The ballad of Meek Mill is long, repetitive and unpleasant. Over the past decade-plus, the rapper has spent an estimated $30 million on legal defense, as he's gone in and out of Philadelphia courtrooms, jails and now prison for a variety of charges and petty parole violations that he has disputed. Despite, or because of, his legal woes, he's also managed to maintain a popular and lucrative rap career, topping the Billboard chart, issuing million-plus sellers and signing high-profile brand endorsements.
That changed last year, though, when the judge who first convicted Meek of a gun charge in 2008 sent him to a medium-security prison for two to four years over minor infractions, including popping a wheelie without wearing a helmet. "I won't let [my family] come [visit me]," he told Rolling Stone in a recent feature. "If they see me like this – fucked-up beard, hair all ganked – then it's like I'm really in here. Which I'm not."
Meek's conviction has become a cause célèbre, prompting words of support from the likes of Colin Kaepernick, Dr. Julius Erving, Rick Ross, T.I. and many others. (A rally was held in Philadelphia last November to draw attention to his case.) "The sentence handed down by the Judge – against the recommendation of the Assistant District Attorney and Probation Officer – is unjust and heavy-handed," Jay Z wrote on Facebook at the time. "We will always stand by and support Meek Mill, both as he attempts to right this wrongful sentence and then in returning to his musical career."
Here is the full history of Meek Mill's life on record and behind bars.
Circa 2001: Meek begins rapping publicly
At age 14, Meek starts battle-rapping on the corner of 24th and Berks in North Philadelphia. "I lost my first battle and walked away crying, saying, 'I'll be back strong, motherfuckers,'" the rapper tells Rolling Stone.
Circa 2004: Meek joins the Bloodhoundz
Before achieving solo success, the rapper fronted a crew called the Bloodhoundz that played a local club called Blue Horizon.
January 23rd, 2007: Meek Mill is accused of selling crack
A member of Philadelphia's Narcotics Field Unit (NFU), Reggie Graham, claims to have seen Meek sell crack to an informant. However, the rapper and three of his cousins dispute the accusation since they say Meek was in a courtroom supporting his cousin who was on trial.
January 24th, 2007: Meek Mill is arrested
After the NFU police obtained a warrant to search Meek's house, the officers handcuff him outside his home; Meek has said in the past that he was on his way to a corner store. He'd been carrying a gun at the time, but he says he ditched it; Graham later claimed that Meek had pointed the gun at him. During the violent bust, in which the police allegedly used Meek's head as a battering ram to open the door, they found about $30,000 that belonged to his cousin, William Bailey, who sold weed. Meek spends several months in a county prison.
August 19th, 2008: Meek is found guilty of a gun charge
Meek faced 19 counts when he finally goes before Judge Genece Brinkley for the first time. He waived a jury trial because of the costs, with Brinkley acquitting his co-defendants. She then found him guilty of seven charges, four of which concerned the gun. The misdemeanor offense of "illegal carry" typically warrants a fine and house arrest; the rapper got two years in a county prison and eight years of probation.
August 24th, 2008: Meek's Flamers mixtape comes out
The release introduces Meek's talent to the world.
February 24th, 2009: Meek releases Flamers 2: Hottest in tha City
After signing with T.I.'s Grand Hustle imprint, Meek releases his first bid at widespread popularity, Flamers 2. It features the track "Rosé Red." He follows it up the same year with Flamers 2.5: The Preview and 2010's Flamers 3: The Wait Is Over.
Fall 2009: Meek signs management deal with Charlie Mack
After Meek was released to house arrest, one of Will Smith's former bodyguards, Charlie Mack, approached the rapper and offered to help him with his legal troubles. After signing with Mack, the rapper brings the two-page contract to court and is released from house arrest. When Meek signs with a major label in 2011, he pays off Mack and seeks new management, eventually landing with Roc Nation.
2010: Rick Ross spots Meek, offers to record with him
Meek impresses Rick Ross at a college gig and later re-recorded "Rosé Red" with the Miami-based rapper. Ross signs Meek to his Maybach Music Group label and Warner Bros.
May 23rd, 2011: Meek appears on Self Made Vol. 1 mixtape
Meek raps on nine out of the 15 songs on the Maybach Music Group's lauded compilation, including "Tupac Back," which made it to Number Five on the Billboard 200. He later appears on 2012's Vol. 2 and 2013's Vol. 3.
August 11th, 2011: Meek releases Dreamchasers mixtape
The 70-minute comp features Rick Ross, Beanie Sigel, Yo Gotti and other rappers.
May 7th, 2012: Meek puts out Dreamchasers 2
The follow-up once again pairs Meek with Rick Ross and features appearances by Kendrick Lamar, Wale, French Montana, Drake and others. Heavy interest in the album caused mixtape site DatPiff to crash upon its release.
October 30th, 2012: Meek releases debut album
Dreams and Nightmares reaches Number Two on the Billboard 200 and is later certified platinum.
October 31st, 2012: Meek is arrested for suspected marijuana use but later released
Meek was promoting his first album in New York when Hurricane Sandy landed, causing the rapper to split for Philadelphia to fly to a gig in Atlanta. While en route to the airport, police pulled him over because of his window tints and claimed they smelled weed in his car. Meek says he was arrested for not allowing the police to search his car. They arrested him and impounded the car, holding him overnight. He was later released. The arrest allegedly caused him to miss out on tens of thousands of dollars he would have earned from the Atlanta gig and cost him a significant amount of money in an endorsement deal with Puma, which reduced the amount it wanted to pay him from $2 million to $650,000, according to The Inquirer.
