Hopefully, you didn’t run out and spend your last money on tickets to see Meek Mill’s “Homecoming” concert at The Liacouras Center this Saturday. If you did, you may be in there by yourself.
Last week, Common Pleas Court Judge Genece E. Brinkley revoked the rapper’s probation and sentenced him to three to six months in prison for violations going back over the course of at least two years. In court, Brinkley told Mill’s attorney, Gary Silver, that she felt as though he was “thumbing his nose at me” since she had been “trying to help him move his career forward.”
The issues at hand: Mill had not been keeping regular contact with his probation officer, Treas Underwood, while on the road. In fact, Underwood didn’t even have a current phone number for the Maybach Music Group artist, who travels extensively as part of his rap career. In addition, Assistant District Attorney Noel DeSantis produced a picture of Meek Mill posing with four men holding a semi-automatic pistol—which Silver claimed was a prop for a photo shoot—as well as some disparaging Tweets from the rapper that called the ADA racist and the probation officer jealous that one of her clients—whom she’d known since their younger days in the same North Philly neighborhood—had become famous and wealthy.
It wasn’t until Brinkley learned during Friday’s four-hour hearing that Mill had booked a string of shows between last Thursday and Aug. 11—a period that the judge had explicitly ordered him to keep clear on his schedule so his probation issues could be resolved—that she decided to send him off to jail.
He and his lawyer explained that his expenses are anywhere from $80,000 to $90,000 a month and that his career supports him, his son, his mother and sister: “This will be extremely damaging to my life,” Mill said.
But the judge wasn’t having any of it. Said Brinkley, after referring to his nearly two years worth of contentious court hearings and probation infractions: “You just don’t get it.”
* * *
Meek Mill was born Robert Rahmeek Williams in 1987 and was raised by his single mother in North and South Philly. His father was killed by gunfire when Mill was just five years old, but he spent a lot of time with his uncle, Philadelphia hip-hop legend DJ Grandmaster Nell, his father’s younger brother. With Nell spinning all the time, Mill was exposed to hip-hop early and often and began writing rhymes and even studying other rappers’ flows at a very young age. Officially, he began rhyming seriously at 16, but was only 12 when he jumped into his very first rap battle on a North Philly corner. He lost, but vowed to come back. Through tears, Mill proclaimed, “I’m gonna be nice one day.”
And he was right.
Many battles (and victories) later, in 2006, he released his first mixtape, The Real Me. Mill, then 19, eventually got noticed by Charlie Mack (of “First out the Limo” fame), president of Aphillyated Records. Mack introduced him to Atlanta rapper T.I., who flew the emcee out to L.A. to try to secure a recording contract. Mill was eventually offered deals from Warner Brothers and T.I.’s own imprint, Grand Hustle Records. He chose Grand Hustle, but that deal never materialized—‘cause Mill was sentenced to prison during the process.
In 2008, Mill was arrested by undercover cops in South Philly coming out of his apartment with a gun in his possession and drugs nearby. He was convicted of drug dealing and gun possession and sentenced to 11 to 23 months in prison. However, with a new lawyer, his sentence was reduced, and he was released in early 2009 under a five-year parole agreement after serving just eight months. He skated along, putting out around two mixtapes a year, eventually getting a record deal with Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group. And then the trouble began.
He was reprimanded by Brinkley in a December 2012 probation hearing because he failed her court’s order a month earlier to stop scheduling performances to allow for a reinstatement of his travel permit. In May of 2013, he was brought back before Brinkley because once his travel permit was reinstated, Mill failed to report his travel plans to his probation officer, as stipulated in his probation agreement—and after his social-media posts about Underwood and DeSantis, some of his supporters threatened both women. As a result, Mill was ordered by Brinkley to take etiquette classes, which the judge said were “more important than any concerts he may have.” She gave him until Aug. 4 to complete them. Meek couldn’t just stop there, though: In a June hearing last year, the court was upset that he still hadn’t scheduled the court-mandated etiquette classes and was still not reporting his travel schedule.
