As an artist who has always stood tall in the face of adversity, Meek Mill has become a staple in HBCU (historically Black Colleges & Universities) culture. A Philadelphia native, Meek endured a father lost to violence, being poor, and being thrust into the juvenile system for various offenses. He began his career battle-rapping, and kept releasing songs until being signed to Rick Ross’ Maybach Music. The way he narrates overcoming personal and professional hurdles is what draws students to his music. After all, HBCUs exist today because ambitious black people never stopped seeking success in the face of doubt, racism, and violence.
“Dreams and Nightmares” from his album of the same name has got to be one of Meek Mills biggest hits. It’s an HBCU band favorite. HBCU bands are known to go all out too. They have performed at the Super Bowl, awards shows, parades and for U.S. Presidents. They are known for featuring the latest hip hop and R&B hits in their performances, with band members spanning from 200 to over 1,000. Just let that beat drop: “Hold up, wait a minute, y’all thought I was finished?! ” Meek’s song about getting up after being knocked down electrifies crowds every time. Meek even performed at Morgan State’s 2017 Homecoming.
Now that his fourth studio album “CHAMPIONSHIPS” is out, HBCU students already have it in heavy rotation. Head band director Dr. Timmey T. Zachery made sure his Marching Storm band Prairie View A&M went all out for a Meek Mill rendition.
Meek has truly grown since releasing his last album. “Going Bad” is a significant track because Meek and featured artist Drake put aside a long standing beef to collaborate. The two exchanged more than a few words about which artist wrote their own raps and it was a big deal. The hip hop and meme community weighed in heavily and the two even released diss tracks. The success of the highly anticipated track shows it’s never too late to forgive and forge a bond stronger than ever. Aside from “Going Bad,” the refreshing Spanish and hip hop mix of “Uptown Vibes” featuring Fabolous and Anuel AA is perfect for pregaming. We can’t forget hot artists like Jay-Z, Cardi B, Future, Rick Ross and 21 Savage make appearances as well. It’s no surprise “CHAMPIONSHIPS” immediately became the No. 1 album in the country.
HBCU student Kayla White knows something about championships. As a senior at North Carolina A&T she brought her university their first Track & Field NCAA Championship. Like Meek’s music preaches, it is never too late to prove disbelievers wrong. Some would say Kayla began track late — in the 11th grade. She struggled to earn college scholarships and not get discouraged. This year she surprised everyone by winning the 200 Meters at National. But while she’s the first to accomplish this win, she knows her HBCU campus isn’t the only place she’ll impact. “I wouldn’t classify myself as just an HBCU sprinter though,” says White. I’m one of the best sprinters in the nation.”
Meek Mill continues to advocate for the underdog even beyond recording music. In late February Meek sat on a panel with Reading with a Rapper and My Brother’s Keeper in Houston’s City hall Lead by PVAMU Alumni, Jarren Smalls. The rapper was there to offer advice on life and beating the odds to an audience in need. In attendance were 20 boys in the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department. Their charges ranged from assault to kidnapping and beyond. The boys were able to listen and read lyrics from his album namesake, song “Championships.” The song itself is about the traps Meek saw and mistakes he made in his hometown of Philly.
When asked to find a simile, one boy underlined the lyrics “victim to the system like a raindrop in the ocean.” The song ends with Meek explaining, “See comin’ from where I come from/We had to beat the streets/Beat the system, beat racism, beat poverty/And now we made it through all that we at the championship.” Meek created the hit song shortly after being released from a controversial stint in prison for violating a 2007 charge. As an advocate for justice reform, Meek is very familiar with the lasting pitfalls that come with landing in the judicial system. He was released early– 5 months into a 2-4 year sentence in 2018 after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed his judge had a conflict of interest and had to grant him bail. Plenty of artists, athletes, and activists came out in support of his release, but few of these juveniles have such a support system. Meek came out to surprise these young men, hoping his story would help them beat their own incarceration.
On one side, Meek Mill’s music is the base of a good HBCU party or band performance. Yet on the other hand, his music and appearances highlight the struggles that black Americans face, and how music can be an empowering tool. As an activist and public speaker he continues support the HBCU mission of empowering black communities. With every new endeavor, Meek proves he’s not going anywhere.