Meek Mill is back.
The Philadelphia rapper, brand, and all-around hip-hop presence, who marked his "homecoming" Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, made news last year when he violated terms of his five-year probation in connection with a 2009 gun and drug conviction. Common Pleas Court Judge Genece Brinkley said he failed to get permission for out-of-town gigs, dissed his probation officer and prosecutor on Twitter, and posed for Instagram snaps holding guns.
To jail he went, from July to December, leaving a lot of canceled shows in his wake. Once out, he made the gossip pages by dating top-tier rapper Nicki Minaj, planning a tour, and now, says rap's rumor mill, nearing a breakup.
Much of Mill's fire and all of his ambition was furiously on display Saturday. The Wells Fargo Center was packed, teeming with fans. After a video montage of local famous well-wishers (the Roots, Dr. J, Kevin Hart) and dazzling rear-screen projections of Philly landmarks, Mill hit the stage, dressed in black and heavy gold chains.
"We used to sell crack, now we're selling sneakers!" he yelled, mentioning Puma, the night's heavily signed sponsor, after racing through chunks of "Dreams Worth More Than Money" and a nervy "House Party." Accompanied by a drummer, keyboardist, and DJ, Mill pushed his sneering baritone rap through new material, like the dense bass drop of "B Boy" and the molten-hot electro of "Monster," before jumping into old faves ("Soft").
He shouted out to his hometown, thanked Power 99 for highlighting him during Powerhouse rap-fests ("Now we're here on our own"), mentioned favorite haunts ("Remember Sneaker Village?"), and did some chest-thumping ("Everybody asks how'd I get Nicki Minaj? I'm Philly. I got superpowers").
It wouldn't have been a party without guests: French Montana, DJ Drama, rappers joining Mill on his songs and he on theirs - Fabolous on a loping "Ball Drop," Jeezy on a sleazy "SupaFreak." Genuine surprises came via basketballer Allen Iverson and dancing, rapping Beanie Sigel, of whom Mill said proudly, "They jailed him, they shot him." No guest meant more - or was more menacing - than his Maybach label boss, Rick Ross, who closed things with Mill on tunes such as the boss' convulsing "Black Magic" and Meek's cool "Ice Cream" freestyle.