Meek Mill has got a lot of things to say. His fourth studio album ‘Championships’ is his first full-length release since he served five months in prison. An 18-track project with an all-star cast of hip-hop artists, it is staunch, confident and completely uncompromising. Themes of prison reform, black oppression and injustices against the marginalised run throughout. Though some songs stray, sounding like loose threads, it feels like Meek’s making up for lost time rather than cynically touting for streaming numbers, and he comes back fighting: ‘Championships’ cements the Philadelphia artist as one of the best in the game.
“Uh, my mama used to pray that she’d see me in Yale / It’s fucked up she gotta see me in jail,” he raps on the opening bars on ‘Trauma’, and sets a marker. He’s going to talk about his jail-time and he’s not going to mince his words: “How many times you send me to jail to know that I won’t fail / Invisible shackles on the king, ’cause shit, I’m on bail / I went from selling out arenas, now shit, I’m on sale”. After his high-profile court case and prison sentence, Meek’s become a mainstream icon for prison reform; here he doubles down on this, getting Jay-Z to dust off the mic and join Rick Ross on ‘What’s Free’ to discuss capitalism and income inequality over the irresistible Notorious B.I.G ’What’s Beef’ sample.
Songs like ‘100 Summers’, ‘Almost Slipped’, ‘Respect The Game’ and ‘Trauma’ spotlight other artists while reminding listeners of Mill’s prodigal talent, and the featured artists help elevate the album. Anuel AA’s verse on ‘Uptown Vibes’ needs to be played through a few times, Melii is introduced as an emerging talent on ‘W.T.S’, Ella Mai’s turn on ’24/7’ is sure to get listeners hooked, while soulful RnB track ‘Dangerous’, with PnB Rock and Jeremih, begs to be listened to with your arms wrapped around a significant other.
‘Championships’ showcases Meek’s obsession to do Philadelphia, his fans, his listeners, his family, his friends and his cohorts in the rap game right. The result is an album that dovetails beautifully from party anthems to vulnerable confessionals. The production is tight and cohesive even when songs like ‘Pay You Back’ and ‘Splash Warning’ feel unnecessary. Meek is angry but eloquent; he allows himself to be emotional, admitting how prison scarred him. A stand-out project, ‘Championshps’ may not slip into people’s end of the year lists, but it’s a statement of intent. Meek has demons, just like the rest of us – he just lets us in.