In April, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered Meek Mill’s release on bail from prison, where he had been serving two to four years for parole violations stemming from a decade-old drugs and guns conviction, the Philadelphia rapper could have done a victory lap and returned to the recording studio. Instead, he has resolved to turn his hard-won fight for justice into an organized effort to reform what he contends is a seriously flawed criminal justice system. With help from supporters, artists and friends like 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin and the principals of his label, Roc Nation, Mill is in the process of establishing a foundation that will work to exonerate wrongly accused inmates and reintegrate them into society.
“It’s going to be a real landmark in my life,” says Mill, who spoke to Billboard on the eve of receiving its inaugural Impact Award on Sept. 27 for dedicating himself to an issue long in need of reform.
What are your short-term goals?
Helping to change some of these probation laws that are keeping people like myself in prison despite the fact that no new crimes were committed.
Where do things stand with the foundation?
We’re going to announce it real soon. Some big people are attaching themselves. It’s going to be one of the biggest foundations for justice reform in the world.
What’s the state of your case at this point?
I’m out on bail for a technical violation of my two- to four-year sentence. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted me my freedom and is letting me fight from the outside. My case is weird because the district attorney is not contesting me [requesting] a new trial. I don’t even have anybody testifying against me. The cop that arrested me was basically labeled as corrupt by his own police force.
What did you learn from your lawyers’ court strategies?
Joe [Tacopina] taught me that sometimes, you’ve got to go to war. Brian [McMonagle] taught me to stay down and get what you need to get to where you need to go. Both [strategies] were needed.
How will your next album reflect what you’ve been through?
I’ma just deliver, give people my experience. People will be more in tune because if you didn’t pay full attention to me before, I might have crossed your path in the media.
‘A Learning Moment’: Why His Activism Matters
Rick Ross: I’m proud of Meek for turning a negative into a positive. He was unjustly incarcerated but he never let the circumstances beat him. Through this experience, he emerged stronger, as both a man and an artist. He has become the leader I always knew he was.
Michael Rubin, co-owner, Philadelphia 76ers: As long as I can remember, I have believed that things happen for a reason. Although Meek was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, and sent back to prison multiple times [despite] never committing a new crime, I’m grateful for his sacrifice. His story has been a learning moment and opened all of our eyes to the need for major criminal-justice reform. I thank Meek for helping me see this travesty, because I would’ve never understood the criminal-justice system’s unfair treatment of young black men before this. We’re very committed to making a huge difference with the foundation we’ll be announcing later this fall, and we’re looking forward to impacting millions of lives.
Charlamagne Tha God: When you go through a bad experience, it gives you a testimony to tell. You use that energy to teach so people don’t make the same mistakes you did. Meek is doing that, but also exposing a corrupt judicial system, and when someone with his voice and celebrity shines a light on that,
it speaks volumes. He becomes a megaphone for the unheard.