Since Meek Mill’s release from prison earlier this year, he’s been all about positivity. While he’s done everything from dropping the Legends of Summer EP to officially squashing beef with Drake, his most notable endeavor has been becoming one of the industry’s biggest advocates for prison reform and criminal injustice. Earlier this month, Puma launched its new #REFORM campaign, which was created to shed light on social issues, with Meek Mill as one of the lead partners.
In addition to the brand’s social activism efforts, Puma is also jumping back into the NBA, a sport it’s been on a hiatus from two decades. It’s been a full 20 years since rookie Vince Carter had a short-lived endorsement deal Puma, but now the brand is setting itself up for a huge comeback with a bunch of new signees including this year’s expected numbers 1 and 2 draft picks, Arizona’s Deandre Ayton and Duke’s Marvin Bagley III, hiring Jay-Z as president of basketball operations, and a new silhouette: the Puma Clyde Court Disrupt.
To kick off the launch of the Clyde Court Disrupt in Philadelphia, Meek Mill made an appearance at Foot Locker’s PumaLab, checking out customers at the register, playing basketball pop-a-shot with fans—and talking to Complex in between.
“It’s a good thing that a major company like Puma is willing to support reform because reform was never supported this much in this way until probably this year and last year,” said Meek Mill. “It’s a great feeling have. I love that Puma supports something as important as reform.”
Puma isn’t the only sportswear brand to touch on social issues. With Nike supporting Colin Kaepernick in its latest Just Do It campaign, the topic of brands getting into politics has been a topic of discussion. Some people believe sportswear brands should steer completely clear of politics, but Meek feels differently.
“I think you should always do what’s right, stand behind what’s right,” he explained. “These are the people that buy your products and spend their money on your business, so I think it’s only right to reach back and support those people.”
Meek Mill and Puma working together is by no means a new business endeavor designed to capitalize on taking a stance on social issues. The two have been working together since 2012. “It’s a partnership, it’s not just an endorsement,” said Meek Mill. “They support me and I support them to the fullest extent. All companies don’t really offer the partnership aspect when you do deals with them, so I think that’s why we’ve been successful together.”
In reality, the success of the partnership shouldn’t come as a surprise, as today’s artists often have just as much or more influence as athletes. Meek Mill sits with the likes of Rihanna and Big Sean as other celebrity partners. “I can’t really explain the feeling. I appreciate everybody who looks up to me,” he answered when asked about being role model to today’s generation. “I’m just being responsible and doing what I gotta do to keep on inspiring the youth.”
On top of being a role model, Meek has become a huge advocate for criminal injustice, which was sparked by his own legal issues. “I’ve been to jail four times from being on probation when I was committing crimes,” he said. “My own personal experience made me want to be a part of prison reform and help make a better change for the people.”
While Meek Mill isn’t an athlete, his work with Puma Hoops goes far beyond showing up to the launch of the new Clyde Court Disrupts and showing love to fans. As part of his on-going effort to redevelop Philadelphia, he also announced plans to refurbish and repaint the basketball court at East Fairmount Park.
“North Philly will always be home, so it’s special to partner with Puma, Roc Nation, and Project Backboard to give my community a fresh new basketball court,” he said. “When kids go to East Fairmount Park, they deserve to ball in the best conditions possible, so I’m glad they’ll have that opportunity now.”
Outside of his activism and work with Puma, Meek Mill has been in the studio working on his forthcoming album, which is slated to drop sometime this year. After posting a picture on Instagram with J.Cole, many people believed that he would be featured on the album, but the Philly rapper has yet to confirm.
“I’m not announcing nobody that’s on the project,” he said. “When my project comes, it just comes. We’ll release it and give the people the surprise they’ve been waiting for. I’ve been in the studio with every artist in the industry in the last three or four months."
Even with an album in the works, Meek Mill is also taking on the big screen with a major role in a new Jada Pinkett-Smith-produced film about bike life titled 12 O’Clock Boys. Ironically, Meek's love for riding, specifically popping a wheelie, was in part how he was last sent to jail for probation violation.
“This is my first big debut in the movie world and we actually start shooting next week,” Meek revealed. “I wouldn’t call acting a goal, it’s just something to help me expand my brand. It’s another challenge to attack. As opportunities come, if I like it, I take it.”