Bigger Than You

Meek Mill’s life has been a constant fight with battle scars to show for it, but the Philadelphia MC stands tall as he faces his most imposing opponent yet: the criminal justice system. Now an advocate for prison reform, Meek pens a letter to his younger self about perseverance, race in America and recognizing his own power.
Words: Meek Mill
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of of XXL Magazine, coming soon.

To Robert Rihmeek Williams:

Life is about to get very real for you. Like, beyond your dreams and nightmares. I’m writing you from 2018 because I need you to be very present in 2006. I need you to focus on the weight of your talent and how it aligns with your purpose. I know, right now, life is tough, but you have to believe me when I say it’s only temporary. You will not be a victim of your circumstance. Your struggles are just building you a greater tomorrow. You were gifted the skill to communicate to the masses. You are here to inspire, awaken and motivate the generations to come. Understand that the real dreaming begins when you are clear about where you are going. You can’t chase dreams without a vision.

My question to you, Meek, is: Are you willing to travel those rocky roads towards your throne? Most importantly: Are you sure you want this responsibility?

Ahmed Klink for XXL

Like our old heads used to say, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” It’s free to dream but nothing is more expensive than achieving them. I repeat: Nothing is more expensive than achieving your dreams. Trust, you will get yours. You will set the rap game on fire. What if I told you that you will record with Mariah Carey? Or that you’ll buy a Ferrari after coppin’ the Rolls Royce? That fly shit is cool but you wanna know what tops it all? Mom never having to worry about money again because you believed in yourself. The countless times she risked it all to feed you and Nasheema won’t be in vain. But I can’t stress enough how much it costs to be a young leader. Costs even more to be a young Black leader.

I’ll be honest—same as African-Americans in this country—things are about to get both easier and more difficult for you. Over the next decade, you and your people will make major moves—you, professionally and Black people, politically. We’ll all begin to realize that our culture is our most valuable product. Unfortunately, on the streets, not much will change. In 2018, Black lives won’t matter much more than they do in 2006. You saw what happened last year with Hurricane Katrina. You saw how the administration didn’t care whether we drowned or ended up homeless. We could have a Black president and they’d still disrespect them like they were just another nigga. And just like it will cost you to claim your power, the same goes for our race. For upping our stock in this country, we will pay like a muthafucka.

We know too well that when you’re raised in the hood, in poverty, everything positive and healthy seems farther away. You can be that mirror to the youth; the example that it is possible to turn two handcuffs into an Audemar and a Rollie. You just have to stay the course, especially in the face of evil adversity. What those cops did to you was disgusting. Attempting to erase our future before it started is just the devil at work. But I have news for you: It won’t be the last time American law enforcement tries to impede your progress. The thing is, unlike most of the sea of Black and Brown people unfairly assaulted and incarcerated by bad police, you have the biggest voice. You have the ability to turn your mugshot into a flashlight that exposes an incredibly unjust judicial system. Those Jesus pieces you and your crew crave will come several times over. But I need you to look deeper into that pendant, past the karats and ice. Don’t just wear the face. Understand that King, that pain, that sacrifice. Know that a clear mission and perseverance is how you attain the honor of representing both Black excellence and inequality.

Ahmed Klink for XXL

Don’t allow race to consume you. Your music is for the world. Yes, you want to be the voice of minority youth. But most importantly, you want to be the voice of the hip-hop generation. That means representing those who live in different cultures and skin. One of your responsibilities will be to inform both the young and older people that there are two different Americas: There is one that is in love with the business of prisons and then there’s Black America. Ask yourself, how it is that Blacks are only a fraction of the United States population, yet make up the majority of its prison population? You have to use your platform and influence to teach the corner boy, celebrity and owner that their outrage for systemic oppression should be equal. That’s true leadership. It’s how you become global. It’s how you wake up a planet while inspiring icon living.

Well, shit’s about to change. The franchises which embrace hip-hop will shine big. Guess which Philly rapper will have the ears of tomorrow’s pro ballers and all-stars? The one that players and fans see fighting as hard as them. The one who makes anthems powerful enough to help spray a locker room with champagne.

You are a real one. That makes you a rare one. Know that real ones will always be the minority. The fake ones, forever the majority. You’re also a survivor. It’s your job to show poor Black kids from 12th street to Compton how to go hard for their rights—also that being broke isn’t a life sentence. And while you’re lifting your generation out of the bottom, never forget that you once lived there—or those hunger pains. Always remember how to fight for food. I don’t care if it’s a prosecutor or a chart-topping rapper coming at your neck, don’t ever back down. You were put here to win and lead others to victory.

Ahmed Klink for XXL

Just be ready for all the love and especially the hate. It’s insane at the next level. You must develop thick skin for everything from rap disses to bloodthirsty reverends to judges who want your talent and reach. For some music artists, 1 million fans simply means a platinum album. A million fans for you could mean that in every city you visit there will be cops who want you back in jail. The amount of resistance received for leading communities that the country doesn’t want to win could make a weaker man fold. There’s nothing weak about you.

I know it’s a lot to take in but this is your calling. Kids everywhere are depending on your rhymes for representation. Think about how abandoned the folks sitting in jail for a crime they didn’t commit feel. Think about how you felt. Then sprint toward your throne as if your life depended on it because many other lives do. But remember: Once you put that crown on, your gifts no longer serve you and your family alone. Your dreams will then belong to the world.

But ain’t this what you been waiting for?

Ahmed Klink for XXL

See Photos From Meek Mill's Fall 2018 Cover Shoot