We Be On It
With legal drama behind him, a new album and the baddest chick in hip-hop on his arm, Meek Mill is the man of the moment.
Words Vanessa Satten
Images Zach Wolfe
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of XXL Magazine.

It’s a bright sunny afternoon in early March and Meek Mill is busy prepping for the day’s photo shoot. The Atlanta weather is fresh and crisp like the white jeans, tee and bright orange bomber jacket he’s rocking. Meek looks ready. Not just to snap flicks but to prove to hip-hop that he is a star. The Maybach Music Group artist has spent the last year crafting his much-anticipated second solo album, Dreams Worth More Than Money, which comes almost three years after his debut Dreams And Nightmares (both via MMG/Atlantic Records). Meek was actually going to drop his second effort months ago but plans changed when the Philadelphia native received a probation violation in July 2014 (after an issue with his travel schedule). This stemmed from a 2008 gun and drug conviction. Meek served five months at Philly’s Hoffman Hall, before being released on Dec. 2, 2014.

Now, three months since getting out of jail, Meek is over the setback. He’s learned from the experience, changed his ways a bit and tweaked the album he originally had in the works. Meek’s also found a bit of solace and surprise fame in his new relationship with Nicki Minaj, who he will join on her Pinkprint Tour this spring.

Here Meek sits with XXL to talk about his journey.

meek mill rick ross xxl cover story
Photo Credit: Zach Wolfe

XXL: You went to jail on a probation violation in 2014. What was that experience like?
Meek Mill: Being that I went to jail and came back, I went through a whole new experience in life. I went from being at the top to back down at the bottom again. In jail, you get stripped of your freedom and everything, so I experienced different things, learned more. It basically brought most of my hunger back, because I was living the life, having fun all day every day. I really didn’t know what it was like to be hungry no more. I still had it, but not where jail put me at. And before I went to jail, I was being a little wild. So you know, it slowed me down, gave me enough time to think.

Did you think you were really going to get locked up?
No, I ain’t had no idea I was going to jail. Like, I came from L.A. two, three days before, BET Weekend, or something like that. Then went to court, boom, I’m in jail the same day. Devastating.

So you were in there for five months?
And the way they had me, they had me set up like a celebrity. [Nobody] could come around me for like a month and a half. Nobody could talk to me. In a room 23 hours a day, stuff like that. You know, that damaged me kind’ve a little bit. When I came home I wasn’t like really, all the way together ’cause not being around people that long, in a room by yourself.

Who did you keep in touch with while you were there?
My homies hold me down, really. I talk to Baby, Jeezy, Rozay, Nicki, everybody from jail. Just call once in a while and holla at people like, “Yo what’s up? What’s life like out there?” for people to give me a report of what’s going on.

How long did it take to find out your sentence?
She told me right there, “You gon’ be here for a second,” so I just knew I was gon’ be there more than 30 days. This judge, she don’t play no games, so a second’s like a month to her. What I took from it, [the judge] just seen me acting in a certain manner and being a certain way, which she viewed me in that I wasn’t supposed to be in [while] on probation, and I got locked up. Then I seen what she saw. I couldn’t see it until I actually was locked up. I was going through stuff with people on Twitter, talking back and forth...she kind’ve seen that. They see that world too, you know what I’m saying? I think she recognized it, and I kind’ve think it saved me really. I think it was the best thing that happened to me at that time.

See what it is, like, a lot of people don’t understand that and I ain’t really understand that, but the judge I got, she really got a super high potential for me. And you know, I wasn’t really looking at it that way. Certain people’s judges, they don’t care about you, they just send you back to jail. She actually worked with me but as a rapper, [and] sometimes, they could see things in a certain way. Like, I just had a house party, [and the media reported that] Chris Brown got stomped out. Ain’t nothing happen to him there. But he might have to go deal with that when he go see his probation, like the stuff people writing [in the media].

We be walking in [the] probation office, [and they’re like] “So what happened? Somebody got shot at your party?” You like, “I don’t know, I tried to get out there when everybody else tried to get out. We come in here to make money; we don’t even wanna be here. I wanna be in my area, where I’m cool at with my family. We just getting paid to be here."

It has to do with you.
Why they asking me about it? But it come with the territory, like I said.

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Photo Credit: Zach Wolfe

It’s interesting that you’re seeing that the judge might have a bigger plan for you.
Yeah, they do. There was a picture of me like holding a gun in a video with Big Sean and A$AP Ferg. If anybody follow me, Big Sean or A$AP Ferg, they know we not going to have no guns on our Instagram, it just never happened. But we did the video, we took a picture and had on like an ’80’s look, bucket hats [and] we had the guns. It was just like a preview shot for the video. They brought that up in court. And people kind’ve believed it in court. Later on, I was like, “The video’s really coming out, if y’all need me to get it...” But now the video’s out, everybody see that it’s water spurting out these guns. But it’s just damage you get, and we put ourselves in that position.

You do put yourself in that position because it’s gonna catch attention. You know that’s what happens.
Yeah, it’s just like that. [They was like you] should’ve just let people know or something like that, you know? It’s kind’ve different trying to explain to people everything about your life.

