Meek Mill, the 25-year-old North Philadelphia rapper swaggering along the cusp of fame and fortune, has been grounded for a month.
No tours. No traveling. No performing, except for charity.
Less than two months after the release of his first CD, Dreams and Nightmares, a scheduled trip to Africa has been cancelled, and other appearances in St. Thomas and across the United States have also been nixed.
And it's all the fault of Meek's alter ego, Robert Williams, convicted in 2008 on a criminal cornucopia of charges including selling drugs to an undercover police officer, possessing illegal guns and hiding wads of tainted cash in his dresser drawers.
"You need to get yourself together," Common Court Pleas Judge Genece Brinkley said early on in Monday's 2-1/2 hour probation hearing that nearly devolved into a shouting match between the defense and the prosecution.
"Christmas is dead for him," Brinkley said. Although this time of year is especially lucrative for performers, she said, "You are going to be home for Christmas and New Year's."
The central issue, she said, was Williams' violation of her previous order to stop scheduling performances as of Nov. 16, when he was to appear in court and ask her permission to reinstate his travel permit.
"Robert Williams is on probation, not Meek Mill," said Gary Silver, the most recent in a string of attorneys who have represented Williams/Mill over the last five years. Silver blamed Williams' booking agents and managers for planning tour dates during the prohibited period, but argued that the restrictions were unreasonable in any case.
"You are preventing him from earning his livelihood," Silver told the judge, adding that since his career as Meek Mill has taken off, Williams has had a nearly unblemished record.
Silver spent nearly an hour passionately trying to persuade the court that in Williams' new identity as a rapper, he is no longer a threat to society and needs to be able to travel widely in order to succeed.
"This isn't like mixed tapes being made in the basement of someone's house. This is for real," Silver said. "He has a job that appears to be interesting to a lot of people. He wants to earn a legal living...it just happens to be on a national and international stage."
Silver said that his client was scheduled to receive an award from the city Tuesday for his charitable work, which includes donating $10,000 in books as well as a pair of sneakers to every student at Strawberry Mansion High School, (thanks to the contract the rapper has with Puma.)
Mill's fame is accelerating rapidly.
He has opened for or appeared with celebrity performers including Diddy, Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, and Nicki Minaj and his Twitter following exceeds 2 million.
In the first 48 hours after his 2012 mixtape Dreamchasers 2 was released, it received so many downloads and streams that the server crashed, and he was a featured performer at Jay-Z's Made in American concert this summer in Philadelphia.
Judge Brinkley, who has presided over Williams' case from the beginning, said she recognized the redemptive potential in his successful career as a performer, which is why she has been so accommodating.
Mandatory sentencing for Williams' guns and drug offenses could have landed him in state prison for 5 to 10 years, she reminded him, as she read through the lengthy record of his previous court appearances.
"Clearly this court has bent over backwards all these years," she said, noting that he had spent a mere 6 months in county prison.
While he has complied with many of her more lenient sentencing requirements, including outpatient drug treatment and pursuing his G.E.D., she noted that he has stumbled on several occasions.
Williams' probation officer, Treas Underwood, testified that he had repeatedly failed to keep her abreast of where and when he could be found when he traveled for performances and that she had been unable to leave voicemail messages for him.
"I have never had voicemail. I never had the ability set voicemail up," Williams said, explaining that he did not want to learn "Because people are always calling me, asking for money."
Brinkley rolled her eyes in exasperation. "That sounds like excuses," she said, explaining that she had previously instructed him to get a phone number to be shared exclusively with his lawyer and his probation officer, not the general public.
During a discussion of the challenging logistics for a rapper on probabion, Silver said, "He's in a position to earn great sums of money, not to waste that money. We can't be hiring private jets at $20,000 to $40,000 to fly to Philadelphia to meet with a probation officer, then back to Tucson for an event."
After Silver noted that he and Williams' probation officer were not on good terms and that she refuses to speak to him, he added, "No offense to Ms. Underwood, but you don't need her. He's got 2 million Twitter followers," documenting with photos where Meek Mill can be found at any given time.
He gave her credit, nonetheless, saying she is "at least diligent."
To which, Brinkley, raising an eyebrow, responded, "Over diligent?"
"Go further, Judge."
"Over, over, over, over, over diligent?"
