With his album Dreams & Nightmares debuting on the US Billboard 200 chart at number 2 on its first week, it's truly a living testament that hard work does pay off. Just a few years ago, the son of Philly explained to us this was something he would never imagine. Living life tangled up in the streets and eventually spent some hefty time in jail. From that, he's become one of hottest young acts in 2012 with a recent signing to Maybach Music and ultimately becoming a household name synonymous with rhyme skills up to par with the best of them. He shares us the highs and lows and how things all came about to his rise to fame.
How did you get your start, what drove you, and how did you get to where you are today?
I learned a lot of it came from my hunger, and feeling of always to be something in life. I also learned the more harder you work, the more better you get at things, so throughout my life, when I set my focuses on something, I just work hard at it. It works, because I’ve seen the results firsthand through hard work, I saw my music skills elevate and surpass others who were rapping and I just kept working hard and eventually got signed to Maybach Music. It doesn’t stop though, I still continue to work hard to this day after the MMG deal.
When did you feel you were able to make a career out of this?
Probably around the time I was 19 years old and just came out of jail, and people starting buying my mixtapes and I was getting booked for shows for $3500 a night and such. Where I come from 7 to 8 grand a month is wonderful. So that was the point where I felt I could really make a living off this.
Who inspires you right now musically and who are you currently listening to?
I like Drake, Rick Ross, and I like all the artists who are hot right now and doing numbers and shooting all their videos at the same time – there’s a respect I have for that. As far as back in the day, I would say is Jadakiss, Jay-Z, Nas, DMX. These are the people who helped molded my flow, my style is essentially pieces from all these guys put together.
What’s your advice to young, aspiring artists? What would tell kids who are trying to break it in the business?
My advice would be to hustle harder than anyone else you ever knew, don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t do it. I came from the bottom with no money fresh out of jail, straight to one of the hottest young acts in the game. I wanted it, I was hungry. I came home, seen it, and went and got it.
What steps did you take, that others can take?
I started rapping when I was 11, me and my friends used to walk to and from school and just cypher. I also used to just plug in the tape decks and record the radio with me rapping over the songs and sort of creating these “karaoke tapes” and began passing them out in the hood.
You’re an avid PUMA supporter and seemingly the shoe of choice for you. Tell us about that.
I’m from Philly, so in Philly we’re always wearing PUMA , it’s part of who we are. Puma shoes with the Puma tracksuits. I wear Puma all day. I’m looking to bring back that but with different elements and variations of offerings. So right now, I’m partnering up with PUMA and my aim is to take their lifestyle segment to new levels.
What was your approach to the project and what kind of PUMA products can we expect?
We’ll be working on a full apparel line that includes shoes. But my next step is working on my own PUMA shoe. Some of the PUMA silhouettes are so classic, I really don’t want to change it any way shape or form, I just want to add my own fly sh*t to it. I can’t disclose too much (laughs), but you’ll see soon.
This new PUMA shoe, what was the theme behind the design?
I was really inspired by Jeremy Scott. I’m still keeping my options open, but there will certainly be some of his influence with my own added flair to the design. It won’t be a new PUMA shoe, but it will be fly and something never before seen. I’m looking very forward to working with PUMA, it’s always been a dream.
Tell us about your upcoming album Dreams & Nightmares? What is the concept?
When I made the title, I just wanted to give people both sides of my life. The dream part represents the present, right now, me doing interviews, performing on stage and living life comfortably. The nightmare part is my past, me in the streets, the feeling of knowing I wanted to be a rapper but being tangled up in the streets, in the system, being in the wrong places and also showing what it took to get to where I’m at today. I just wanted to be personal and show them both sides of the story.
What’s your favorite song on the album?
I would say “Traumatized” touches me the most. I’m talking about my dad throughout the song and how he died in the song. “Young Kings” was also one of my favorites and of course “Maybach Curtains” that featured Rick Ross, John Legend and Nas.
Biggest Dream? Worst Nightmare?
I would say I’m catching my dream right now and my worse nightmare is waking up back in jail. But I will say, my biggest fear is losing it all. So that’s why everyday when I wake up I try to stay on top of my game. Listening to beats, making sure I’m lyrically exercised, and staying on top of my game. If I lose all that, that would also be my worst nightmare.
What does a perfect weekend in Philadelphia look like?
A perfect weekend in Philly for me is riding bikes, I love riding (dirt) bikes. So that’ll be the first thing I do, get some good songs knocked down in the studio, and just chill, have fun with the family. Not really too much.
What's in store for you in 2013?
I see a second album, definitely a mixtape. I come from the mixtape game, so I feel I will always drop tapes and overall bigger moves with people I’ve been partnering with. I have a couple new companies I’m partnering up with and we’re putting a few things together. But overall, you can expect more hunger and me trying to top my first album and my Dreamchasers 2 mixtape and just go hard in 2013.
Any final words?
Chase your dreams, stay on top of your game no matter what you’re doing. Work harder than anyone else you know and hard work will pay off.
Meek Mill's debut album Dreams and Nightmares is available now through iTunes.
Photography: Jerry Buttles for HYPETRAK