Before getting into the album, let us set the scene. Meek's history with the criminal justice system is a critical backdrop for understanding the importance of this album.
2005 - 2008
An 18 year old Meek Mill (Robert Rihmeek Williams) is arrested on charges for illegal possession of a firearm and intent to sell/manufacture drugs. The details are murky to say the least. The police version of the story claims that in the process of the arrest Meek chased the police with his gun and attempted to kill them. Meek contends that he was just a skinny 130 pound kid who got punched, stopped, and beaten by two cops that used excessive force during the arrest, leaving his house bloodied and his face battered.
While the exact truth of what happened that day is difficult to pin down, the outcome was that Meek was sentenced to 11-23 months in jail by Judge Genece Brinkley and an additional 5 years of probation.
2008 - 2017
A series of probation violations have Meek in and out of Philadelphia courts, some of the incidents include:
- failure to notify judge of travel
- popping wheelies on a dirt bike without a helmet
- fighting in an airport
- failed drug test for marijuana and/or percs
As a result of these numerous and arguably petty offenses, Meek Mill has been on probation for over a decade all stemming from events that occurred when he was 18 years old.
A number of civil rights activists, celebrities, athletes, and other notable figures have offered their support to Meek, citing his unfair treatment at the hands of the criminal justice system... A non exhaustive list includes, Jay-Z, Robert Kraft (New England Patriots Owner), Michael Rubin (Philly 76ers co-owner), Colin Kaepernick, Rick Ross, Nipsey Hussle, Dr. J, and the whole city of Philadelphia (except Judge Brinkley).
Why Does This Even Matter?
Simply put, this is Meek's first album since his most recent stint in prison. Since his case caught fire in the court of public opinion Meek has made appearances on CNN, written op-eds for the New York Times, and been hoisted up as a symbol for all that's wrong with the criminal justice system in America.
The Actual Album Review
Championships is a sprawling, 19 track, star studded affair, that bucks the trend of shorter LPs, clocking in at a healthy 70 minutes.
Despite its length, Championships is focused; in it we find a reflective, poised artist making a stark departure from his favorite topics of the past. That's not to say that there are no mentions of trapping, guns, or tales of prolific intercourse, etc., but these reference are sometimes laced in an overarching commentary about assumed criminality, criminal justice, and the far reaching effects of mass incarceration and over policing.
Some aggregate statistics comparing Championships (and Meek's other songs released in 2018) to his past work.
Another look at the number of references to prison, jail, police, incarceration and related terms by other artists across their careers.
Meek starts the album with the aptly titled "Intro". Riding on a strong sample of the legendary Phil Collins; the song runs in Meek's patented crescendo with every bar helping to set the stage for what I'm officially calling his magnum opus. The track also reminds me of a Philly predecessor, Beanie Sigel, who used the same sample back in 2005. If you know, you know.
Meek lowkey going in here. You can tell these verses were either penned in the pen, or his first day out. The song is painting vivid imagery, taking us inside the mind of an incarcerated dude who's had time to reflect on the systems that put & keep people in the cycle. Drugs, hood politics, violence, self-medication, excessive force in policing, the 13th amendment's not-so-subtle legalization of slavery, the transformation of racism into less explicit forms, lack of criminal rights, etc.. In a word: Trauma. In less than 4 minutes, we get his thoughts on ALL of this.
Ain't no PTSD, them drugs keep it at ease, they shot that boy twenty times when they coulda told him just freeze, coulda put him in a cop car, but they let him just bleed.
3. Uptown Vibes (feat. Fabolous & Anuel AA)
Not even gonna lie, probably could have done without this one... Fabo wrote this verse in the uber on the way to the studio; "talk is cheap, free WiFi, whoa". Yea, I'm good. The horns on here are nice and the production is definitely a "vibe" just not the one I need.
4. On Me (feat. Cardi B)
I'm just assuming they were going for a nice single to get some streaming numbers. Maybe get the strip clubs popping n shit. I honestly don't know. Shotout Cardi though, this a fun song I guess, maybe for the flows, but I typically skip it.
5. What's Free (feat. Rick Ross & JAY-Z)
This song is ambitious asf. Sampling Notorious What's Beef, bringing Rick Ross' ignorant, but always enjoyable bars side by side with Jay, and titling the song as a question fundamental to the very experience of being a human on earth?! Mannnnnnnnn. The sample is pretty much in its original form and immediately recognizable.
Same eerie ass chords bring a real sense of urgency to this track. Like no really, I need you to consider in this exact moment...
What IS Free?
Meek offers his answer in the hook:
Free is when nobody else could tell us what to be. Free is when the TV ain't controllin' what we see.