With a silent assent, Silver said, "He's a success story."
"Because I've been following him all these years!" Brinkley snapped.
"He doesn't want all this to end and go back to 22nd and Allegheny," Silver said. "No offense to 22nd and Allegheny."
Nearly an hour into the hearing, Assistant District Attorney Noel A. DeSantis objected that the defense had held the floor for too long, and launched into a fiery disquisition on Williams' disrespect for the law.
She noted that when he drove from New York to Philadelphia, it was in a "$125,000 Land Rover with full, dark-tinted windows," that "veered off" the direct route to Center City to stop in North Philly.She accused him of using the media to drum up publicity because "his record sales are not good." While his attorney is planning to file a civil rights case arguing that the car was stopped by police unlawfully, she said, Williams took full advantage of the incident by cynically tweeting a photo of his wrist graced by both a Rolex and the handcuffs.
DeSantis said Williams was mistaken in his assertion that she has a "personal vendetta" against him, but that she had no sympathy for his complaint, "that boo-hoo, he can't travel. He doesn't like the rules."
It is true, she said, that Williams is no longer the street criminal he once was. "He's changed who he is," she said, "But he still has to atone for who he was."
Brinkley then allowed Williams to speak on his own behalf.
"I'm just staying out of jail, Man," he said. "I have bills. I owe people money. I take care of my family."
He objected to the accusation that he had once been found positive for marijuana. He insisted that he did not test positive for "dirty weed" but rather, "it was two opiates."
Williams' used a coarse term for the drug test, offending the judge.
"Don't say that," she admonished.
"Urine test," he rephrased.
"Urinalysis," she instructed.
Soon after, he repeated the mistake. She corrected him again and he apologized, "I'm nervous."
Pleading for the judge to understand the unforgiving nature of the rap business, he said he had little control over scheduling. "Once you mess up with Live Nation, there's no turning back. There's no rescheduling."
During lulls when he can't perform, he said, he will spend time back in clubs in the city and fears that he will get in trouble again.
He explained that he has traveled to "every city in the country, twice," but that the probation rules are confusing and onerous.
"This is a dancing-around game," he said. "Papers going around. I don't think this is like regular probation. I feel like I'm doing good. You gave me a chance at life. I'm taking care of my family. I'm staying out of prison. I'm making a living. I think the streets are the worst thing, ever."
The judge listened, then ruled decisively.
"Your travel pass is revoked. . . . You can't just thumb your nose at me and they can't just thumb their nose at me. You can't just do things on your own. It doesn't work like that," she said.
Brinkley then sternly addressed Williams' entourage in the gallery. "You all let him down."
Contact Melissa Dribben at 215 854 2590 or firstname.lastname@example.org
In a heated two hour hearing, a judge today ruled that Robert Williams, known by his rap name 'Meek Mill, cannot travel on tour this month.
Williams, a 25-year-old North Philly street rapper with a growing reputation as the "next big thing," was supposed to be in Los Angeles on Wednesday to appear on the Conan O'Brien show, his last U.S. stop before ending 2012 in Africa with shows in Lagos, Nigeria, and Libreville, Gabon.
But Williams is on probation for a 2008 gun-and-drug conviction for which he needs to periodically appear in Philadelphia courts.
At issue was a request by Williams to lift a ban on travel for concert and other related appearances.
The judge's denial of the request today ensures his tour will be limited to the streets of North Philadelphia.
Brinkley chastised Williams' "people," his booking agents and managers and handlers saying they had let him down by ignoring her previous ruling that no more traveling would be permitted after Nov. 16 without the court's permission.
And, she scolded Williams for not taking responsibility for managing his business and not respecting the court's ruling.
William's Africa tour was already cancelled his lawyer said because of uncertainty about how the Municipal Court Judge Genece Brinkley might rule.
Williams was initially arrested in January 2007 in an incident involving drugs, guns, and an assault.
He opted for a nonjury trial and in August 2008, Brinkley found him guilty of assault, four counts involving carrying an unlicensed gun in public, and two drug counts.
Williams was sentenced to 11 to 23 months in prison - he served eight - and five years of probation, which is set to end in about three years.
But he resumed his rap career, and, gave up the street life in favor of aiming to become a superstar.
Meek Mill's first album, Dreams and Nightmares, was released Oct. 30.