BEING THERE: Meek Mill @ The Met Philly


Meek Mill is for the people. This should come as no surprise if you’re even vaguely familiar with the rapper-turned philanthropist and criminal justice reform leader. His ethos is speaking truth to power – on and offstage, in and out of the studio. Hell, City Council just named this weekend “Meek Mill Weekend” to honor his dedicated efforts to use his platform to incite positive change within his community and beyond. This formal recognition of Meek as the king of Philly coincided with his two-night stand at The Met Philly. And what a homecoming it was.

Thousands of flashing phones glistened off Meek’s pristine bling as pyro and CO2 exploded in front of the sea of fans packed into the former opera house as bangin’ 808s relentlessly shook the foundations of the newly restored venue. He blew through a set full of bangers, odes to loved ones lost to the streets, and back-in-the-day tracks that only his true Day Ones could properly appreciate. “This is what I love about growing up in Philly,” said Meek, gleaming. “When I’m on the road I can’t do my old shit.” His setlist ranged from recent heat like “Millidelphia” and “Uptown Vibes,” all the way back to Meek’s very first release, “In My Bag.”

One critical component to the night quickly became apparent: this night was for Philly. Not Havertown, not Bryn Mawr, not Villanova. This night was another glistening chapter in Meek’s story, which began once upon a time on Berks Street in North Philadelphia. “I came up from the streets,” Meek shouted. “If you here tonight and you lost a loved one to the streets put a light up in the air. If you have a loved one and you can’t take 60 seconds to put a light up for them…” Meek made it out of his struggles and found success despite intense roadblocks throughout his life. A drug and weapons charge dating back ten years triggered a never-ending timeline of probation and scrutiny throughout his recent life, landing him back in prison for, get ready for it, riding a dirt bike. The probation that Meek has endured on top of the recurring instances of police brutality against black citizens in the U.S. has strongly informed his bold and passionate stance in support of criminal justice reform.

Images of black leaders, black victims of police brutality and even Meek’s own mug shot flashed upon the stage’s backdrop throughout songs like “100 Summers.” He dedicated break after break between songs to empowering everyone at whatever stage in life they found themselves in, even as a fight broke out not far into the crowd from where Meek stood. “I’m tryna preach black power and y’all over here rumblin’,” he said, smirking at the crowd as the situation was defused.

By the end of the night, my thoughts were racing, but one thought was a constant that stuck at the forefront of my mind. I am a young white man that attends Temple University in North Philadelphia. I used to live on Berks Street in a student apartment. But I am not North Philadelphia. How could I be? Sure, I grew up in South Philly so yes, I’m from Philly. But the sea of people tonight holding up lighters, singing all the lyrics to every song because they rang true and real and all too familiar — they are North Philadelphia.

The crowd was majority black. Temple’s main campus is situated in a predominantly black neighborhood, and on far too many blocks, people suffer through extreme poverty. Temple’s student population occupies a large section of North Philly. The lifers that live among us are not the outsiders. I know that some students here see them as such. We are. Which is not to say that by attending Temple one is somehow inherently evil or prejudicial. However, it is critically important for those of us born into the privilege of whiteness, or for that matter the privileges of pursuing an education and living in adequate housing, to recognize that we are just visitors in their community. We are in their space and we are sharing it with them. With that comes the obligation of respecting the community, understanding the struggles and sacrifices that so many still endure just like Meek did and recognizing our place in this space.

Meek’s story is one of empowerment. Overcoming obstacles that could have predetermined his life and coming out on top. That is the Philly that I saw last night at the Met. I stood in that room feeling like an outsider, and appreciatively so, watching people finally free of being seen as the other on their own turf, finding strength in solidarity and unity through the power of music. After closing out with a handful of tracks including “Dreams And Nightmares,” the unofficial anthem of Philadelphia that single-handedly captures the star that Meek Mill is, the crowd let out onto the corner of Broad and Poplar streets, a fitting end to a gathering that embodied the character and resilience of North Philadelphia. – DYLAN LONG