His actual verse does the requisite name drops off top, justttt in case anyone forgot, Meek got the whole world behind him.. Michael Rubin, Robert Kraft, and "that billionaire from Marcy". The rest of the bars are Meek's attempt to write himself into legendary status as a hybrid hood hero/civil rights icon (rightfully so?)
"Tell em how we fundin' all these kids to go to college, tell em how we ceasin' all these wars, stoppin' violence, Tryna fix the system and the way they designed it."
I mean.. he was on CNN.
Also! the flow switch mid-verse was sumn serious. For a second he sounded a tad like Jay in the second verse on Dirt Off Your Shoulders.
"just for poppin a wheelie my people march in the city, from a cell to a chopper, view from the top of the city"
Sound like these bars:
"your homie hov in position, in the kitchen with soda, i just whipped up a watch tryna get me a rover"
Rozay! I once read an article on VerySmartBrothers that...
🚨 Hot Take Alert 🚨
I don't have much to say about that, but the article contains one of the best descriptions of Rick Ross' voice ever:
"It's deep and baritone and thunderous without being cacophonous and distracting. And syrupy without being saccharin. He wields it like an instrument; enunciating and resonating without seeming to need to put much effort into either. Even his ad-libs and grunts have meaning. Or, at least, seem to have meaning. He could say "I went to the store; got a bucket to eat" and grunt and leave you convinced that God just descended from the Heavens to order a two piece and a biscuit. "
His voice in my opinion is what makes this verse even worth listening to; even if he not saying shit, it's definitely gonna sound good. And that's pretty much the story until the last few bars, which sound like a couple shotties @ 6ix9ine, who was arrested on federal racketeering charges in November of 2018.
"Screaming ‘gang gang,’ now you wanna rap / Racketeering charges caught him on a tap / Lookin’ for a bond, lawyers wanna tax / Purple hair got them fa**ts on your back."
Also noting his usage of the "faggot" word in his verse. Hip-hop as a whole (including Tyler the Creator recently) is essentially off that word. According to RapStats, usage of the word peaked in 2002 and has been in sharp decline since 2011.
Now for Jay's verse... Where to begin? First of all, this joint dummy long.
In fact Hov takes more than his fair share of the pie, but I suppose that's what OG status gets you.
Jay wastes no time and starts off very much in theme with the track. The verse begins by calling out the blatant hypocrisy in the way America views itself as the "home of the free" yet ignores how many black people are "enslaved" in various forms. From there he offers up his own answers to the track's titular question, and as you might have guessed his response starts right where "4:44" left off. Financial freedom is the only hope. A quick rattling off of some of his investments in case anyone was unsure about the true identity of the aforementioned "billionaire from Marcy".
- 50% of D'usse (and it's debt free)
- 100% of Ace of Spades (worth half a B)
- 50% of Roc Nation (thats his piece)
- 100% of Tidal (to bust it up with his G's)
The rest of the verse is a sprawling foray into whatever was on Jay's mind that day, with mentions on the "feud" with Ye, bragging different (his wife Beyonce), real estate & gentrification (another "4:44" theme), a very insightful reference to chitlins, shady record deals, another plug for his accountant (who still hasn't been awarded that medal of freedom), and one admission that this whole verse is basically a freestyle.
6. Respect The Game
This feels like filler. Not a bad track, but nothing particularly interesting here. If nothing else, the hook provides solid life guidance for anyone in need.
- Rule #1 don't covet your homie's pockets
- Rule #2 don't trust the joints messing with you for designer
- Rule #3 save money, stop tryna flex
7. Splash Warning (feat. Future, Roddy Ricch and Young Thug)
3 features, 0 value, 0 bars. Probably a total of 13 unique words in this whole song... Not gonna lie, shit got some bounce to it though. I let it bump in the whip if the weather good and the ones out. Otherwise, auto-skip.
Update: I just listened to this AGAIN. Man, cats really not talking about anything.
This might be the album's peak. There's a really special relationship between the production and the lyrics here. The melodious saxophone loop gives the whole track a generally uplifting tone, yet the bars shed light on some of the heavy circumstances faced by downtrodden society. It's a poignantly reflective tour de force that is equal parts angry and hopeful. Add that to the fact that this song has no hook, and you can see how we might have a classic on our hands.
Top 3 Quotables
Made me a man, shit I was five when God gave me my test, Go to court with a court appointed and he won't say he object. Now its you against the state and you ain't got no cake; Jail overpopulated they ain't got no space.
