The burgeoning career of the rapper Meek Mill was put on ice Thursday when a Philadelphia judge ruled that the 28-year-old star had again violated his probation from a 2008 drug and gun conviction.
Common Pleas Court Judge Genece E. Brinkley hinted that the North Philadelphia rapper's next out-of-town tour - after he is sentenced Feb. 5 - could be state prison.
"I bent over backward to give him every opportunity to grow his career," Brinkley told defense lawyer Frank DeSimone at the end of the 51/2-hour, virtually nonstop hearing.
Mill, born Robert Williams, and a courtroom packed with his supporters and entourage, including superstar girlfriend Nicki Minaj, seemed stunned by the judge's words.
"I know the people who support you really want you to get probation," Brinkley told Mill. "I don't know that would be appropriate because you and I have been around the block a few times."
"I know, your honor," he quietly replied.
Though Mill will not be sentenced for seven weeks, the judge's interim restrictions ended his ability to earn money in the music business.
Brinkley barred Mill from performing anywhere, and limited his travel to the five counties of Southeastern Pennsylvania. He may not even commute to New Jersey to visit his mother, who underwent spine surgery in October.
The judge did permit Mill to do charity work that does not involve performing.
Mill's entertainment management company, Roc Nation, presented the judge with a package of charity and philanthropic ventures - most involving inner-city schools and prison outreach -* in which Mill had expressed interest.
Mill testified for about an hour, assuring the judge that he had not purposely defied his probation.
Sounding contrite, Mill praised Brinkley for helping him turn his life around, and said he holds her in the same esteem as his mother, grandmother, sister, and girlfriend.
"I would never dishonor and disrespect you knowing that you are the person who gave me the shot to change my life," he told Brinkley.
After the hearing, Mill quickly doffed his black suit jacket and gray necktie. Court security officers escorted Mill, Minaj - who wore a plum jacket and black skirt - and their entourage to a restricted area containing elevators used by judges and court officials to exit the building.
Neither Mill nor Minaj said a word to reporters.
The case was a routine drug and gun matter in 2008. Mill was convicted, served eight months in prison, and then began five years' probation in the fall of 2009.
Since then, his problems following the rules for all probationers - reporting to a probation officer and getting prior approval for out-of-town travel - got him sentenced to an additional five months in prison in 2013.
Assistant District Attorney Noel Ann DeSantis and Probation Officer Treas Underwood outlined a series of alleged probation violations since July, most involving Mill's travels to cities not on his court-approved itinerary or without notifying Underwood.
DeSantis also cited a November urine sample that a technician alleged Mill either diluted with cold water or used another substance to mask illegal drug use. Mill denied doing either, and said the technician threw out the sample and would not permit him to provide another.
As in 2013, much of Mill's problems seemed to involve problems in communication among him, his entourage and management, and the probation and court system.
And, as in 2013, Mill on Thursday had an impressive list of supporters vowing to work with him to improve the North Philadelphia community: music legend Kenny Gamble, who said he wanted Mill to work with his charter schools and community projects; Jimmie Moore, a former Municipal Court judge now working with residents and youths in North Philadelphia; and Philadelphia music manager Shawn Gee, who has worked with Minaj and offered to help teach Mill how to manage life in the entertainment business.
Gee warned that Mill's earning ability could be dramatically harmed by any break in his career. Gee said most rap musicians earn the bulk of their revenue through short-notice, one-shot appearances, not recordings.
Gee said Mill's impact on Philadelphia could be immense: "One of the things I noticed is that it's not just the kids in the 'hood, it's kids from Lower Merion. The impact he can have because of the power of his voice can be tremendous."