Dating back to the days of Dreams and Nightmares, Meek Mill always found himself in some type of controversy, with legal troubles continually happening well before his well-publicized beef with Drake. A probation violation two months after his 2012 debut. Another one three months after 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money. And another four months before 2017’s Wins and Losses. All of which delayed his rise to stardom.
Sentenced to 2-4 years for a probation violation stemming from busting a wheelie in the New York streets, Meek would only serve five months after many issues were found in the handling of his case. Three months later, he dropped his Legends of the Summer EP, and just like that, Meek was back.
Announcing a new album would arrive by year’s end, Championships was soon in our hands. Laced with 19 songs, Meek’s fourth LP is lead by “Dangerous” with PnB Rock and Jeremih, “Oodles O’ Noodles Babies,” and “Uptown Vibes” with Fabolous. The album also comes equipped with an impressive list of supporting acts: Cardi B, Rick Ross, Future, Roddy Ricch, Young Thug, Drake, Kodak Black, Ella Mai, 21 Savage, and Melii. There’s also the highly-anticipated reunion track with Drake and, of course, a Verse of the Month-winning appearance from one JAY-Z.
Championships sees Meek beginning the celebration with a toast to life as it is now, while simultaneously reflecting on his past struggles. Despite the down moments, Meek hasn’t lost any confidence; if anything he’s gained more. This can be seen as he stands side-by-side with two rap heavyweights, Rick Ross and JAY-Z, and unloads a solid verse dedicated to freedom on “What’s Free.” “Trauma” sees Meek immersed in a nostalgic reflection on a number of life changing experiences. While the pain and distraught can be heard in his verse, it fails to diminish the boldness of his statements, “I went from selling out arenas, now sh* t, I’m on sale/ Them cold nights starting to feel like hell/ Watching a black woman take my freedom/ Almost made me hate my people.”
A major highlight of this album, is his sample palette. If albums were judged by samples, Championships takes album of the year by a landslide. Kicking off with a flip of Phil Collin’s “In the Air Tonight” on the intro, Meek goes on to sample Richard Evan’s “Close to You” (which was notoriously used by Biggie on “What’s Beef”) for “What’s Free,” Barclay James Harvest’s “Taking Me Higher” (Mobb Deep’s “Get Away”) on “Trauma,” Lonnie Liston Smith’s “A Garden of Peace” (Jay-Z’s “Dead Presidents II”) on “Respect the Game,” Beyonce’s “Me, Myself & I” on “24/7,” The Weeknd’s “I Was Never There” on “Cold Hearted II,” and more. The album is loaded with choice samples that add a new level of experience and age to it.
Although highly-anticipated, the Drake-assisted “Going Bad” falls flat in comparison to the duo’s previous works (“Amen” & “R.I.C.O.”) and ultimately lacks the luster the first two had produced.
As for guest acts that did shine, Ella Mai does a phenomenal job on “24/7.” Taking the record to new heights and adding a splash of R&B purity to it, she without a doubt did the Beyoncé sample justice. Doing a complete 180 on the sonic level, Meek recruits Cardi for a Bangledesh-produced club banger in “On Me.” With Meek being the rapper that we all know him for, Cardi came out swinging on her verse, delivering punch after punch. While it’s not exactly the most lyrical, she still wilds out, making it clear she’s not the one to mess with.
Over the course of this hour-long celebration, there are a few down points and ill moments. The food arriving late and forcing everyone to starve and wait a couple hours to eat would be represented by “Splash Warning.” Following a stellar first half, the track throws everything off balance as Meek, Future, Roddy Ricch and Young Thug connect for a rather messy and disappointing collaboration. More minor issues, like “Almost Slipped” and “Stuck In My Ways,” that both do nothing but bring down the album’s overall quality.
Being fresh out from prison, Meek is in a completely different headspace on Championships. Throughout the album he takes his life experiences and details them to his listeners in the way an OG would–loaded with wisdom. While recent situations have been unfortunate, he’s made the best of them, trading Pateks and Rolexes for justice reform and racial injustice.
A revised outlook and his newfound wisdom can be heard in its purest form on the album’s closer, “Cold Hearted II.” Meek highlights his new focus in life with his full intention of not letting anyone pull him away from it: “I got a homie that’s doing life—he can’t offer me no money, he can’t offer me nothing but a friendship and a relationship. I talk to him seven days a week. So don’t come to me talking ’bout no money sh*t, n***a.”
With this victory lap, Meek has every reason to celebrate and he has no plan to let anyone or anything distract him from his current path towards continued success—which might include another album before the year’s end? We’ll see, until then, let’s just hope he enjoys the moment.