Philadelphia was strangely warm on Saturday. The greater New York area had been sprinkled with scattered snowfall Friday evening, which quickly gave way to clear, sunny skies and near 50 degree temperatures just 12 hours later, but in Philadelphia, there was no snow to melt. The sun was out, the cheesesteaks were on the grill, and the energy was unmistakable.
For the first time in quite some time, Meek Mill was set to take the stage in his hometown of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, at approximately 9:30 pm ET. It was a one off show–his tenure on his girlfriend Nicki Minaj‘s Pinkprint Tour begins in July–which, for a city that starved for a decade for a new star to call its own, was already a huge deal. But on this night, there was a heightened level of significance.
In the middle of last summer–a summer that was quickly shaping up to be one Meek could dominate–his freight train of an album rollout came to a screeching halt. During an otherwise routine probationary hearing, Meek had been cited for booking out-of-town engagements without proper permission, and posing for less-than-safe photographs–including one that allegedly involved a handgun–on Instagram. The judge, who may or may not have felt slighted by the lawsuit Meek slapped the city of Philadelphia with earlier in the year, threw the book at the MMG rapper. 3-6 months in jail. Just like that, 2014 was over for Meek Mill. His sophomore album, Dreams Worth More Than Money, would no longer be released on September 9, and a considerable amount of momentum would all but evaporate just a few weeks later.
After several social media campaigns, updates from Rick Ross, and leaked pictures, Meek was sprung from behind bars just a few days before Christmas. Though he’d been inside less than a year, his return was one of folklore. There were Instagram videos of his neighborhood dancing around bonfires in the street, and even Drake–who sometimes doesn’t even use social media when his own music is released–tweeted about how great Meek’s release was. A hungry rapper, already notorious for his frenzied energy, was ready to continue his onslaught
But there was one thing left to do before that could properly begin.
When the lights dimmed at Wells Fargo Arena on Saturday night, no one quite knew what they were about to witness. A short video clip of “welcome home” messages from a few Philadelphia legends–Questlove, Julius Erving, Allen Iverson–was followed by Meek’s entrance to the stage, and his current club banger, “Monster,” queued up. From then on, one thing was clear. Meek is not only Philadelphia’s newest star, he may be Hip-Hop’s supreme street rapper. In an era where rappers like Jeezy, T.I., and The Game have passed the torch to the “backpack” generation, Meek’s early 2000’s formula has proved to be somewhat of a nostalgic refreshment, reminiscent of the mind-state Jay Z was in shortly after signing his major label deal with Def Jam: a gritty emcee with his heart in the streets but his mind on corporate success. It’s a juxtaposition expressed just by Meek’s attire: he took the stage sporting a plethora of gold chains, and his “Dreamchaser” shoe, a collaboration with Puma that a local Foot Locker introduced to all accompanying members of press and media just hours before the show.
— The Source Magazine (@THESOURCE) March 22, 2015
The concert itself was an impressive spectacle, with a bountiful guest list. Jeezy, French Montana, Yazz The Greatest (Hakeem, Empire), Fabolous, Young Gunz, Lil Durk, Yo Gotti, Allen Iverson, Rick Ross, Jadakiss, and a shocking appearance by Beanie Sigel, who performed his verse on Jay Z’s “Do It Again” to a crowd screaming so loud for the return of a hometown legend he was barely audible. However, Meek was most impressive when he took center stage alone. Songs like “Levels,” “Monster,” “House Party,” and “Flexin” were some of the night’s biggest performances, but even those paled in comparison to the grand finale.
Meek Mill’s intro to his debut album, Dreams & Nightmares, has long been regarded as one of the greatest of its kind since its release in 2012. However, unlike most records of the internet era, it has only grown greater with time. Those that weren’t completely sold on the Beat Billionaire-produced record initially, have undoubtedly witnessed the raucous it causes at concerts, showcases, parties, brunches and the like, and many have had a change of heart. Today, nearly 3 years later, it’s discussed as one of the greatest intros of all time, alongside Jay Z’s The Dynasty intro, Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Fantasy opener, and others from Nas and 50 Cent.
It’s impact will be infinitely felt, much like his label boss’ first hit, “Hustlin.” Though it may not be his best song, achieved little mainstream success, and lacks even an accompanying music video, it will forever be remembered as the career-defining Meek Mill record. It will forever be marked as his official arrival, and respected as Philadelphia’s first true theme song since Freeway’s “What We Do.”
On this night, when Meek Mill performed the “Intro,” pausing to give the crowd time to go crazy before Beat Billionaire’s pensive major chords gave way to a violent set of 808’s over which Meek Mill screamed maybe his most famous lyrics ever, the “Intro,” and Meek Mill, were number one.