On a balmy Chicago night, standing over a crowd of suburbanites buzzed off too much Bon & Viv spiked seltzer and cheap weed, Meek Mill was buoyantly free from the systemic strictures that have plagued the bulk of his adult life. In late July, the Pennsylvania Superior Court threw out a 2008 drug and gun conviction that has reared its head again and again, granting him a new trial and judge. It’s a complicated situation, but lately there have only been positive steps as of late.
As Meek stood in the middle of the Lollapalooza stage, he couldn’t stop smiling. The longer he stared out at the crowd, the more full his Cheshire grin grew. In the span of an hour, Meek tried to open up his first mosh pit for 2011’s “House Party” (a song that is decidedly not a mosh pit jam), simulated having sex with a blow-up doll he called “bad little white joint,” signed a fan’s jersey in the front row, and paused the show to touch hands with as many fans as he could.
“I’m acting up. I’ll smoke that shit right now,” Mill jokingly told the crowd as he encouraged them to smoke whatever they had.
Mill was enjoying the trappings of a successful modern rapper; something that’s evaded him in recent years. Moments earlier, the Phil Collins sampling “Intro” from Mill’s 2018 album Championships played like a pro-wrestler’s walk-on music. When the Philadelphia rapper finally emerged to the ghostly voice singing, “I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord / And I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life,” his message was clear.
For the bulk of his performance, Meek Mill leaned on help. To energize the crowd, he’d play Pusha T’s verse on Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like,” 2014’s “Faneto” of Lil Durk’s semi-hit “This Ain’t What You Want” from 2013. The choices lacked an awareness that those are not the only bangers made in the Midwest over the last half-decade., Mill also brought out a new Chicago star, Calboy, to perform their collaboration “Chariot.” The surprise didn’t register for the at-times catatonic, predominantly white crowd. More than a few people acted like they had no clue who Calboy was, despite the success of his juggernaut “Envy Me.” But the moment wasn’t for them, it was for Mill and the scions of street rap he still proudly resides over.
Mill’s performance only got more strange the moment his DJ broke out into a melody of other people’s songs ranging from DaBaby’s “Suge” to Travis Scott and Drake’s “Sicko Mode.” Predictably, the basic crowd launched into the opening refrain of the Astroworld hit to such an extent it seemed like the loudest moment of the night. If Mill’s recent career is devoid of solo hits (that aren’t the Drake-featuring “Going Bad”), it did not seem to phase him. As he ran out into the crowd, that signature grin just kept getting wider as he basked at the moment.
At his best, Meek is a beacon of inspiration. Many of his bar-heavy songs fail to translate to a live setting of Lollapalooza’s magnitude, but when a group sings, “They wanna see me fall,” from “1942 Flows” back at Mill it feels earned in a way that’s hard to replicate. Even the Ella Mai-featuring “24/7” got an outsized response; Mill still knows his way around an R&B hit.
By the time “Dreams and Nightmares,” his seve-year-old introduction, closed out the show, it resembled a victory lap. That song still defines his career, an unimpeachable summation of the duality facing the Philadelphia rapper. A couple of minutes earlier, Mill tried to convince the crowd that they were millionaires in the making and all their dreams were moments from becoming a reality. It was a man groomed by unmatched self-belief preaching that same stubborn will to never give up to the masses. Life is rarely that easy, but for an hour enough people watched a Philadelphia-rapper-turned-American-symbol prove it’s still a possibility, as long as you have the audacity to dream.