ABOVE: MEEK MILL. PHOTO COURTESY OF CLAY PATRICK MCBRIDGE.
Ask Meek Mill to describe his debut album, Dreams and Nightmares, and he’ll tell you that it’s “the story of a young street rapper that’s bringing a whole other lane back to the game.” Mill’s “story,” alas, is not a new one for hip-hop; on Dreams and Nightmares, Mill details the murder of his father and his stint dealing drugs before his attaining his present day success. With songs such as “Traumatized,” however—an open letter to his father’s murderer—the way in which Meek tells his story is powerful.
The 25-year-old Philadelphia rapper is signed to Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group (an imprint of Warner Bros. Records) and has an impressive roster of guest stars on his first LP, from the impossibly popular Drake to old-guard legends Nas and Mary J. Blige. Tall and handsome, Mill is already being touted as “the next big thing.” Curious to see if the man matched up to the hype, we recently met Mill at Warner Bros. in New York to talk about politics, betrayal, and what makes a “bad bitch.”
EMMA BROWN: If you could change anything about rap, what would you change and why?
MEEK MILL: I don’t think I would change really anything about rap. Rap don’t have no limits to it, and I like it like that. I think artists should be able to do different things whenever they want and I like the way I am. I’m like—I ain’t gonna say the only street rapper, but the only mainstream, new, young street rapper there is right now and I’m doing well with it, so I’m fine with that.
BROWN: If you had to play someone one song, and you could only play one song to introduce them to you, what song would you play for them?
MILL: “Traumatized,” off my album.
MILL: Because “Traumatized” is about my life. Some of the most most drastic things that took place in my life—my family, my father dying, being in the streets, and then, being in jail, things like that.
BROWN: I like your album artwork, with the watch and the handcuffs mixed together.
MILL: Yeah, I wanted to send a message like, “Good times, bad times, I need a drink, tonight, man.”
BROWN: Is your nightmare returning to the street?
MILL: No. I don’t think about returning to the streets, ’cause I don’t have any plans to return to the streets. I’m at another level in my life. Returning to the street—I still be in my streets when I get time to, when it’s necessary.
BROWN: I really like “Ready or Not,” from your mixtape, Dreamchasers 2. I love the Fugees sample.
MILL: Producing was all Ross’s work—he brought me the beat. That beat talks to me—it’s just soulful and deep—and when he gave it to me, I just automatically went in on it. Really the main thing I talk about is the lifestyle I’m living right now. I’m trying to think about this song. [pauses] “They say they’re down for the team but playin’ two damn sides.” Talking about betrayal, loyalty.
BROWN: Have you ever been betrayed?
MILL: Yeah, I’ve been betrayed a lot of times in life. I think everybody’s been.
BROWN: Do you think it’s harder now that you’re having success?
MILL: Yeah, I think it’s way harder when you have success, ’cause people tend to not treat you the same or look at you the same because they see the success or the money you make.
BROWN: How do you protect yourself against people who might not be what they seem?
MILL: I just stay away from them and don’t put my tracks in them. That makes it way easier.
BROWN: So your name, is that from your middle name [Rahmeek], or were you shy as a child?
MILL: It’s from my middle name. Meek Mill—my homies used to call me “Meek Millions,” and at the time I didn’t have no millions, so I ain’t really want to be called “Millions,” so I just shortened it down to Meek Mill. “Meek Milli,” my friends used to call me.
BROWN: Do you remember the first girl you had a crush on?
MILL: Yeah, I was four and I still remember it. Me and the girl on the seesaw. I used to call her “the girl on the seesaw” ’cause I never knew her name.
BROWN: Do you think there’s too great of a reliance on having a catchphrase in rap?
MILL: Yeah. I don’t rely on catchphrases or really like singalong. I just do whatever I feel. Whatever the beat makes me say, I do that and I run with that. It’s been working for me, so I’d be cool with that.
BROWN: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
MILL: Work harder than anybody you’ve ever seen. That’s what I believe. If you work hard than anybody you’ve ever seen—’cause some people don’t work hard, because all they know is—like, when I used to go to the studio, I used to do three songs a week, and then [Rick] Ross said he was doing 10 songs a day. So after I seen that, I tried to out-top that number.
