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Meek Mill debuts first new song since release from prison, ‘Stay Woke,’ at BET Awards

The performance featured a Philadelphia street corner and references to Mill's recent incarceration.

Meek Mill performs "Stay Woke" at the BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Sunday, June 24, 2018, in Los Angeles.
Meek Mill performs "Stay Woke" at the BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Sunday, June 24, 2018, in Los Angeles.Read moreRichard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Meek Mill is continuing to focus on criminal justice reform with "Stay Woke," his first new song since his release from prison earlier this year.

Mill, 31, debuted the song at Sunday's BET Awards ceremony following an introduction from fellow Philly celebrities like Kevin Hart, Questlove, and Lil Uzi Vert. The performance also featured a set decorated to look like a Philadelphia street corner, and had actors reading copies of "The Philly Times" with headlines like "Meek Mill's Fight For Freedom Still Unfinished."

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Mill took the stage with crooner Miguel for an emotional performance of the track, which deals primarily with police brutality, mass incarceration, and the rapper's own ongoing legal troubles. Throughout the performance, various tragic scenes played out, including a police shooting of a black child, whose body is then covered with an American flag. Mill, meanwhile, reminded listeners to "stay woke," or remain socially conscious, amid current events.

"We scream 'Black Lives Matter' but we're still toting ladders," Mill rapped at one point, using Philly slang for an extended handgun magazine. "Watching our own brothers trying to get at us. Dreams get shattered when a scene full of crackers and they charge you with some s— you ain't do."

The rapper also paid tribute to fallen emcees XXXTentacion and Jimmy Wopo, a Pittsburgh native, with a hoodie featuring their images. Both men were killed in shootings last Monday.

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"How can I stand allegiance for the flag when they killing all our sons, all our dads?" Mill later asks on the track.

The rapper previously began teasing "Stay Woke" on social media with videos focusing on criminal justice system statistics. In one, Mill says that prison workers are paid 80 cents an hour, which he calls "slavery." Another runs down the makeup of America's prison population, including the statistic that 40 percent of the the prison population is black, despite black people making up just 13 percent of the American population.

Mill became a significant figure in the criminal justice system reform movement last year, after Philadelphia Judge Genece Brinkley sentenced him to two to four years in prison after violating probation stemming from a decade-old drug and gun conviction. He addressed his legal issues in "Stay Woke," rapping that it feels "like the system trying to kill me/Got arrested and the charges F1 for popping wheelies." Mill faced a reckless endangerment charge, a first-degree felony or "F1," after he was arrested for popping wheelies in New York last year, but the charge was later dropped.

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Recently, Mill has been working to get his initial 2008 drug and gun charges thrown out, claiming that his arresting officer, Reginald Graham, lied to put him behind bars. Following a hearing last week, Judge Brinkley said she would need more time to determine if Mill would get a new trial in that case, but did not give a timeline for her ruling. Brinkley previously refused requests from Mill's attorneys to recuse herself from the case.

In addition to dropping "Stay Woke" this weekend, Mill also partnered with Puma for a line of t-shirts promoting the song. Proceeds will go to Gathering for Justice, a criminal justice reform organization.