We all know the infamous mugshot of Meek Mill; the signature ‘nappy’ braids, a left eye almost swollen shut, and aright one with a bandage. The mugshot of his first arrest as a teen appeared on the cover of his 2016 Dream Chasers 4 mixtape, and now forms itself as the marketing art for the new docuseries Free Meek. This picture reminds us of the journey from street to success. In the midst of the mixtape release, Meek Mill is fighting an 8-year legal battle. Today, the saga lasting almost 11 years is being told in a raw and necessary way capturing how one man’s journey is still confined to past mistakes and a corrupt system.
The five-part docuseries which premiered on August 9 shows Meek Mill along with his family, close friends – including billionaire rapper and business partner Jay-Z and 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin – and hardworking legal team detail the journey of Meek’s trials which began in 2007. Though this story is an authentic biography of Meek’s life, the docuseries notes to the larger picture: the everyday life of millions of people, and their families, affected by the justice system.
Meek Mill’s story begins in North Philadelphia in 2001. Discovering his talent, he entered a battle rap contest. “I lost my first battle and walked away crying,” he explained his first hurt that powered his determination to succeed. In a neighborhood surrounded by drugs and violence, Meek saw rapping as his golden ticket out.
Six years later, 19-year-old Meek Mill would begin his entanglement with the Philadelphia court system. His first arrest came from an officer who alleged seeing Meek sell crack cocaine. During this part of the documentary, Meek’s cousins deny him ever selling drugs– in fact, his family voices how Meek grew up somewhat shy. He was charged with 19 counts of drug and gun related charges. What was seen as a “light” sentence, he spent two years in a county jail and received 8 years’ probation. From there, Meek returned to the court 26 times, ruled over by the same Black female judge Genece Brinkley.
In the midst of his battle with the court system, Meek did not lose focus on his music. After his release in 2009, he signed his first record deal with Grand Hustle Records. In 2010, he met rapper Rick Ross and signed with Maybach Music Group, leading into a management deal with Roc Nation. Thus, a hip-hop mogul in the making. His success came rolling with the perks of hard work mixed with talent. However, not everyone celebrated his wins. After his debut album Dreams and Nightmares was released in 2012, Judge Brinkley set a travel ban, revoking his access to touring.
The remaining episodes exposed a vulnerable side of Meek the media had yet to see; his openness about his struggle with opioid addiction. How his addiction sparked the feud between Drake and himself. The ups and downs of his publicized relationship with Nicki Minaj. His appearance was a threat to the court system. Imagine a young, Black, successful man judged by his jewelry and clothes, only to behold a man with a calm demeanor yet larger than life ambitions of living his dream and surviving in America.
The series also touched on the topics of mass incarceration and mass supervision – those who are on parole or probation. “I’ve never seen the justice side of the justice system,” Meek expresses in the series. He’s referring to the current 4.5 million minorities in the court system. African American’s are incarcerated five time more than their white counterparts, and drug related charges average six times more. The outcome is clearly more negative on African Americans than Whites. Without labels such as rapper and business man under his belt, Meek Mill could have been another person lost in the system.
Free Meek is the quintessential story of perseverance and how rap saved him. From almost falling victim to the stereotype to rising above, the question still remains how does he still end up intertwined in the court system? With the help of private investigators hired by Roc Nation launching an ongoing investigation into the officers involved in the initial case, and Judge Brinkley’s vendetta, on July 24, his original 2007 conviction was finally overturned.
Meek’s story ends a happy one. He has a business with Jay-Z aiming to bringing awareness and action to prison reform. He ended his feud with Drake, collaborating on his chart-topping album Championships. He’s living his best single life. And most importantly, he’s advocating for the marginalized minorities stuck in a corrupt system.