There’s no doubt about it, we want Meek to win.

Since his recent incarceration, and accusations of unfair treatment by his judge, Meek Mill became, fully and truly, a symbol for America’s cold treatment of its ex-cons, particularly towards African Americans. Even Jay-Z showed out for the kid; his return by helicopter to that 76ers game was instantly practically the stuff of legend.

As cynical as it feels to acknowledge, nothing could have been better for his flagging career. Having completely fumbled a beef with Drake through his own bafflingly clumsy maneuvers, Meek Mill’s future just a few short years ago seemed all too uncertain.

Returned from his recent mistreatment, all was forgotten or forgiven. Even, famously, by Drake. However, this put a lot of pressure on the still young Philly rapper: to put out an album that genuinely built on all the importance placed on his newfound freedom.

It turns out we put too much on an artist who’s always been best in doses. Mill’s blunt force assault of a flow can really only do so much, and the 70 minutes that compose Championships stretches it far too thin.

Things starts off well enough. Despite the intro featuring the most painfully obvious sample choice possible (woah man, have you heard of this song ‘In the Air Tonight’?) and the shrug-inducing inclusion of a reliably dull Fabolous verse on ‘Uptown Vibes’, Meek still manages to keep things moving. ‘Trauma’ boasts a flawless beat courtesy of Don Cannon, and while ‘On Me’ is a needless diversion, the fun of a Meek x Cardi collaboration is still entertaining in the face of Nicki Minaj’s continual bitter implosion (please: take some time off, you’re doing way too much). Next up, ‘Free’ is certainly a moment, with Jay-Z, still reinvigorated post-4:44, making good on his prior support with a verse for the ages and big MMG boss Rick Ross hurling fire in all directions. Unfortunately, Rozay is hindered by yet more hip hop homophobia in 2018, but the song remains a problematic highlight.

From here, things go in and out from classic to awry. Drake turns out to be an unnecessary, distracting presence; with the two clumsily ignoring their prior drama on wax, what could have been an epic reunion is simply another chance for Aubrey to remind everyone he's the biggest boy, with the biggest toys, on the playground. We know, Drake, honestly, we know.

To be fair, the album isn’t without additional highlights. The title track and ‘Stuck in My Ways’ offer solid reflections on the rapper’s life then and now. He also manages to very much bring it all together on powerful closer ‘Cold Hearted II’, but it’s telling that he ended what should be a grand new chapter on a sequel, and it’s too little, too late.

The most bizarre stumbles come in the form of random auto-tuned pop diversions from Meek himself, with ‘Almost Slipped’ suffering from needless standard rap sexism, and ‘100 Summers’ in particular, despite emotional verses, sounding like a rote attempt at sounding like Young Thug (who, no less, is featured earlier on a Future-boasting collaboration that would sound at home on any trap project in 2018, it’s so lacking in identity).

This proves a problem for Championships overall, collaborations with the likes of Kodak Black and 21 Savage, among others, sounding closer to a song from their projects featuring Meek Mill, rather than the other way around, with Savage in particular consuming ‘Pay You Back’ so entirely one nearly forgets Meek is on the track at all, let alone that it’s his album bumping.

For an album with so much importance placed on it, perhaps expectations betrayed the project, but with Meek seeming all too aware of the greater societal meaning behind his recent struggles, his insistence on releasing a perplexingly bloated, often aimless album is both a head-scratcher and a true waste of potential.

Then again, Meek Mill has never shown himself to be a particularly gifted curator or self-editor, all too aware of how to craft a triumphant banger, but woefully unsure how to put them together into a consistently compelling album. He has one setting at which he truly excels: 1000%. Naturally, that would be entirely exhausting across 70 minutes, and, to his credit, Meek doesn’t reach for that here. Yet, what he does fill the spaces in between that trademark breathless energy with simply fails to match the anthems. This may simply be the best we can hope for, and for such an interesting figure, and meaningful return, that’s a shame.