Before superstar rapper Meek Mill walked onto the South Side Ballroom stage Friday night, the Philadelphia hero played a news clip in which he’s seen hopping out of an SUV and leaping into a helicopter owned by 76ers billionaire co-owner Michael Rubin — a dream come true for the 31-year-old.
After the clip played, Meek strolled onto the stage to the tune of his 2011 anthem “Dreams and Nightmares” and the crowd went wild to hear a track that is one of the most motivational pieces of music, while knowing at the same time Meek’s presence at the show was not a foregone conclusion. Less than a year ago, nobody would have confidently said Meek would be performing in front of a packed house after being sent to prison for popping a wheelie on a motorcycle in New York City — a “reckless endangerment” violation of his parole held against him from a crime committed over a decade ago. That incarceration of one of hip-hop’s biggest stars sent shock waves through the music industry, the NBA, NFL and prison reform activists across the country, sparking a movement for criminal justice reform.
All it took was at least three billionaires in the form of Rubin, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, hip-hop mogul Jay Z, and countless others who applied pressure on the Pennsylvania court system to help Meek achieve his freedom, while shining a light on countless other prisoners who are not afforded the same defense. The 2018 saga is a nightmarish tale brilliantly summed up by a Bleacher Report profile by Rembert Browne that feels like required reading.
But back in Dallas, the weight of the moment wasn’t so apparent. Instead, on a Friday night in the city, the crowd was all about turning up, which Meek made easy for them despite this being The Motivation Tour. With a huge stage production, his natural charisma and a set of tracks from his critically acclaimed Championships album, he did exactly what he’s meant to do as a rapper. But after witnessing the performance, Meek Mill is now a symbol for so much more.
Before performing “Trauma,” Meek played a clip from a 1994 Tupac Shakur interview in which the slain rapper speaks on his experiences with being locked up and continuing to tell the truth for his people with raw, uncut emotion — almost as if nothing has changed in 25 years and almost as if Meek is seeing his world in an all new light. To be honest, Meek is not the greatest performer. Even though he had a huge stage all to himself, he hardly moved from the center of it after the first few songs. Instead, he rapped his ass off, performing track after track with few breaks, but in those moments Meek made it clear that he wanted the crowd to understand the power of dreams.
During his most recent incarceration, Meek received numerous prison visits from Philly stalwarts like actor and comedian Kevin Hart, 76ers players Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, and the 76ers co-owner who had a friendship with the artist for over five years and who made him a frequent courtside figure at games. One day Meek told Rubin about a dream he kept having.
“He kept telling me about this dream,” Rubin said in the Bleacher Report profile. “He was like, ‘I keep having this dream where you pick me up in the helicopter.’ So when I got the call about Meek’s release [ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court], we had to make it happen.”
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And he did. Last spring Rubin picked up Meek in a helicopter as seen in the news clip he opened the show with, and they arrived at Game 5 of the 76ers' playoff series against the Miami Heat just in time to ring the ceremonial bell to start the game that they later won.
To close out the show, Meek explained to the crowd how important it is to hold on to your dreams, because sometimes that’s literally all you have. In a prison cell all Meek had was his dreams. Before he was a successful rapper, all he had was his dreams. Dreamchasers was the title of a mixtape series that helped propel him into the limelight. He manifested his life with that powerful thinking and good for him to pass on the wisdom. With Tupac seemingly playing such a large role in Meek’s life, it’s fitting to recall a poem by Shakur that carries the sentiment Meek embraces.
Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack
in the concrete
Proving nature’s laws wrong it learned to walk
without having feet
Funny it seems but by keeping its dreams
it learned 2 breathe fresh air
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else even cared!
— "The Rose That Grew From Concrete" by 2pac