I spent a recent Thursday afternoon sitting in a 17th floor artist lounge at the Atlantic Records office in midtown Manhattan talking with North Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill on the occasion of the release of his second full length album, Dreams Worth More Than Money.
Meek Mill talks fast and has a lot to say - "Make sure you put that in," he stressed, on more than one occasion - and much of it can be found in a profile of him in this coming Sunday's Inquirer Live Life Love arts & entertainment section. Do what's good for your and go out and buy a copy, or read it here.
But it wouldn't all fit. So what you have here is more of the rapper born Robert Rahmeek Williams' thoughts, on other rappers like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, on the iniquities of the judicial system, and about the bike, motorcycle and ATV culture, which he sees as an unfairly persecuted force for non-violence in the city.
For starters, though, here's a quote from Rick Ross, the Maybach Music boss who Mill counts among the people who've had the most impact on his career and life, along with his mother, North Philadelphia community activist Eddie Hurt, and Philly hip-hop impresario Charlie Mack.
Ross is out on $2 million bail on charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault and aggravated battery stemming from an incident at his home in Georgia last month - charges that Mill called "b***s***" in a radio interview last week. The Maybach head had this to say about Mill, in an email message via a publicist: "Meek is a special artist. I knew it when I signed him. He's got this ability to bring life and energy to everything he does... Whether it's his music, his love for Philly, his Puma sneaker deal or Bike Life [Mill's mobile game app], Meek brings his passion and energy. I think the reason why he's got such a wild fan base is because the fans can see his authenticity... he really lives this lifestyle. He's the voice of Philly."
But enough of Ricky Rozay. An edited Meek Mill questions and answers session starts here:
Q: What does the gold and diamond Dream Chasers medallion around your neck represent?
A: A lot of people say, 'You wear all that flossy stuff. But you know, we come from nothing. We had nothing in our whole life. These are like our trophies Like a Grammy on the shelf of your house. We have these trophies, we put some diamonds on it and hang it around our necks...It's shine. You come from a place like North Philadelphia, you don't get days to shine.
Q: You recently got hip-hop fans upset when you said Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole, two of the biggest artists of 2015, don't inspire you.
A: I don't listen to their music. They're great artists. They're good at what they do. But I doubt they listen to me. We make different kind of music, man. I think when people do magazine [interviews] they don't tell the truth, they just breeze over it and say what people want to hear. Bit I'm telling the truth. I don't listen to their music...They don't talk about the things that i been through, the things that i get into.
Q: When I first heard of you, you already had a huge Twitter following, and you've got more than 5 million people following you on Instagram now. Did you always have the vision to understand how important social media was going to be?
A: I'm an internet baby. My whole life is on the Internet. You can see me on the internet when I'm 12, on the corner rapping with the nappy braids, then when I'm 14, and when I'm 20 and 25. You can see all this info about me on the Internet. I had a MySpace page, all that.
Q: On the new record, you rap about how "Difference between me and most of these rappers / I'm talking about the work I really put in."
A: Basically, I'm talking about reality. Like my record deal, when Ross met me was in Philadelphia, and 25,000 people were singing my songs at Powerhouse [at the Wells Fargo Center]. That was the work I put in. I made my own ride. I'm a self made person. Everything was built. I was already on the way. I just got help along the way.
Q: Who are the people who helped you along the way, who are most responsible for you getting where you are?
A: First, I would have ot say my Mom. Then Eddie Hurt, in North Philadelphia.
Q: Who's he?
A: He's like an activist. He's like a father to all the children who don't have fathers in North Philadelphia. He really deserve a lot of credit. Most of the the kids from North Philadelphia who go to the NBA, they go through his camps. He was the first person who ever took me to a recording studio. I was probably like 13, or 14. He basically seen something in me. I was rapping in his car one day, and he took me into the studio.
Charlie Mack played a big role in my success. Me selling my CDs and being able to make something out of it. I didn't have things structured the right way. He taught me how to make money.
Q: Who else?
A: Rick Ross, of course. He changed my whole life, gave me the platform to be even doing this interview.
Q: You just did five months time for a parole violation stepping from a 2008 drug charge. What happened with that original case?
A: I had a drug case and a gun case all in one. The cops said I was pointing a gun at them. I don't know if you know the way the system works, but 9 times out of ten, you don't have a lawyer. And if you don't have a lawyer, you finished. I don't think people know that. I want you to put that part in there. 98% of the black community - or people in North Philadelphia and South Philadelphia, you don't even have to be black. In Philadelphia, what are the percentage of people who have no money?
Q: It's high. The highest rate of poverty for a city its size in America, I beleive.
A: Right, so if you don't have any money, you don't have a lawyer, you're going to lose your case. Because the public defenders, they don't really fight for you. They just come in, take a deal and keep moving.