November 16th, 2012: Meek faces violation-of-probation hearing
Brinkley charged Meek with violating his probation and ordered two drug tests, both of which turned out to be clean. She nevertheless blocks Meek from touring.
December 18th, 2012: Meek violates parole again
Judge Brinkley grounds Meek for the holidays after the rapper continues to book concerts while on restricted travel, according to XXL.
March 16th, 2013: Meek is denied new probation officer
At another hearing, Meek's probation officer claimed the rapper left Pennsylvania without notification. He said that his schedule can change quickly, XXL reports, and asked for leniency. He also requested a new probation officer, but Brinkley denied him.
June 28th, 2013: Meek is ordered to take etiquette courses
Judge Brinkley requests that the rapper take etiquette courses after references to his probation officer on social media incited fans to send the officer death threats, according to Philly.com. The courses were intended to teach Meek how to conduct himself online. They were "more important than any concerts he might have," Brinkley said.
September 29th, 2013: Dreamchasers 3 comes out
This installment featured appearances by Rick Ross, Fabolous, Jadakiss and Meek's one-time girlfriend Nicki Minaj.
July 13th, 2014: Meek gets three to six months
At a probation hearing, Brinkley handed the jail stint down to the rapper after he failed to get the judge's permission to travel for concerts. The judge referenced a drug test where Meek tested positive for Percocet, which he'd started using after he'd gotten his wisdom teeth pulled (He later sought treatment and recovered.) She also scolded him for tweeting negative things about his probation officer and prosecutor, for giving the officer a bad phone number and supposedly being "combative" and "disrespectful" to probation staffers, according to Philly.com. He'd also posed for a Facebook photo holding a gun. Meek was released in December, Billboard reports.
June 29th, 2015: Meek releases Dreams Worth More Than Money
The album hits Number One on the Billboard 200 and is certified platinum.
December 17th, 2015: Meek is legally grounded again
Brinkley bars Meek from performing and recording until February over parole violations, XXL reports.
February 6th, 2016: Meek gets 90 days of house arrest and community service
After a four-and-a-half–hour hearing that included several passionate testimonials in Meek's favor, Brinkley required the rapper to wear an ankle bracelet and barred him from recording and performing over a supposed probation violation. Meek told the court he planned to "get more life coaching," according to Philly.com, and that he felt bad for "embarrassing" his probation officer and the court. "I believe I can be the bright star you expect me to be," he told the judge. Nevertheless, Billboard reports she sentenced him to six more years of probation. His house arrest ends in June.
October 27th, 2016: Meek puts out DC4
The fourth and most recent installment of Dreamchasers features Lil Uzi Vert, Nicki Minaj and Young Thug, among others. This record made it to Number Three on the Billboard 200.
2016: Meek loses lucrative sponsorships
Unable to travel or promote brands, Meek finds companies like Puma, Ciroc and Monster canceling their sponsorships with the rapper as he gets 12 months of house arrest for moving a video shoot from one location to another within Philadelphia.
March 15th, 2017: Meek is charged with misdemeanor assault in St. Louis airport
After an airport employee attempted to take a picture with the rapper, a fight broke out, leading authorities to arrest Meek and two airport employees. He was given a summons, according to TMZ, instead of having to appear in court. The site reported in October that the case was thrown out.
May 23rd, 2017: Meek is sued by the family of a fan who died at a concert
TMZ reports that the family of Travis Ward sued Meek and the Connecticut venue where he performed in December 2016 for setting up an environment where "thugs" could incite violence after the show. He and another concertgoer were gunned down after the concert.
July 21st, 2017: Meek releases Wins & Losses
The rapper's third studio album makes it to Number Three on the Billboard 200.
August 17th, 2017: Meek pops wheelies on Instagram and is fingered by NYPD
While in New York for an appearance on The Tonight Show, Meek saw some kids riding dirt bikes and asked if he could ride one. His cameraman captured him popping wheelies (without wearing a helmet) on Instagram Live and the next day NYPD stopped him, arresting him for a felony count of reckless endangerment. The charge was later reduced to a misdemeanor and later dismissed. Brinkley later charged him with breaking probation and kept him from traveling.
November 6th, 2017: Meek goes to prison for probation violations
Brinkley decided to jail Meek for two to four years after he failed a drug test (The Washington Post reports it was for Percocet) and did not comply with a court order that limited his travel, according to Billboard. His lawyers said that Meek had been off drugs since January and that he'd been cooperative with most probation requirements. They vowed to appeal the decision.
November 13th, 2017: FBI investigates Brinkley
The New York Post's Page Six reports that the FBI has had undercover agents in courtrooms monitoring Brinkley's handling of Meek Mill's case since April 2016. This followed claims from Meek's attorney that Brinkley had shown bias by asking the rapper to leave Roc Nation and return to working with Charlie Mack. Mack denied any conspiracy.
November 29th, 2017: Meek is sued by family of murdered concertgoer
As with Travis Ward's family, the relatives of Jaquan Graves filed a wrongful death suit against Meek and Roc Nation, alleging he was shot and killed after leaving the rapper's Connecticut concert in December 2016. TMZ cited the suit, which claimed the rapper and management company "allowed thugs to remain on the premises, after exhibiting disorderly, disruptive, argumentative, angry and/or agitated behavior toward patrons."
March 7th, 2018: Graham blacklisted by district attorney
The Philadelphia district attorney's office names Reginald Graham, who arrested Meek Mill in 2007, as one of 29 former police officers that should not be summoned for testimony as witnesses. TMZ reports that the officer was "investigated by federal authorities for several alleged acts of corruption."