL rap. Keeper. Should’ve been the intro. Can’t believe I just typed that.
3. "Uptown Vibes" ft. Fabolous & Anuel AA
Horns! This beat is a groove. So infectious. The marching bands will have a field day next season. Meek is great at making records that are perfect for clubs and house parties, but also could play during the Super Bowl if given the opportunity. Consider him an all-purpose banger maker. Haven’t been big on Fab since the domestic violence reports, but he showed out on this verse. Features always come correct for Meek. AA! I wonder if this record gets love on any Latino trap playlists. I like the flow. If global warming doesn’t take us out first, I hope to hear this one next summer.
4. "On Me" ft. Cardi B
Bangladesh tag! You don’t hear that tag everyday. He delivered a slapper. My head is nodding and shoulders are shimmying. The knock is irresistible. Meek sounds like a king making demands. Royalty status. If Cardi's verse is crazy this will be a hit. CARDI! She entered with the energy of a boss with a black card. “I will put burners to bundles.” The beat has been dead since her arrival, and the verse is only getting better. Meek and Cardi is a better duo than Meek and Minaj. Meek made a good call, Cardi was perfect. Three out of four isn’t a bad start. Championships is shaping up to be a winner.
5. "What's Free" ft. Rick Ross & JAY-Z
We have reached the biggest features on the album that aren't Drake. These strings belong in the background of a Godfather film. Biggie sample. Hov rapping a sample of “What’s Beef” is mayhem. Eh, not crazy about these drums. ROSS! “Been a top dawg that’s before the K-Dots,” okay, okay. Rozay has the lighter fluid and is dosing the beat. I take back what I said about the drums, this record is hard. The biggest boss just called Mona Lisa a bitch, I’m doing cartwheels. Yo! Did Ak’s homie catch those last few bars? Even if Jay wasn’t on here, this record would be a scorcher. Reminds me of early MMG records with Ross, Meek, and Wale. Good times, good times. “Are we beefing or are we rapping.” Hov! Stunt raps. Big stunts. These are the rich man mathematics they don’t teach you in grade school. YO! Damn, those Ye lines were darts launched out of a rocket. Jay is still in 4:44 mode. “We were praising Billboard but we were young,” the laugh! I’m dead. This is murder. MURDER.
6. "Respect the Game"
Meek could’ve ended the album with that Jay verse. I wouldn’t want to rap after that. Wait, is this “Dead Presidents"? Hov gave him the verse and cleared the sample. I wish these obvious samples were flipped with a bit more creativity. “If you don’t feed your wolves they gonna put you on the menu,” real talk. Ten Meek commandments. Lil Zane didn’t deserve to catch that stray. Meek is stepping into the OG preacher role with the street wisdom. Pretty good record. Loving the maturity in his content.
7. "Splash Warning" ft. Future, Roddy Ricch & Young Thug
Meek is still having fun, but the serious verses show mental growth. “Splash Warning” is fun. Future’s voices are hilarious. He’s bouncing on this beat. Okay, Roddy Ricch and Young Thug have to reintroduce themselves. I was almost certain Ricch was Thugger. These two on the same song is the Spider-Man pointing at himself meme. This record is pretty hot. Strange structure. Especially for how short it is. Still, a cool potential single.
SOULFUL! I can tell from this jazzy loop that I’m going to love this one. Who made this beat? Whoever it is gave Meek a miracle instrumental. [Editor's Note: "Championships" was produced by Dario Beats.] He’s letting the pen bleed. “I used to sell Reggie how did I get to the Forbes” is a bar. This beat is showing out like it’s performing on stage before a Showtime at the Apollo audience. Hearing how reflective Meek is is reminding me of T.I. on Trap Muzik. There’s no glory in the talk of guns and drugs. Touching his first TEC at 11 is a movie scene. If Meek put this song on the album 10 times I would play the entire project without a skip. One hell of a title track. Potent and powerful. Music like this is what makes Meek stand out from the rest. Loving the instrumentation's slow fade-out.
9. "Going Bad" ft. Drake
Keys! Drake! Wheezy tag! “I got more slaps than the Beatles.” Pretty solid Drake start. He’s cloud-leaping over these keys. Loved the switch to singing, it’s definitely his mode. Meek! Haha, he made a "Back to Back" reference. This is a fairly loose record. Not quite up there with “Amen” or “R.I.C.O.” but it will suffice as a cool reunion record. Wheezy is having a hell of a year.
10. "Almost Slipped"
I’m ready for Meek to start trimming the albums a bit. I don’t really need nine more records. This one sounds like a potential keeper already. Loving the vibe he’s setting. Meek’s records for women tend to be hit-or-miss for me, and this one is leaning toward the former. The Auto-Tune is adding a nice texture that sets an emotive touch to his confession. Okay, the second half of the record is starting to simmer out. He could’ve sent this to her as a voicemail. “Had to protect my heart and my wrist.” I hope Meek isn’t worried about body counts. Alexa, play “Prostitute Flange” by Lil Wayne. This is a skip. Had potential, maybe it’ll grow on me.
11. "Tic Tac Toe" ft. Kodak Black
Is Meek the first rapper to say it’s a Kodak moment while on a song with Kodak Black? Oh yeah! The beat is a wildebeest. Tay Keith is having a rookie-of-the-year season. Everything this kid produces will cause your trunk to Harlem Shake. Kodak’s voice sounds weird, like the mix on his vocals wasn't completed before the track went to mastering. There's a clear difference between their two vocals. Take off Kodak and this one is a flawless banger. Tay Keith for president.
