Walk into any Philadelphia sporting event and you’ll recognize the sound. Thudding base rocks the arena as a high-pitched refrain cuts through. All in attendance—including the players—proudly recite the words as a city rallies around a native son who was unjustly incarcerated.
It’s a phenomenon that rapper Meek Mill, who is serving a 2-4 year prison sentence for probation violation, can only hear about second-hand.
One voice he listens to often, though, plays a big part in fighting for his freedom. Fanatics owner and 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin has done more than provide lip service, investing time, money and sweat equity in helping his friend escape an untoward situation.
For Rubin, who hails from suburban Philadelphia and owned three ski shops by his senior year of high school, learning about Meek Mill’s probation and problems with Judge Genece Brinkley was eye-opening.
“It’s made me understand part of the world I didn’t understand,” Rubin said. “That’s what’s changed for me. We come from different worlds, this stuff doesn’t happen in my world. It happens in his world, and that’s unacceptable.”
Before Meek Mill was a famous rapper, he was an 18-year-old who was arrested when he was caught carrying a gun while shopping in a local grocery store. He served eight months in jail and was sentenced to five years probation.
Three years later he signed a record deal with rapper Rick Ross and his Maybach Music Group, a decision that would both propel him to stardom and lead to legal complications due to constant travel and a rapper lifestyle that clashed with his probation obligations. While he had minor slipups, Meek Mill mostly stayed on the straight and narrow early in his career.
At the height of his fame at the time, Meek Mill met Rubin a few years ago at All-Star Weekend. Rubin’s daughter recognized Meek Mill’s former girlfriend, Nicki Minaj, and a conversation sparked from there.
“I immediately gravitated towards him because he reminded me of myself,” Rubin said. “I barely made it out of high school, I went to college for two weeks, but I’ve always been like a sponge. He was like a sponge to me, just asking me so many business questions.”
Meek Mill and Rubin became closer as time wore on. They met each other’s families and developed a strong bond, one that extended outside of sporting events. When Meek Mill booked a performance outside of Philadelphia without Judge Brinkley’s permission, he landed a 3-6 month prison stint and rarely left the city after he served the time.
Rubin spent more time with Meek Mill during this period, and learned more about the inner workings of probation when his friend couldn’t accompany him on a trip from Philly to New York City.
It didn’t take long for Meek Mill to land back in court. Another unauthorized trip, a St. Louis airport scuffle and a motorcycle ride through New York City proved to be enough for another prison sentence. But this time Brinkley sentenced Meek Mill to 2-4 years in prison.
“The things that he told me all seemed so preposterous and crazy that they weren’t believable,” Rubin said. “Once he got to sent to jail and I started digging in in a really aggressive way, they’ve all turned out to be true. You wouldn’t believe that these things could happen, especially to someone with his success, but they’ve happened time after time.”
Rubin understands that mistakes were made on Meek Mill’s behalf, and that he is not completely blameless. He takes issue, however, with the heavy-handed jail sentence Meek Mill received, which largely stemmed from an absurdly long probationary period that dates back to a 2008 arrest.
“It’s right for people to say he broke his probation he should stay in jail,” Rubin said. “That sounds right to me, I would have said the same thing, except he’s been on probation as long as he’s been an adult. He’s never really had more than travel violations for his job.”
Now that Meek Mill has been in prison for three months, the focus has shifted some for Rubin. The plan isn’t just to use his influence to get Meek Mill out of prison, but for them both to take this negative situation and turn it into a positive for others.
“I started with how do I help him get out of jail as quickly as possible,” Rubin said. “Now this is like the probation system and criminal justice system are broken. How do we help make a big difference? So he’s firmly committed to it and so am I.”
Rubin didn’t want to completely speak on Meek Mill’s behalf, but the two talk often enough for him to know the rapper’s goals upon release. And, again, the focus isn’t about him.
“First, he feels like with everything he’s been through, he owes it to the world to help improve the criminal justice system,” Rubin said. “Somebody has to step up and change the probation system. There should be a cap on how long someone can be on probation. I think Meek feels like he can help better that.”
While new details in Meek Mill’s case continue to emerge—Judge Brinkley has come under intense scrutiny for her conduct in and outside the courtroom—the Philly rapper remains in a holding pattern for now. There’s little he can do from a jail cell but try to remain optimistic.
“I think Meek’s attitude is, 'I’m going to put my best foot forward every day and there’s nothing more I can do,'” Rubin said. “He knows he’s got people that love him, who are trying hard to help him.”