Honestly, there is no real excuse for this kind of behavior. A simple thing like reporting the locations of one’s shows and appearances ahead of time can’t be that difficult, yet it appears to be the basis for all of Mill’s other violations. It’s not as though anyone was denying him the right to book dates out of their jurisdiction; the court was fully aware—and seemingly supportive—of the strides he was making as a rapper. They know that entertaining’s a job that requires you to travel. And the court wants you to work. How hard could it have been for Mill to call down there and let Underwood know what’s up? It’s no secret that probation officers need to know where their charges are at all times, especially if they’re located outside a designated area. Meek Mill’s no stranger to the system, so he knew that. And frankly, he had it easy. Like my father would say, he’s simply being hard-headed.
Most of the time, guys get out of jail and violate probation out of necessity—not that it’s right or excusable—because they have no other source of income and need to eat, live, and probably clothe a child or two, so they return to the streets, back to the crimes that lead to their incarceration in the first place. Meek Mill does not have to do that. He earns more money than most people in America, and he does it legally. Shouldn’t he value that? Shouldn’t he want to protect that?
Heaven knows there are plenty of examples he’s had to learn from right here in Philadelphia, where numerous rap artists have gone to jail.
Cool C is currently on death row for the 1996 murder of a Philadelphia police officer during a bank robbery. Why he and another former Philly hip-hop great, Steady B—who’s serving a life sentence for the same crime—were robbing banks in the first place is a mystery, but their criminal career culminated in the first murder of a female Philadelphia police officer. That’s probably not the way they’d planned to make history.
West Oak Lane’s Cassidy, who has made records with R. Kelly and even had a part in the movie Next Day Air, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 11 to 23 months in prison. Mill should know Cassidy’s story well, since they had an ongoing rap beef for the better part of two years. Their beef never left the recording studio, thankfully, and both claimed that it was all just part of hip-hop.
Brooklyn’s Junior Mafia princess Lil Kim may not be from Philly, but all of hip-hop remembers that she served federal time for three counts of perjury and one count of conspiracy, right downtown on 7th and Arch. That’s pretty close to home.
Another rapper with a cautionary tale Meek should’ve memorized is that of South Philly’s own Beanie Sigel. Beans has been to jail for various drug and weapons charges over the years and is currently serving federal time for failure to pay nearly $348,000 in taxes. Last March, while in prison, he was sentenced in Delaware County to six to 23 months on drug charges stemming from an August 2012 arrest on I-95. On July 31 of last year, Mill posted a pic of Beanie and some other inmates on his Instagram account and wrote, “Free b-Mac #philly #standtall ain’t to many other rappers I respect from here nigga made a ‘real lane for Philly.’” So, no: He can’t say he didn’t know how easily the Broad Street Bully landed in jail and continued to accrue charges.
Then, of course, there’s T.I.
T.I., whose real name is Clifford Harris, looked out for Mill and offered him a deal with his label, so when Harris was arrested on gun charges and served seven months before being released—then returned after violating his parole when he failed a drug test—you’d think the younger rapper would take notes and learn accordingly. But, like the brand-new Jazmine Sullivan single he guests on, Meek’s situation is just “Dumb.”
Looking at his violations overall, nothing really seems like that big of a deal. So what, he didn’t tell his probation officer about his travel plans? He’s a famous artist; it’s not like he can go on the run, since everyone knows who he is and what he looks like. And why would he? He is in the midst of a lucrative rap career. So what, he insulted the ADA and his probation officer on Twitter. Was sparing their feelings a term of his probation? He called one racist and the other jealous. If calling someone names is a jailable offense, you’d have to lock everybody up.
That’s the thinking that launched the #FreeMeekMill hashtag on Twitter, where fans of the 27-year-old rapper have taken to call for his release. People don’t seem to understand what he did, not realizing that the problem is what he didn’t do. He didn’t follow a judge’s orders. He didn’t call his probation officer. And most importantly, he didn’t respect the court. And the court doesn’t play.
So, on Saturday while scores of Meek Mill supporters are up in arms decrying how it’s way too easy for “the system” to target and incarcerate people, especially Black men, hopefully they won’t be missing the also-undeniable fact that his is a case where it was easy—way too easy, in fact—for him to have remained free.
Chris Wilder last wrote about Kindred the Family Soul’s Fatin Dantzler for PW. Follow him on Twitter @CeeWild.
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