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Meek Mill - Legends of the Summer EP Music Album Reviews

The Philadelphia rapper’s first project out of prison is a quick and powerful Meek sampler: the bustling street anthem, the croon-assisted sex jam, the tortured flashback.

For 171 days, from November 2017 to April 2018, Meek Mill was detained at Pennsylvania’s Graterford Correctional Facility because the NYPD saw an Instagram video of the Philly rapper doing wheelies through Manhattan on a dirt bike. The probation violation stemmed from 2007 charges for drug dealing and weapons possession that have forced Meek to spend nearly all of his adult life under the eye of law enforcement. Meek would be the first to admit he isn’t blameless in his situation, but every mistake he made in his 20s—from failing to report his travel plans to getting in a fight at a St. Louis airport—was compounded by trying to survive in the streets at 19. He’s 30 now.

This dirt bike infraction, seen by many as a miscarriage of justice, rallied many to his cause. He was visited in prison by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and the Reverend Al Sharpton. Allies popped up from all corners to voice their support: from his Roc Nation boss JAY-Z and frenemy turned rival Drake to Olympic athletes and the governor of Pennsylvania. At this year’s Super Bowl, the Philadelphia Eagles took the field to Meek’s “Dreams and Nightmares” intro—they won the game. With public support behind him, his two-to-four-year sentence was overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, after a series of appeals. On his first day out, he attended a Philadelphia 76ers playoff game. Most of these extravagances have only been afforded Meek because he’s a prosperous celebrity rapper. He has become an inadvertent and unlikely paragon for criminal justice reform, specifically in sentencing and police conduct, and yet he is still an outlier: It’s hard to imagine that Meek Mill would be free today if he wasn’t Meek Mill.

But true freedom is the right to be autonomous, the ability to live without oversight. “I don’t feel free. I ain’t feel free since I caught this case at the age of 19,” he told NBC’s Lester Holt in a “Dateline” special in April. It’s a sentiment echoed by “Millidelphia,” from his first post-prison release, Legends of the Summer: “They was screaming ‘Free Meek!’/Now Meek free, judge tryna hold me,” he raps exasperatedly about being denied a new trial for the 2007 conviction keeping him on probation. There’s an anxiety carried in these songs—as with the best Meek songs—like he doesn’t know how much time he has left on the outside. This new four-song EP plays like a Meek sampler: the bustling street anthem, the croon-assisted sex jam, the tortured flashback. And while there are plenty of face-offs with judges, it finds him largely celebrating a life out of the box in search of freedom, if not exoneration.

For 2017’s Wins and Losses, Meek Mill redrew the lines for victory and defeat after his ill-fated battle with Drake, explaining that being outmaneuvered by a rap rival means little in the face of time served. That appraisal seems prescient now. The complete 180 from more mercurial fans who went from writing him off to demanding his release means he has more goodwill behind him now than ever. He capitalizes by returning to the same punchy tactics that have made him a great rapper for nearly a decade. “Who came and tripled his worth? Meek/Who shall inherit the Earth? Meek,” he shouts on the “Millidelphia.” Reuniting with longtime collaborator Jahlil Beats (the man behind hits like “Ima Boss,” “Amen,” and “Burn”) on “1am,” he luxuriates in life on the late-night circuits: V.I.P. for all the P.Y.T.s/Puffy up in the session, we doing B.I.G.s/I’m notorious just for sportin’ these Givenchys.” These aren’t quite his most engrossing or impactful songs, but they are among his most energizing.

He has never quite foregrounded his experiences with prison culture the way he does with Miguel on “Stay Woke.” The song is topical, but it’s also a soul-bearing chronicle of a life spent in the revolving door of the justice system, an introspective look that uses the turmoil of his own experience as a lens through which to consider systematic imbalances. “It’s amazin’ this environment we was raised in/On them papers, one mistake and I’m gettin’ caged in,” he raps. “You gotta feel me, feel like the system tryna kill me/Got arrested and the charges F1 for popping wheelies, stay woke.”

For all the EP’s chest-thumping, hate-me-now confidence, “Stay Woke” is Legends of the Summer’s beating heart. It is one of Meek’s best songs, well-written and well-rapped, performed as if in search of solace. With great aplomb and self-consciousness, he relives his waking nightmare with clear-eyes, takes stock of the young rappers making the same mistakes he did, takes on a racist judiciary, and asks more of his community. “How can I pledge allegiance to the flag/When they killin’ all our sons, all our dads?” he asks, before weighing the role the streets play in perpetuating this disparity: “I come from a place when you kill your own brother you can brag/Like he got bodies, but that’s a fad, no, that’s a fact.” Meek’s now a powerful symbol for the many ways our broken government over-penalizes those it disenfranchises. Even when faced with these insurmountable odds, the Philly rapper refuses to be defeated, delivering his verdict: “That’s impossible ’cause I’m unstoppable.” His conviction feels freeing.

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