Meek Mill hasn’t been on a tour since 2017, thanks to the machinations of the criminal justice system and one judge in Philadelphia who Meek and his attorneys say held a personal grudge against him throughout his case. But it’s safe to say, I think, that performing on stage is like riding a bike — at least, that’s how it looked Thursday night at the Hollywood Palladium for the Los Angeles stop of Meek’s Motivation Tour. The Championships rapper hasn’t lost a step or his flair for dramatic guest reveals and fiery, charismatic sets that take full advantage of his powerful voice and preference for thunderous, driving beats.
Some of that continued onstage comfort undoubtedly comes from Meek’s willingness to give the fans what they want. Usually, that means “play the hits,” but in his case, it means “play ‘Dreams And Nightmares (Intro).’” It’s like “Seven Nation Army” at a ball game, or maybe “We Will Rock You.” You will hear this song at a Meek Mill show and you will be forced, by shared energy or sense of obligation or just plain enjoyment of the moment, to turn up. It’s predictable, but only in the sense that Rocky — or Adonis, now — will win the final fight of the film. “Dreams And Nightmares” has become Meek’s unofficial theme song and it hits just as hard every time.
But Meek also knows that you can’t just live off the fan favorites. You have to get those out of the way early and get to the other fun stuff so you can create a new set of favorites. Thursday night, he definitely led off with the predictable hit, but that only warmed up the crowd for him to launch into the triumphant comeback material from Championships. “Uptown Vibes” and “What’s Free,” received tremendous reactions and PNB Rock and newcomer Melii were welcome additions to the proceedings on their respective jams (“Dangerous” for PNB and “Wit The Sh*ts (W.T.S.)” for Melii).
Of course, the biggest crowd pops were reserved for the appearances of three other guest stars. One, LA hometown hero Nipsey Hussle, doesn’t have a song with his host, but the pair share a label home, Atlantic Records, as well as a rugged, no-nonsense business ethos rooted in their similar upbringings on the streets of their respective home cities. The crowd improbably livened up when Nipsey appeared, but when Nipsey brought a guest of his own in the form of Compton’s YG, with whom he ripped through a scintillating rendition of “Last Time That I Checc’d.”
However excited the audience got when the two local legends took their bow, they practically turned the entire place upside as Drake sauntered onstage to deliver his verse from his and Meek’s Championships reunion, “Going Bad.” Looking around, not one person in the building wasn’t holding a phone, doing their best to get clean footage to prove to their friends and family that they were there when it happened. Even my own shot — for work purposes, I promise — is filled with other folks’ screens in the bottom third, which just goes to show how hard people were trying to get their shots over their neighbors.
I’m pretty tall — at least compared to most people — so what should have been an easy shot for me actually became difficult thanks to the stretches everyone else was making. Funnily enough, it was my second time at show where Drake popped up in as many months (he previously put in an appearance at ASAP Rocky’s February Forum set), but it was my first time actually seeing him in years, since I left the Forum literally five minutes before he came out a Rocky’s show. This time, I was skeptical he’d pop up at a smaller venue, but I’ve never been more glad to be wrong.
That being said, Meek didn’t really need Drake, or even Nipsey and YG, to control the stage and put on one of the better shows I’ve seen in a long time. There was no gimmickry. The stage design was simple but effective — a billboard-sized screen playing a few video clips on loop, mainly one proclaiming the name of the tour. An interesting thing about that: The screen was placed much further downstage (toward the front of the stage, near the audience), clipping the amount of area Meek had to cover. It felt odd at first, but the drama kid in me recognized its subtle, smart effect: It pushed the performers to stay closer to the audience, which actually redoubled the energy reverberation between them and the crowd.
What that means is, where usually, an artist might be tempted to use the negative space to shy away from the crowd, catching a break or feel the need to roam to fill it up, Meek and company were stuck face front right on the lip. The space they had to cover was halved, giving them a little bit of a break from having to keep the crowd’s attention from wandering to that negative space and keeping them right in the “splash zone,” which kept both the crowd and the artists totally engaged with each other. I liked it and I hope to see it again. It’s the sort of thing you pick up as a veteran of stagecraft, which is exactly what Meek is.
His openers were also pretty good at keeping that energy, because like Meek, they’ve been around long enough to hone that aspect of their craft. Kash Doll may just be getting a buzz now, but her earliest work dates back almost five years. She clearly used her time out of the spotlight to prepare well for her time in it. Likewise, Lil Durk has accumulated plenty of reps since his early days dropping mixtapes in the city of Chicago’s infamous drill days. Both openers set up Meek well and were excellent selections since they share similar, street-centric sensibilities and appeal to similar demographics. There was never a moment of “Who?” which is always a danger when an A-lister brings newer or less popular artists on tour with them. In this case, there was a definite sense that things were building up to the epic moment when Meek would take the stage.
And it was an epic moment. When a performer has been away for so long, it can be tempting — especially in hip-hop — to give up on them, to decide that they’re washed up, to slide them a little further down the totem pole of relevance in the fast-moving climate of today’s rap scene. Meek’s clearly maintained his relevance and kept his skills as sharp as ever. He has every right to revel in the exultant vibe of Championships and fans should hope that he never has to take such a long break again.
Meek Mill and Nipsey Hussle are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music.