Meek Mills speaks out on the unfair judicial system in the US in his new song “Stay Woke” featuring Miguel
Meek Mill has spent much of the last decade facing the wrath of the judicial system—in the back of the paddy wagon, cuffs locked on wrists, in courtrooms, in prison. He’d be the first to tell you he earned some of that time, but the system is designed to punish black mistakes more harshly. Meek’s latest prison stint was seen by many as an obvious miscarriage of justice, rallying everyone from JAY-Z to Pennsylvania’s governor to voice their support. The Philadelphia Eagles took the field at the Super Bowl to his “Dreams and Nightmares” intro, and won. On his first day after getting out, he attended a Philadelphia 76ers playoff game. Meek knows these luxuries aren’t afforded to everyday defendants that aren’t celebrity rappers. And so, with the world watching his next move, he wants to speak on their behalf.
The Miguel-featuring “Stay Woke,” his first new song since he was released in April, is introspective rap meets powerful polemic. He chooses his words and targets carefully, taking responsibility for his actions, but condemning the conditions that make such actions necessary and the cycle that perpetuates mass incarceration. He seeks out a better way than his for younger rappers and the fans that follow them. Each line is well-measured and aware of the stakes. “In a world where black is wrong and white right, it’s like a combat,” he declares. “We go to war for our freedom.”
The idea of “staying woke” traces its origin back to Erykah Badu and Georgia Anne Muldrow, but the term has since become ironic or misused. Meek takes staying woke back to its essence, hoping his story can inspire change on a greater, more structural level: He draws a straight line from social imbalances to systematic ones to the endless probation conditions that landed him a felony charge for doing motorcycle tricks. “It’s amazin’, this environment we was raised in/On them papers, one mistake and I’m gettin’ caged in,” he raps. “You gotta feel me, feel like the system tryna kill me/Got arrested and the charges F1 for popping wheelies, stay woke.”
Over the years, Meek Mill has developed a reputation as a shout rapper, and he has plenty to be angry about, but the verses on “Stay Woke” are performed with a sigh, not so much indignant as they are sad and tired. His commanding presence still lords over producer Mike DZL’s howling beat, and Miguel echoes Meek’s sentiments with triumphant backing vocals, but there is something more subdued about the energy Meek gives off. His even-tempered words ring out louder than if he were screaming them: “How can I pledge allegiance to the flag/When they killin’ all our sons, all our dads?” he asks, before taking the streets to task for their role in the cycle: “I come from a place, when you kill your own brother you can brag/Like he got bodies, but that’s a fad, no, that’s a fact.” “Stay Woke” is gut wrenching, but hopeful: It speaks for those trapped without a voice and attempts to open the eyes of those that might feel confined to the same path Meek once walked.