Serving as Meek Mill’s triumphant return from a long period of legal battles and L-taking, Championships is the rapper’s first album since his controversial 2017 incarceration — which stemmed from a technical probation violation for popping an illegal wheelie that cost him six months of his life — and is a work dense with rich political commentary, while still indulging the rapper’s more radio-friendly sensibilities. Meek’s M.O. has never been to flaunt game-changing production; he usually relies on tired samples and redundant trap drums, but that’s hardly the point. You’re here to listen to Meek rap his ass off, with his usual fiery bluster. And flex he does those lyrical chops of his on many of the album’s featureless tracks (“Trauma,” “Championships,” and “Oodles n’ Noodles Babies”), while also offering passionate, pained verses on subjects that range from inequality (“Yeah, they called it the projects, they put us in projects / What they gon’ do with us? Can’t call the cops yet”) to criminal justice reform (“How many times you send me to jail to know that I won’t fail / Invisible shackles on the king, ’cause shit, I’m on bail”).
But Championships isn’t just straight struggle-bars and dour memories; Meek allows some level of jubilant fun to be had here, with upbeat cuts like the club-worthy gems “On Me” (a collab with his former fiance’s rival, Cardi B) and “Tic Tac Toe,” which features an MC that gained fame while Meek was locked up, Kodak Black. The most impressive guest spot on Champions, though, comes from promising 20 year-old Harlem rapper Melil, on the bouncy “Wit the Shits (W.T.S.).” Melil brings punchy brags about her drip (“icy, icy, icy,”) and asks “Who’s the boss?” in Spanish. The Melil track also provides an example of the conflicted feelings on this project; the darkly confessional moments butt heads with wannabe radio hits — and Meek’s verses on these lighter tracks tend to devolve into overused quips about strippers, pricey fashion, and luxury cars. The variety of this set allows for even a few distressed love songs, like “Almost Slipped,” delivered with Thugger-esque moans, and detailing romantic woes (“You fucking with a ball player and now you acting bougie / Seen you out in traffic you act like you never knew me”) that play about as well as could be expected. All this is to say that the 18-track Champion is at times difficult to fully digest — especially as the later tracks jarringly attempt to recapture the charisma Meek brought early on — but that can be an asset. This is an album that ultimately, proudly celebrates its embattled MC as both a political figurehead of hip-hop, and as the “Rollie on my Wrist” bar-spitter that he’s built his career on being.
Published as part of What Meek Didn’t Do | The Rap Releases We Missed in 2018.