Meek Mill, the 25-year-old North Philadelphia rapper swaggering along the crest of fame and fortune, has been grounded.
No tours. No traveling. No performing, except for charity. For a month.
Seven weeks after his first CD, Dreams & Nightmares, debuted at No. 2 on a Billboard chart, a scheduled trip to Africa has been canceled, and other appearances in the Virgin Islands and across the United States have also been nixed.
Blame Meek's alter ego, Robert Williams, convicted in 2008 on gun and drug charges.
"You need to get yourself together," Judge Genece Brinkley said early on in Monday's 21/2-hour probation hearing in Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia. 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 order to stop scheduling performances as of Nov. 16, when he was to appear in court and ask her to reinstate his travel permit.
"Robert Williams is on probation, not Meek Mill," said Gary Silver, the most recent in a string of lawyers who have represented Williams 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.
"This isn't like mixtapes being made in the basement of someone's house. This is for real," Silver continued. "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."
Meek 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 followers numbered 2,074,930 as of Monday. In the first 48 hours after his 2012 mixtape, Dreamchasers 2, was released, it received so many downloads and streams that the server crashed. He was a featured act at Jay-Z's Made in America concert this summer in Philadelphia.
Brinkley, who has presided over Williams' case from the beginning, reminded Williams that his guns and drug offenses could have landed him in prison for five to 10 years.
While he has complied with many of her more lenient sentencing requirements, including outpatient drug treatment and pursuing his GED, she said he had stumbled on several occasions.
Williams' probation officer, Treasn 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 voice mail messages.
"I have never had voice mail. I never had the ability to set voice mail up," Williams said, explaining that he did not want to learn "because people are always calling me, asking for money."
Brinkley rolled her eyes. "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 public.
After Silver said that he and Williams' probation officer were not on good terms and that she refused to speak to him, he added, "No offense to Ms. Underwood, but you don't need her. He's got two million Twitter followers," documenting with photos where Meek Mill could be found at any given time.
Assistant District Attorney Noel A. DeSantis accused Williams of using the media to drum up publicity and record sales.
DeSantis said she had no "personal vendetta" against Williams, as he had asserted. But, she said, she had no sympathy for his complaint "that, boo-hoo, he can't travel. He doesn't like the rules."
Williams is no longer a street criminal, DeSantis 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."
Pleading for the judge to understand the 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 cannot perform, he said, he will spend time in clubs in the city and fears he will get into trouble again.
He has traveled to "every city in the country, twice," but the probation rules are confusing and onerous, he said.
"This is a dancing-around game," Williams 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, 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.