The last time Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill played a concert in his hometown was back in February, when the up-from-the-streets rhymer headlined the Wells Fargo Center.
Monday night’s show by the 30-year-old rapper at the Fillmore in Fishtown was a far different affair — and not only because this time injury-plagued Sixers center Joel Embiid didn’t show up, take his shirt off, and dance around the stage.
The Fillmore fits roughly one-eighth of the South Philly sports arena’s 20,000 capacity, and on Monday, it was scaled down even further, with upstairs balconies closed down and curtained off.
It’s not that Philly’s most high-profile rapper is having a decline in popularity, though. Mill’s Fillmore appearance was one of three intimate pop-up shows he’s performing to promote his new album, Wins & Losses, which came out Friday.
Mill has always been a prolific mixtape-maker, dating back to the late 2000s and his Flamers series, and the 2010 release that claimed the title Mr. Philadelphia. But Wins & Losses is only his third official studio album, and it comes at a pivotal point in Mill’s career. He topped the charts with 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, but soon found that album’s success overshadowed by his well publicized feud with Canadian rapper Drake and his own (now ended) romance with rapper Nicki Minaj.
So the South Philly-born, North Philly-raised rapper born Robert Rihmeek Williams, ever the savvy marketer, rolled it out with three free shows presented in tandem with Jay-Z’s Tidal streaming service, including one Friday in New York and another scheduled for Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
“I wanted to come to my hometown and do a free show for all my supporters,” the rapper told the receptive crowd, who, by the time he hit the stage, had been gathered for about 2½ hours. During that time, a deejay played a mix of Mill’s own tunes, such as the Wins & Losses hit “Glow Up,” along with cuts by associates such as fellow Philly native Lil Uzi Vert and Cardi B, as well as (gasp!) Drake.
As he does on Wins & Losses, Mill came out hard at the Fillmore, wearing fashionably ripped jeans and backed by a drummer, DJ, and keyboard player-programmer. He emphasized his connection with the loyalists who have been with him from the beginning whom he calls his “Day Ones” in his song selection and between-song comments. (Minaj was not mentioned by name, though he did perform “All Eyes on You,” his duet with her from Dreams, and he said that while he had been in a relationship when he did that song, he was now a single man.)
“I had to get back to the trenches, had to get back to my streets,” he rapped energetically early on in “Left Hollywood,” from the first of his Meekend Music EPs, released earlier this year on his birthday in May. Later, after the confessional “Issues,” he told the crowd: “If it wasn’t for my city, there wouldn’t be no Meek Mill.”
And at the close of the quickly paced show, which lasted just under an hour, he brought out his framed platinum record for Dreams Worth More Than Money to show to the crowd. The earnest emcee said he wished “I could give one of these to every one of you.”
Although Wins & Losses often deals with serious subject matter, the show was structured as a party, one with lots of guests. The star of the show acted as host and hype man as blond-tressed Cardi B came out in the flesh to rhyme on her hit “Bodak Yellow.”
Offset, a member of the Atlanta trio Migos, and Philly rapper RecoHavoc also appeared, the latter a hyperactive presence who was trailed around the stage by a member of his crew dressed in an Eagles jersey filming the performance on his phone. As they did when Mill was on the mike, fans also held their phones aloft, either aiming them at the stage or at themselves, rapping along with every word.