Meek Millâ€™s legal battles and subsequent advocacy for sentencing reform has made him a folk hero. Yet even before the â€śFree Meek Millâ€ť T-shirts, the Philadelphia rapper born Robert Williams earned a reputation for perseverance, whether it was weathering the mockery that ensued after his 2015 rap battle with Drake resulted in a disappointing TKO loss, or enduring a two-year romance with Nicki Minaj that threatened to turn him into a gossip punchline (and yielded his biggest hit to date, the syrupy â€śAll Eyes on Youâ€ť). His defining track, the deathless 2012 banger â€śDreams & Nightmares,â€ť found him screaming into the void, unbowed over a track that shifted from a heavenly piano arpeggio to a stormy trap thunderstorm. It became a metaphor for a career that refuses to wither in spite of daunting odds.
Much like Meek Millâ€™s recent, galvanizing live appearances at Hot 97â€™s Summer Jam and the 2018 BET Music Awards, the four-track EP Legends of the Summer seems designed to sustain heightened public interest until he can record a proper follow-up to last yearâ€™s Wins & Losses. He capably distills all the usual elements of his major studio affairs. Thereâ€™s a fire-breathing, elbow-swinging opener in â€śMilladelphia.â€ť Itâ€™s followed by â€śDangerous,â€ť a radio-baiting R&Bae jam that sports cameos from the hook-slinging lothario Jeremih and the interchangeable rap singer PnB Rock. The third track is a thugginâ€™ in the club number, â€ś1am,â€ť that wouldnâ€™t sound out of place on a mid-2000s album by 50 Centâ€™s G-Unit crew.
The closing number, â€śStay Woke,â€ť rewards our patience for sitting through Meekâ€™s commercial gambits. Itâ€™s a lyrically complicated piece that finds Meek worrying over fake friends, sharing his gratefulness for the financial ability to buy his mother a house, admitting to past mistakes and, most importantly, connecting his experience to a generation of black men whose missteps elicit an unnecessarily draconian response from the criminal justice system. R&B singer Miguelâ€™s serviceable chorus feels extraneous, but it helps sweeten Meekâ€™s blocky, ultra-charged rhymes.
Perhaps the best thing about Legends of the Summer canâ€™t be measured in song quality. Over a breezy 13 minutes, Meek Mill fills his listeners with hope that, yes, it is possible to survive and thrive in a country seemingly determined to deliver rough extrajudicial justice to people of color. The EPâ€™s brevity works in its favor, allowing Meek to briefly engage his followers without settling into the kind of formulaic tedium that has sometimes marred his full-length albums. And it sets the stage for what may be the next phase of his career: a rap superstar fully aware of his cultural power. â€śIâ€™ve got the key to the streets!â€ť he boasts on â€śMilladelphia.â€ť Yes, he does. The question now is what he will do with it.