So how do you think you’ve changed?
Uh, you know, I figured myself out before that. Somebody from my hood come at me right now, I know that I don’t wanna go through it with [them] right now. I know all I really wanna do is get money and take care of my family.

Me, really, I was confused, trying to be somebody in the street, make people in the streets look at me in a certain way, at the same time, I’m rapping. But that ain’t what I do no more.

People think when a rapper goes to jail they write rhymes like crazy. But that’s not really what happens, right?
I probably wrote like one rap. I was stressed out. People always think I be going back and forth to jail with different cases. I’ve [ just] got one case. I went to jail when I got caught with the gun and the drugs. I got out on bail probably like five months later, ’cause my bail was like a lot of money, this was way before I was signed [to a record label]. And then I was out on bail, I got found guilty, had to go back to jail again, and then I got out on house arrest. Then, I got sentenced and I went back to jail.

meek mill xxl cover story jacket
Photo Credit: Zach Wolfe

What was it like for you when you got out this time?
Yeah, like everybody calling me, everybody come see me. I’m not really hollering at people. People think I’m acting a certain way and stuff like that. I’m like, “Yo, I’m just trying to focus on me, getting myself together.” I hadn’t even been rapping for five months or socializing with people for five months. People who never been through it, you don’t expect them to understand it. I was just getting to me. And a person like me, I always look out for people. Whoever want a verse and stuff like that, I used to...the way I [did] it, I give everybody a verse if I’m cool with you. Now, it ain’t like that no more. I monitor. I want people to focus on my body of work before I have 10 songs out with 10 other dudes. And people ain’t used to it, so I’m trying to make them understand that. I ain’t got as much time as I would usually have because I’m focusing more on myself now.

And you’ve got this new relationship with Nicki Minaj, right?
Yeah, that’s my baby right there. Shit real.

Female fans might look at you differently now that you’re taken. Does that bother you at all?
I just be Meek Milled out, just doing what I’m supposed to do, like rapping.

It’s kind’ve weird to see the pics of you two all coupled up.
Yeah, I tell her that. I’m like, “I don’t really hold hands, but like, I’ll hold hands with you." She know that. Like, I don’t really do things, but certain people make you do certain little stuff and it be like, “Shit, I don’t care.” They can catch me in the pictures doing anything nowadays, holding an umbrella for Nicki, you know what I’m saying?

Is it that you got the girl in the industry that all the dudes wanted?
Nah, I got the girl that I wanted, not what they wanted, you know what I’m saying? What I wanted.

Do you ever feel any creative competition now that you have someone who does the same thing as you?
Yeah, if we rapping on a song together, shit, Nicki gotta get it too. Or she might give it to me, you know how it go, everybody on the menu. Ain’t no stopping. Yeah, we be sitting there talking about that sometimes. And we be having conversations sometimes like, "That flow? Yeah, I got that flow from you," or, "You got that flow from me." We argue and shit like that all the time.

You got your baby and your album is finally coming out and you are about to go on tour. Sounds like it’s all coming together for you.
It should’ve been like that for me. But you know, they just starting to recognize so, hey, let’s get it. It’s coming together.

meek mill rick ross xxl cover story
Photo Credit: Zach Wolfe

How do you feel about your second solo album? You ready for it to finally come out?
I ain’t drop an album since I was 25. I rap way better. I’ve experienced way more. I just came from jail. I made sure I read a whole lot, smartened up and learned more. You know, I’m just next level Meek Mill. I know everybody come here like, “I’m on my next level...”

I sound like me, but just on another level. I ain’t come in trying to do the Drake melody or the Kendrick [Lamar] lyrics or J. Cole... Nah, I sound like Meek Mill. That energy of Meek Mill, just on another level. People say, “Is he talking about his Rollie, is he talking about bitches?” I may be talking about my Rollie, but this time, I’m telling you how I got this shit and what it took me to get it. It’s just different things. Like I said, I’ve been in it for four years, came out in 2012. I was 24, maybe going on 25. It’s different now, everything’s different about me.

Who do you look at as your biggest competition in a friendly, motivational way? Is there a competition for you out there?
Jay Z. All I want to do is get money like that level right there. And not even just him, like all those guys, Puffy, all them. Me and Puff was arguing at this event. He was trying to tell me about some money, I was like, “Puff, I’ma have money like you.” Puff was like, “I don’t know what you talking about, you don’t get money like me,” I’m like, “I’ma get money like you. I don’t know what you be telling nobody else. I’ma get more money than you.” He’s like, “Nigga, I wanna have all the money.” He honest, he gon’ tell you, “I want all the money.” Some people ain’t gon’ tell you, try to make you feel good. And I was like, “Aight, shit, I’m on you.”

And that’s truly me. I believe that, if you a man, you can make that much money as any man ’cause at one point, I ain’t even believe that we could even see it. I had a hard time getting $20 in my pocket. Now it’s so easy to make money. It come from so many different ways. It’s all what you put your mind to.