When A$AP Rocky was thrown into solitary confinement in a Swedish prison after he was involved in a street brawl in Stockholm two years ago, he found himself with a very unlikely ally.
The Harlem-born rapper, real name Rakim Mayers, and two members of his entourage had been arrested and charged with assault causing actual bodily harm in July 2019, days after they were followed by two men allegedly on the prowl for some trouble.
A$AP’s bodyguard had tried to warn the strangers away, telling them to go the other way and leave their group alone. “We don’t want to fight y’all,” A$AP is heard saying to the men. “We’re not trying to go to jail.”
But as the men continued to follow them through the streets, A$AP and his crew took matters into their own hands, seen on video throwing one man, Mustafa Jafari, to the ground and kicking him.
Although they were adamant that they acted in self-defense, A$AP and his friends were hauled off to jail, and because Sweden has no bail system, they were held there with little contact with the outside world until their trial.
A$AP’s team quickly tried everything in their power to get him out, calling on some of his closest friends in both the hip-hop and fashion industry to make some noise, including Justin Bieber, Naomi Campbell, Meek Mill, and Kim Kardashian, using social media to campaign for his release.
But it was the public lobbying from President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump that took many by surprise, including A$AP. Trump “offered to personally vouch for his bail” to Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, later tweeting “Give A$AP Rocky his FREEDOM. We do so much for Sweden but it doesn’t seem to work the other way around.”
While A$AP said he was grateful that Trump took it upon himself to get involved, he was initially worried that the celebrity-obsessed president would do more harm than good.
“I was kinda scared that Trump was going to fuck it up,” A$AP admits in Stockholm Syndrome, the new documentary about his imprisonment that premiered at Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday. “But on the other hand, I kinda was like ‘that’s what’s up.’ I mean, you want the most support you [can]. When the president supports you, I felt good. For the most part, I don’t think he ever knows what’s going on in the urban communities or the urban divisions of this political shit.”
“So, I was thankful for that, I can’t lie,” he added. “I was also scared that it was going to jeopardize me being in there longer.”
After a grueling month in prison and a high-profile three-day trial in a Swedish court, a judge finally ordered that A$AP to be released, although he was later found guilty of assaulting the 19-year-old who followed him. Trump gleefully celebrated the rapper’s release and in a corny pun, he tweeted, “It was a Rocky Week, get home ASAP A$AP!”
But if Trump was expecting a gushing thank-you from the musician and his team, he was sorely mistaken, leading those close to his administration to gripe about the snub to the media.
“It was a chess move,” A$AP said. “They tried to strong-arm a lot and in reality, I had no problem saying ‘thank you’ to the man, especially if he helped me, but that was the narrative they were pushing, that he got me out. He didn’t free me, if anything, he made it a little worse.”
While A$AP’s plight brought worldwide attention to the faults in both America and Sweden’s criminal justice systems, the instant rallying around A$AP was seen by some as ironic. Many had dug up the “pretty boy” rapper’s past comments where he seemingly sneered at the Black Lives Matter movement.
Now here his team was, decrying the same racial injustices that A$AP had waved off as not being his problem, hoping to have those same activists on his side.
“I’m A$AP Rocky, I did not sign up to be no political activist,” the rapper said during a Time Out interview in 2015. “I live in fucking Soho and Beverly Hills. I can’t relate… That’s my life. These people need to leave me the fuck alone.”
Following widespread criticism, A$AP made matters worse the next year when he attempted to clarify what he meant, saying his comments were taken out of context. “I hate when the bandwagon stuff starts,” he told The Breakfast Club podcast in 2016. “How come, you know, Black lives only matter when a police take ’em, when a police officer takes it? And it should be like, Black lives, it should matter when a Black life take it. You know what I mean? It should always matter.”
But reflecting on his past comments in the documentary, A$AP set the record straight, saying, “I was wrong.”
“He didn’t free me, if anything, he made it a little worse.”
“Those old interviews I used to say shit like, ‘I think it was inappropriate to rap about certain shit I didn’t help with,’” he explained. “When in my case, it was people that had never been to Sweden, people who had never been to Harlem. There’s people who don’t know A$AP Rocky but still were sympathetic to my situation, were vocal, and helped my situation.”
“I don’t think I ever fully understood the concept of what Black Lives Matter was,” he added.
“I didn’t know if it was a group, if it was a hashtag, what was the purpose, what was the meaning. That was definitely at a place of a time of just me learning, it was a learning experience. I could easily sit here and say this is what I meant, this was misconstrued, but I was wrong.”
Throughout the documentary, A$AP is candid about his imprisonment, as well his childhood, opening up about the death of his older brother Ricky, who was shot on the same Harlem corner they had grown up on; the passing of his father in 2012; and the loss of his best friend and A$AP Mob founder Yams in 2015.
“I think solitary confinement gave me time to reflect on a lot,” he said. “I was in that [cell] 23 hours a day, in one room. This shit is an ongoing nightmare, it was like a bad joke. It was pretty lonely. It’s almost like being trapped in one room with your thoughts, because that’s all you have to reflect off on.”
“I never shared this, but I kind of felt like my father sacrificed a lot for me to be here,” he continued. “My dad didn’t die until a week before my first album came out, so he got to see me through this and got to be happy. As long as you could make them proud, that’s such a gift from God. I thank God I could make my dad proud before he died. He told me himself that he was proud, and that shit, that’s… yeah.”
Moving forward, A$AP said he has realized that he has a duty to help fight the injustice he witnessed first-hand in Sweden, noting how many of the men he met in prison have nowhere near the number of connections he has. Many face years behind bars with no hope of getting out due to the lack of a bail system in the country.
“My platform, I need to expose [Sweden’s] system and how a lot of different people from ethnic backgrounds are being mistreated over there,” he reflected. “It doesn’t matter if it’s America or outside of America, we are endangered species everywhere we go on God’s green earth. I’m never one to just play the race card but that’s the truth.”