12. "24/7" ft. Ella Mai
Meek with the Beyoncé sample!? I’m starting to think the Carters adopted this grown man. I wish they would adopt me. He’s getting a Queen B verse on the next album. Ella Mai's vocals are silk. “Almost Slipped” was not needed when he had a record smooth as “24/7” coming two tracks later. This is slowly becoming one of my favorites. Such a well-constructed record. Fluid, sentimental, and that sample! Rappers have to stretch before fitting in their “Kaepernick kneel” bars. Easily the most mentioned football player not currently playing in the NFL. Ella Mai is about to become a feature beast. Here for it.
13. "Oodles O' Noodles Babies"
I was sold on "Oodles O' Noodles Babies" from the first listen. It’s like a part two to “Championships.” Holy ghost production with the pulpit lyricism. Meek left the launching pad when the drums came back. I love when he selects production that builds and breaks itself around his verses. Sounds like Meek did a lot of reflecting during his time behind bars. Not just in his situation, but the circumstances that lead him there.
14. "Pay You Back" ft. 21 Savage
21 and Meek! Wheezy tag. Not the hardest-hitting beat, but I like the tempo a great deal. Pretty content with Meek’s rapping on this album. I'm certain he spat this verse with a razor underneath his tongue. Grimy. 21, 21! Savage called himself John Wick, I’m deceased. He’s going off! If you wanted a beat killed in 2018, you called J. Cole or 21 Savage. Fam, 21 Savage said he wishes he was rapping in the ‘90s because 2018 is filled with weirdos. I can see 21 signed to Ruff Ryders. Anyway, second verse Meek is cool. He’s keeping the energy high.
15. "100 Summers"
I have a love/hate with Meek’s usage of Auto-Tune. It’s emotive, but still, not exactly the most pleasing effect. I love the honesty, but a lot of what Meek is saying 15 tracks deep has been covered. He’s good, but repetition is a weakness when the tracklist is filled with almost 20 records of similar themes. Well, I like this one a lot. “100 Summers” is fine except when he tries to hit that strange high note. I’ll play it again.
16. "Wit the S***s (W.T.S)" ft. Melii
Video game production is often my least favorite production. Hmm, I’m not disgusted by this. Meek sounds great on this rather bizarre beat. The stranger the better. Let me use this track to state how upset I am that Knxwledge didn’t get any beats on this album. Melii! She’s out of this orbit. The delivery is insane. This is hot. Dare I say show-stealing? Meek could’ve given her the record. A little late in the album for a banger, but there’s potential here. Good stuff, Melii and Meek.
17. "Stuck in My Ways"
“I bury you niggas in money and make it rain at your funeral,” this is how you start a verse. The last two songs woke me up. The album is catching its second wind at the last minute, but I’m not mad at the blistering energy. Triumphant stunt raps. Living your best life raps. With the right production, Meek sounds like a titleholder. This is one of those tracks.
18. "Dangerous" ft. Jeremih & PnB Rock
This is my favorite track produced by Hitmaka. It’s a perfect R&B-esque record. Nothing on the Jeremih and Ty Dolla collab album comes close to how good this record sounds. I’m disappointed all over again. Meek did his thing with these two verses. Again, records, where he muses on his relations with women, are either great or unbearable. Rather unfortunate this one didn’t catch a real wave. Great record.
19. "Cold Hearted II"
Last song. Let’s see if Meek ends strong. Sample. Chipmunk sped-up. “I got a check and treated niggas like I’m Robin Hood,” nice, nice. Soul-baring street raps. I wonder what made him do a second part of “Cold Hearted” from Dreams Worth More Than Money. Gotta revisit the first one. Loved how he used the line from DMX’s “We Don’t Give a Fuck.” Meek's getting at somebody. No fake friends. Jail really changed his mentality. “I’m like Derrick Rose on a 50-point night.” This is a good outro. Feel him getting some frustration off his chest. “Niggas wanna burn a bridge and expect you to send a yacht” is up there for the best bar on the album.
Final (first listen) thoughts on Championships:
Meek Mill’s Championships is eventful. Listening to the album is like attending a sporting event that’s thunderous, high-spirited, and star-studded. This is sitting courtside at the final NBA game and watching as the world’s most noteworthy hoop titans aim for victory. Meek and company showed up to secure a trophy.
Meek crosses off every kind of track he’s known for on Championships: vigorous album intro, roof-combusting bangers, introspective life reflection, triumphant street sermons, etc. It’s all here, a complete worldview of what he has to offer.
The album's highlights are ESPN-worthy. JAY-Z’s verse on “What’s Free” should be aired during SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays. The well-placed guest verses show how Meek was strategic in his choosing. He knew who should go where, and when a track required him to stand alone. It’s a stacked album that doesn’t suffer from being a cluster of voices overlapping.
Still, with sporting events come moments like game three of the 2018 World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox. While some were compelled by the unending ballgame, it’s extensive runtime was an exhausting exhibition. Meek’s verbose exuberance begins to feel overlong near its end. May brevity be a virtue learned by studio album five and that he receives better flips for his famous song selections.
Championships fully revives Meek in the public spotlight. He’s maturing—the album exhibits growth as a man, but especially a black man in America. Even when he wants to boast about a watch, or brag about a woman, his mind doesn’t wander far from how unjust this country has treated him and those who look like him. It’s where Meek shines the brightest.
This album isn’t about being a champion in hip-hop; it’s Meek stepping into the role of the people’s champion. They chose a suitable candidate to speak for their troubles and give them hope for triumphant. Drop the confetti.