Few rappers today spit with as much passion and verve as Meek Mill. The Philadelphia MC raps as if his life depends on it, his voice frequently – and famously – ascending into a shout. When he talks about having run-ins with law enforcement, losing loved ones or celebrating his status as one of the best in the business, you can feel his joy and pain.
On his third studio album, Wins & Losses, he focuses on his penchant for vivid and incendiary raps, and mostly avoids the urban contemporary tracks that have sometimes muddied his past work. Yes, Wins & Losses is dropping amidst a spate of fresh controversies: a bizarre dustup with reality TV star Safaree Samuels, the continuing fallout from his highly publicized breakup with former girlfriend Nicki Minaj and a high-profile beef with Drake. However, during a conversation with Rolling Stone, Meek focused on why he's one of the most vital hip-hop talents of recent years, from his strategy for composing raps from memory to why he's "catering to street rap" this time around.
One of the things you're most known for is painting vivid pictures through your raps. What's your writing process like?
I don't actually write. I just go in the studio and rap, throw verses together. I just use visuals in my head, and I try to make them rhyme. As I go, I just try to remember it, keep a good memory and make them rhyme.
You've put out hundreds of songs at this point. How are you able to keep all those word schemes in your head?
I don't know. I just think it's a talent, a God-given talent that God gives us. But, you know, I try to work on my memory and when I'm in the studio, I just focus it up. I love to make music. I have fun doing it, spending hours and hours and relentless hours in the studio, and days putting things together. So I don't really mind, like, being on one subject for an hour straight if I have to. Sometimes it can take several hours, sometimes it can take 10 minutes.
One of your new tracks from the Meekend Music EP is "Left Hollywood." Did you literally leave Hollywood, or is that just a metaphor?
It's more like a metaphor. I did move from L.A., but it's more like a metaphor. I'm catering back towards the streets, like, the culture that helped build me up from day one. The street culture, the street rap.
Where did you move to?
I moved back to Philly. I live in a few different places. I live in Philly, Delaware…but that's all surrounding Philly or is close to the Philly area. Basically, back to the trenches.
Wins & Losses goes a lot harder than some of your previous albums. Was that a conscious decision on your part?
Yeah. I wanted to do more rapping, and I wanted to turn it into a rap album. You know, there's a lot of music out, you've got different platforms like SoundCloud, iTunes, Spotify, Tidal. People can listen to what they want, and we've got so many different genres of rap now, like you've got trap music, mumble music, street rap, pop rap. I just wanted to cater to, like, my side, you know what I'm saying? One day I hope [the platforms] are going to give us official genres. This is my side. I'm catering to street rap. So I wanted to open the gate back up to Meek Milly rapping, what people know me for, actually spitting and, you know what I mean, touching the heart.
There doesn't seem to be many dudes like yourself that spit a lot of bars and are successful on the charts as well. How are you able to maintain that?
I try to remain hungry no matter what position I get in. It was, like, a year ago, I was kinda laid-back. I wasn't as hungry as I wanted to. Me being through a lot of trials and tribulations, seeing people talk about me, saying bad things and good things. The bad things inspired me more to want to go harder, and it helped me gain some of my hunger back. On this album, I'm coming from a more hungrier standpoint.
"Young Black America" from Wins & Losses is one of your most political songs to date.
The people I make music for [is the] environment I come from, and the images I'm rapping about I've seen about and lived it. It's kinda, like, ignorant sometimes. I just wanted to dedicate one song to open the eyes to the people who don't come from my culture, or the people who are caught up in this jungle and the things that are taking place in the video. It's an eye-opener out to the culture, and to keep people woke.
How are you and Rick Ross doing? You two have been through a lot together at this point.
Rick Ross is the person that put me on in the game and gave me my shot. It'll always be, like, a big brother/little brother relationship with him. Everything's always been good. We never really had any, like, super-bad spots where we feel like things had gone wrong. It's the music industry, so there's always times we've got to buckle down and get down to business, and no fun, and just get straight to business. And, you know, we do that. That's how we met, on business terms, getting money, and we built a family relationship in time. It's always been great.
It was good to see Wale in the first installment of your Wins & Losses movie. You guys have crossed paths in the past.
Yeah, Wale's in the video. You know, sometimes family, we cross paths at certain times. But, if anything, we came in the game together. We never let [our issues] get to a serious level. I just think sometimes we handled it the wrong way in the public eye, where we shouldn't of did it that way. But yeah, everything's good.
You're known for your street raps, yet you've also scored your biggest chart hits with urban/R&B tracks like "All Eyes on You" and, now, "Whatever You Need." How do you balance doing music for the clubs, and doing music for the streets?
I don't really balance it. I just do what I feel. When I'm in the studio I do what I feel. I probably create about 100 songs and then, you know, I balance it through picking out my songs. I know some people want to dance in the club, and some people want to ride in the car and hear something that'll make them think. Some people want to be touched and relate to the music. So I try to level it out in a way that I can touch a mass amount of people.
What's up with your Dreamchasers label?
I signed a new artist out of Baltimore. He's, like, flaming hot out of Baltimore. His name is YBS Skola. We've got Omelly coming out on Dreamchasers Records. He's working on a mixtape. We're just looking for up and coming, new, raw talent. Something nobody's ever seen before, some young stars, like, in a way, Lil Snupe was. He was a fast-growing star. He set the tone for Dreamchasers. So I make sure I pick a star, somebody we can get behind and make some money with, and be legendary with.
It sounds like you pour so much emotion into songs like "Cold Hearted," the closing track on 2015's Dreams Worth More Than Money. Where does that come from?
Music from the heart is actually the most easiest kind of music to make, because it's just coming and flowing. All you have to do is make the words rhyme for the thought. It's not just having to come up with a bunch of random thoughts. It's just coming straight from the heart. The heart inspired it. It's written by the heart. You know, I'm just delivering it and making it rhyme.
Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?
Yeah, I believe in God. I pray. I put all faith in God. It helps keep me focused.
How do you maintain that focus in the rap industry?
It's kinda hard when it comes down to politics and, like, the way the game is structured. I just continue to try to make good music, man. I'm talented, and I've been rapping for a long time. Music's a big thing to me. … Sometimes it can get a little frustrating. But, you know, I come from the trenches, from the bottom. So it's nothing new in facing adversity and facing new problems. So we can stand on our feet and we can go at it head on.