A concise one-two jab for the American criminal system and a brief summary as to why it is in such dire need of reform. Meek's specific points are as follows:
- public defenders are overworked
- jails got way too many people in them
"I know a youngin' that got murked ain't get to drive no Wraith / But he in a hearse on the way to church, I know his mom gon' faint / when she smell that embalming fluid, cologne all on her baby / Pastor said he sendin you home, she goin' crazy / When they drop that casket all in the ground, who gon' save me?"
To start the second verse Meek gives his listeners a front row seat at a funeral and invites us to imagine the inconceivably cruel weight a mother feels burying her son.
Also, since we've been talking about word occurrences, not sure the last time I heard "embalming" in a song. I feel like it probably has a similar rate of appearance as "sarcophagus" shout out Ye (get better soon, we miss you).
"Victim to the system like a rain drop in the ocean, they closing all the schools and all the prisons getting opened"
Mostly for the first half of this bar, you say you nice with metaphors, but these are similes.
9. Going Bad (feat. Drake)
Drake mailed this in. Liked it better when they were beefing.
If you listen enough times, this hook will start to sound catchy though, beware.
All things considered, it's great to hear Aubrey and Meek back on a track together after these last few years, but this is probably their weakest collaborative effort. More important for the symbolic beef squash than anything else.
10. Almost Slipped
Despite the undeniable sonic merits of this song, the lyrics here make close to no sense when put into conversation with "24/7" or "On Me". Inconsistencies abound. Maybe I'm just being the woke police, but still..
"I almost fell in love with a thottie / My dog said you got too many bodies" - Meek on Almost Slipped
Okay, so here we establish and generalize the following rule; if you get the hoe fax from the homies, its enough of a reason to be done.
"Oh, G63 is what your Benz say / I'm so happy you ain't listen to your friends, babe" - Meek on 24/7
But wait, if shorty get the hoe fax on YOU from her homies, it's all good, she should just ignore it.
"I want a freak nasty hoe, and I want all bad bitches / I'm in a red 'Sace robe, fuckin' on all bad bitches" - Meek on On Me (feat Cardi B)
Yet here you are on the same album admitting to your own thottie aspirations and your desire for an astronomical body count, so I don't even know what to think any more.
Ima let Soul Brother #2 break it down for ya.
11. Tic Tac Toe (feat. Kodak Black)
🗣 Tay Keith, Fuck These Niggas Up!!!! Shout out to the Ace of Spades reference in the hook + notice that Meek makes another Ace reference in a very weak 2nd verse. Jay-Z the real winner here.
12. 24/7 (feat. Ella Mai)
This is straight butter. Ella Mai just drips a bunch of silky ass vocals on the track and rides side by side with the Beyonce sample like a vet. I could listen to this song every day. The lyrics leave much to be desired, but its an easy club sing-a-long, every album needs at least one of those.
He said "crushing you on Monday like its Wednesday"... "You be throwing that shit back like its a Thursday".
Neither Wednesday nor Thursday are universally known as crush / throw it back days in the circles that I find myself in. But maybe I'm just doing it wrong, iono.
"When you see me kneel like Kaepernick, call a reverend, See I got a milli' in a stash for a weddin' If you ready, let me know, 'cause it's whatever"
The versatility of the Kaepernick references in this projects is astonishing.
13. Oodles O' Noodles Babies
Easily some of the best bars of Meek's whole career.
This could have been titled Trauma Pt. 2. It's an interesting juxtaposition because the lyrics rest on a luxuriously soulful sample of Mother's Finest "Love Changes" yet the bars speak of the extraordinary hardships "Oodles of Noodles Babies" face coming up and of course Meek employs his patented tasteful yelling flow. The ugly realities about the trauma people experience that ushers them into the criminal system.
Mom can't make it to her young son's sporting events because she always working, now he acting up in school, seeing his dead aunt in a casket at 4 years old, a bunch of jail time for questionable reasons, cousin killed while he was in prison, witnessed the murder on camera...
Lot of daddies goin' back and forth out of jail / Lot of sons growin' up and repeating them / This the belly of the beast, you won't make it out / Man, this shit was designed just to eat us up
14. Pay You Back (feat 21 Savage)
“Wish I rapped in the 90's cuz this 2k shit full of weirdos.”
15. 100 Summers
Personally, this song hits me a certain way. It has to do with the very human desire to live a life and rise above your circumstances, whatever they might be. Meek raps:
"Tears on my face feel like I be cryin' blood / Momma wont't see her son again, we call that blind love"
"You gon' be a killer or a homicide / make ya momma shed a tear before my momma cry"
These are just two of quite a few different references on the project to the pain of a mother having to deal with a murdered son. Rest in Peace to Lil Snupe.
Lil Snupe was a dynamic talent out of Louisiana. Legend has it Meek Mill signed him to Dreamchasers 30 minutes after hearing his demo. Lil Snupe lost his life a few days after he turned 18 years old.
