Two months after being released from prison, Meek Mill debuted the song, “Stay Woke,” a scathing critique on racial disparity, the criminal justice system and police violence during a performance at the BET Awards on Sunday night. The song features singer Miguel and is the rapper’s first record since his release.
The Philly-born rapper was introduced by fellow natives of the city, Lil Uzi Vert, Questlove, Black Thought and Kevin Hart, who was the first to announce Mill’s release from prison. The stage was designed to look like an urban neighborhood with members of the community reading the paper, selling drugs, walking to school and playing.
“It’s like a jungle outside, sometimes I wonder how I keep from going under,” the 31-year-old interpolates Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message,” which is revered as one of hip-hop’s most socially conscious records. As Meek continues with the song, there are some acts of violence depicted in the background. The most jarring visual was of a young girl being gunned down after a fight broke out between police and some young men in the street.
The scene closing shows the girl’s mother crying over her lifeless body before a cop covers the girl with an American flag, the stage design then shifts to a jail. A sharp commentary, which shows why Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players decided to take a knee during the national anthem.
“How can I pledge allegiance to the flag, when they killing all our sons, all our dads? I come from a place where you kill your own brother, you can brag,” he says.
Meek included his own issues of being trapped in the system into the song. He also touched upon the violence in underserved communities by wearing a sweatshirt honoring late rappers XXXTentacion and Jimmy Wopo, who were shot dead on June 18 in two separate incidents.
Meek Mill born Robert Rihmeek Williams, was arrested in 2017 for popping a wheelie on his dirt bike in New York City and for an altercation at the St. Louis International Airport. He was sentenced to 2 to 4 years in state prison because the arrests violated his probation from a gun and drug case in 2008.
At the end of his performance, men dressed in prison uniforms holding cell bars stop behind Meek Mill.
Due to his celebrity, the sentencing sparked a broader conversation about criminal justice reform with many public figures speaking in defense of the rapper including Reverend Al Sharpton and JAY-Z, who executive produced Time: The Kalief Browder Story, which presented how poverty unfairly impacts incarceration for Black and Latino individuals.
And best use of his platform tonight goes to Meek Mill. #BetAwards
— Charlamagne Tha God (@cthagod) June 25, 2018
Although the performance ended in a standing ovation and was highly regarded on social media with stars like Charlamagne writing, “And best use of his platform tonight goes to Meek Mill,” others were critical of the rapper memorializing XXXTentacion on his shirt. The Florida-born rapper has been the topic of debate since his death because of the abuse allegations made against him by his ex-girlfriend, which is a broader conversation about how famed men including R. Kelly can sustain lucrative careers despite allegations of repeated abuse.