All photos shot by Ysanya Perez
From Philly’s slums to Rick Ross’ budding empire, Meek Mill’s success story could’ve had several tragic alternate endings. John Kennedy traverses the savage path of hip-hop’s next big thing
Meek Mill is driving like a madman. As the engine rumbles on his freshly tinted ink-black 2011 Dodge Challenger, the 24-year-old rapper is completely bucking the speed limit (a cautious 35mph). En route to his recording base, Batcave Studios, he zips a tight left onto Frankford Avenue, weaving around law-abiding motorists like Lewis Hamilton with the runs. Apparently, hitting 80 on a city block hardly arouses an adrenaline rush when you’ve encountered multiple life-or-death situations on the streets. As if soundtracking his native Philadelphian surroundings, Meek tunes up “Murder to Excellence,” a homicide-lamenting cut from Jay-Z and Kanye West’s collabo LP Watch The Throne. “I understand what they’re talking about. Philly likes the war life, the gun life,” says Meek, discretely referencing his own circumstances. He points out the scene of a nonﬁ ctional viral video that captures two men ﬁ ring AK-47s at a SEPTA bus during rush hour in June, just steps away from Temple University. “Everybody’s turning to techno pop. It makes money, it’s fun. But I’m bringing that rawness back.”
Life has been moving at a third-lane pace for Meek Mill since he signed with Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group in February. Aligned with regional rap talents Wale, Pill, Stalley and cult R&B darling Teedra Moses, the street-certiﬁed MC (born Robert Rahmeek Williams) contributed a pair of massive Ross-assisted radio hits to the label’s compilation album, MMG Presents: Self Made, Vol. 1. There was the casket-rattling “Tupac Back,” a bodacious, posturing dedication to Afeni’s baby boy. The energetic anthem “Ima Boss” blew up next—reminiscent of Notorious B.I.G.’s adrenalized pre-Ready to Die ﬂows—and attracted hip-hop bigwigs Jay-Z, Diddy, Birdman and Swizz Beatz for its remix. But the lanky lyricist isn’t coat-tailing his way to fame; Meek has peaked Philly’s trigger-happy rap circuit for years with mixtapes bristling with street savvy tales, clever wordplay and lively party starters.