BROWN: Was he the one that told you that you should work harder than anyone else?
MILL: Yeah. But I heard it from a few different people. But I seen [Rick Ross] doing it—when I seen someone doing it, I really take an effect to it.
BROWN: Why do you think people are so keen to involve rappers in conflict?
MILL: I don’t think it’s just rappers, I think it’s famous people—your name’s gonna be mentioned just because you’re famous.
BROWN: Did you think your song with Drake, “Amen,” would ever cause controversy?MILL: I kind of thought it probably would a little bit, but I ain’t really think it would because I was just celebrating life, and that’s what I was thanking God for, not what nobody else was thanking God for. And people that live the same lifestyle as me—if you ain’t living the same lifestyle, then it wasn’t really for you to take it like I took it, ’cause I ain’t make it for that.BROWN: In it, you thank God for the “bad bitches.” What makes someone a “bad bitch”?
MILL: You know, pretty, smart, a leader, independent, being your own woman. When I say “bitch,” I don’t use it as a word that’s disrespectful, like when you say to your friend, “Yo, my nigga,” it’s not like you’re being racist or anything like that. And [at] my shows, when anybody rap to my songs, no matter if you white, black, Puerto Rican, Chinese, you’re just singing the lyrics, no matter whether there’s “nigga” in it or not. You ain’t using it a disrespectful way.
BROWN: Your son is really cute.
MILL: Thank you.
BROWN: What’s the first album that you’re going to give him when he’s old enough to appreciate music?
MILL: I don’t know what type of music my son will want. By the time he starts listening to music, really, at like 15, 16, I’ll probably have 10 albums out by that time.
BROWN: Is that when you got into music? When you were 15, 16?
MILL: I got into music when I was 12, 13.
BROWN: Do you remember the first song that really interested you in music?
MILL: Biggie, Puff Daddy: “B.I.G., P-O-P-P-A, No info, for the DEA.” That was the first song—I forgot the name, though… “Mo Money Mo Problems.”
BROWN: Have you ever met P. Diddy?
MILL: Yeah, I’ve met P. Diddy. He’s a cool friend, he’s cool guy.
BROWN: Where would you like to be doing in five years?
MILL: You know, just making a lot of money. Being able to do a good sweep in rap, so I can spend more time with my family, have more fun.
BROWN: Would you still rap if it weren’t so lucrative?
MILL: Yes, I love rap. I’ve always been rapping before I was making money off of it. Before I made a profit, I had always been rapping.
BROWN: What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you onstage? Or has it all been pretty good so far?
MILL: Yeah, I never really fell on stage. My chain popped before, but it wasn’t really bad.
BROWN: Are you worried about being built up as the next big thing?
MILL: No, I would actually be happy about it. ‘Cause you get some are people that do their rap and hope to be the next best thing or even have that type of title, so I’m happy to even be in this position.
BROWN: Do you remember any particular moment where you felt like, “I’m doing well?”
MILL: Yeah. Right now. When you do 10 interviews in one day, and 10 different sources want to talk to you, that means you’re doing good. I think about that every day.
BROWN: Is that the worst part about releasing the album—doing all the press?
MILL: Everyone asks the same questions. You’ve got some questions I haven’t heard, though.
BROWN: Whom do you admire in the music industry?
MILL: The best people—from Nas, to Jay-Z , Biggie, Tupac. A lot of them. Whoever’s at an A-1 level right now, I’m not at an A-1 level at this moment, but that’s where I want to be.
BROWN: What level would you say you’re at right now?
MILL: B, B-minus. And when the album drops, I’m going up to an A-minus.
BROWN: Who’s a historical figure that you admire?
MILL: I’d say Obama. First black president ever, and to be living while it happened—that’s a good part of history. That’s probably the biggest person I admire right now.
BROWN: Are you excited to vote for him, then?
MILL: Yeah, of course. I always want to vote for Obama. This is my first year really watching the debates and things like that, and he worked hard. He reminds myself of me, you know. Everything can’t be fixed over one year, or two years, or three years, or four years. It took me a long time to get where I am right now. I’ve been rapping since I was 13, and now I’m here. I’m making it happen.