Q: That happened to you?
A: No. I went back on the street. I wasn't putting my life in no public defenders' hands. I started hustling again cause I needed money for a lawyer, so I didn't get finished. So I didn't get buried in the system. So I got lawyer money, and I wound up getting found guilty for it anyway. Then when I came home, I started focusing on rap like 100%. I think i was hustling for like five months. Then I started making mixtapes.
Q: Anything you want to talk about that I haven't asked you?
A: Yeah, let's talk about bike culture. On the news, they always talk about the bike culture, and I always wanted to speak on that. It's like you go to Love Park, right? You see the skateboarders are down there in Love Park. It's really illegal, really. There's old ladies there, and kids skating in love park, and many people could get hurt.
Dirt biking is the same thing basically. It has a motor on it, it's a little more extreme. You ever see the bikes in Philly? Like 50 bikes and ATVs, coming together rolling down the block? Them kids come from all parts of the city. This is the one thing in the world that brings all the black kids from all over the city together, without there being any real drama.
When the bikes is all together no fights take place. No violence takes place. All that takes place is a little bit of reckless riding. I'm not even going to say it's not dangerous. But this is the one thing that these kids from the ghetto got, and they using to get away from being on the corner selling drugs, shooting guns, things like that.
This is what we love. I'm a part of the bike culture. Like you know on the street, there's
a lot of violence going on. People beefing and they want to hurt each other. But when the bikes is out, everything turns off. All beef is off. Any drama goes off. That's just the rules. If 100 bikes going by, nobody ever shoots at the bikes. Nothing ever goes wrong. The only thing that ever goes wrong is is some of those bikes get chased by the cops and there's an accident. They might hurt somebody else.
They say chasing the bikes is illegal, but it's all we got. Everybody don't play basketball, or play football. We love to ride bikes, the same way the kids love to ride skateboards in Love Park. I be watching the news, and they talk about it like it's a crime. It's not a crime.
You know when they catch you riding your bike, they just take your bike from you? You know, it's a dangerous thing. Of course, everything is dangerous. Driving a car is dangerous thing, riding a skateboard, playing in the street is dangerous. But this is the one thing we got, and you know its taking kids off the street and getting 'em doing something that is not negative. And in the media they trying to make it seem like it's a negative thing.
Out here in New York, across America, they got this thing called Bikes Up, Guns Down.
It's big, it's all across America, it's people coming together and trying to make something fun of it, and in the media they make it like it's a negative thing, it's not a negative thing. It's kid that determined to learn how to ride, to learn how to trick stunt.
People may get hurt some time. People may die every once in a while. But people die at anything you do. I just don't like the way they portray it as being a negative thing. I don't ride in the city anymore, but when i started being popular in the music business I would still go back and ride. It's the one thing that took my mind off of any pressure that I had from the business. Money. Anything negative that was going on in the street. This is the one thing that freed my mind. And I know the cops want to stop us.
The kids don't want to stop. You know why?
Q: Because they love it.
A: They really love it. This is their culture. Instead of trying to make it into a negative thing ... They're not going to ever stop riding these bikes. So find a way that you can control it and monetize it. Because it's bringing justice to the community and it's bringing these kids together.
Q: Like the skatepark for the skateboarders.
A: Right. It's a little dark under the bridge [in FDR Park]. It looks crazy. But skateboarders love it.
You know where Beach Street is, by Aramingo Ave? Behind Delaware Ave. On Sunday we ride bikes back there. There's thousands of kids going up and down the block. And there's no violence taking place.
Q: So how's this hook into your Bike Life mobile game?
A: I'm a bike lifer. It's a way of connecting to kids who like to play games on their phone. You can pop wheelies and get chased by the cops. You come across the Ben Franklin Bridge.
Q: Were you hands on with the development of that?
A: I was hands on. You gotta lead em to what it really looks like. 'Cause this is the culture that we love. You got to make it realistic on some level.
Q: That's what you try to do with everything, isn't it.
A: Yeah. If I tell you about bikes, i want you to know that I really ride bikes. If i tell you about the ghetto, I want you to know that I'm really from the ghetto. Because I want you to believe it. Because if you don't believe it, you don't care about it, and you don't buy into it, you don't pay it any mind. But when you do believe it, then you really appreciate it.
Q: So what's next?
After this week? More hustlin'. All we do is just hustle. Everyday, it never stop. Next thing is the Nicki Minaj tour which is in July. And by the time that is done we'll be set up to do something else
Q: Then you'll be back in Philly for Made in America.
A: Yeah, Made in America. I love Made in America. I went to the first one. That was one of my best concerts I've ever been to.
Previously: Miguel at Welcome America Follow In The Mix on Twitter