16. Wit the Shits (W.T.S) (feat. Melii)
You know, there's a lot of Spanish on this album. From Uptown Vibes, to this Melii feature. The difference between the songs is that this feature is some heat, gahdamn.
🚨 Hot Take Alert 🚨
This might be the best feature on the album.
You don't even need to know what she saying to know she spazzed on this one, flow stupid vicious, content (the piece I understood) on the City Girlz vibe, not mad at it.
"Who your MCM? bitch, I make him swipe."
I feel it.
17. Stuck in My Ways
"Call me the goat, but I'm in a lamb"
"If shorty a baddie I hit from the front / she got a fatty, I hit from the back"
"No lyin' like Lucious or Cookie I built an empire sellin' that fire"
This representative sample of bars should be all you need to know about this annoyingly entertaining song.
18. Dangerous (feat. Jeremih & PnB Rock)
Some poppy stuff to give this joint a niceee single. Two crooners on here and a nice lil melody. This track is easy money. By the time the album dropped I had probably heard this song enough times to not wanna hear it any more.
19. Cold Hearted II
A solid end to a really special album. Meek raps (actually he just talking for like the last 2 minutes) about all the people that he thought were the homies, but found out they were really some marks.
"See, it hurt my heart to see some of my closest friends Turn their back on me about that attention needle Or a green piece of paper with a slave master on the front of that shit"
To put a bow on it, there are a lot of high points on this album. Like you'd probably expect out of a 19-track project, there are also more than a couple songs that probably didn't ever need to be created. With all that being said, for all the ignorance and questionable bars, this album is undoubtedly a work of art important to the culture. Meek Mill shows a resolve, focus, and sharpness that makes for a very cohesive and enjoyable album. His growth is almost palpable and it's helped him make an album that is deserving of every bit of the attention it's been getting.
4 / 5
Bonus Section: Some Computer Stuff
Since this is a blog loosely related to things & computers, I wanted to add a fun exercise using something called a Markov Chain. A Markov Chain is a type of model that calculates the probability of a sequence of events occurring.
For our purposes we can think of an event as a particular word occurring. So what a Markov model will do for us is calculate what the next most likely word to occur is given that a certain word has just occurred. It's a bunch of conditional probabilities, but chained together.
So we're going to build a Markov model based on the Meek Mill's verses in Championships and use it to generate a never before seen verse.
Then we're gonna do the same but for all his verses on alllll the previous albums in Meek's career and see how the newly generated verses compare to each other.
Meek Mill ft. Andrey Markov (2018)
Catch you and you ain't online
Can't see my mama, my family when I clutch him and let that chopper rock
And the drugs got a fattie, I hit from the front of that shit
We took risks to live like this when I pull outta the parking lot
Made me a man shit I was like 4 years old
Walk up in a cell, somebody save me
Turn me to pay her
These niggas upset, thank God for my mom and sister that never changed on me, tell her behave
Stuck in my cell, damn
And when I came out like my accountant ain't busy
See my brother blood on his sneaks
Tell her come- fuck on me, tell her come fuck on me, tell her come fuck on me
Far as I can call y'all now
You knew what it was cool, but I never really spent no time like this, feeling right like this
And you just wanna ball hunnid summers
The violence pursuing us, I ain't had nobody to give me a rush
Meek Mill ft. Andrey Markov (2008 - 2017)
Eating breakfast on a lil cash
Bellow the crib with my peeps
And it ain't nothing nice
RIP to Snupe, RIP to Snupe, Scooter, and Truz
And will I fuck shit up then I seen my dawgs turned their backs, it was four in the courtroom waiting to get it though
Just to commentate, peep how I ball hard all year, nigga
In my new whip.
I got that paper on the shift
With no baking soda on it I went against the grain
Anything I ever made a milli I ain't need no help lately
Yeah, they're fuckboys and they move the snow
Nigga, you suck at friendships, something you got a stack for the freak show
Got perks off in the Medellin
Damn I meant Barack, too much about the money
Left on your bow tie
If you fucking with white girl like ryan
See the difference?
For "Championships", this Markov Chain exercise isn't ideal, but it's still fun to see. There's some difficulty with making a good verse from just "Championships" because we're using a much smaller sample of verses. Using only one album worth of verses made a lot of the generated phrases super easy to pick out as simply truncated lyrics.
The verse generated from all of the other works in Meek's career however sounds to me like a pretty good representation of some of the content we had come to expect out of him up until now. My personal favorite:
Nigga, you suck at friendships.
Anyways, thanks for reading. Leave your thoughts and feedback in the discussions!