Despite his slender frame and greater affinity with high-end fashion brands than street gangsterism, 30-year-old American rapper A$AP Rocky has never been one to avoid confrontation. Videos on YouTube show him threatening to ‘snuff’ a giant English man, who promptly tells him to ‘do one, bruv’. Thank God some people have kept the spirit of the duel alive.
Last month, however, words ended and fists flew. Rocky was arrested during a tour of Sweden, and video emerged of him swinging a young man through the air and into the pavement. Frankly, it was an impressive, if acutely dangerous, display of physicality. This, and he and his colleagues’ subsequent kicking and stomping of the young man and his friend, made this look like an open and shut case. A rapper, it seemed, had lived down to the worst stereotypes of the genre.
Still, two could play at releasing videos. Footage came out of the young men – who were sharply dressed, with an Arabic appearance and spoke seemingly broken English – bothering Rocky and his crew as they walked down the street. Time and again, the young rapper and his team would beg the men to leave them alone – with Rocky even addressing a phone camera to say he had no wish to be a part of trouble – but the men kept bothering them like terriers nipping at the heels of bigger dogs.
One of the young men was griping about broken headphones, but this seemed rather stupid. Video appears to show him swinging the headphones at Rocky’s bodyguards, and having encountered hooligans trying to bully tourists into compensating them for lost or broken property I am sympathetic to the theory that the obstinate young men were seeking confrontation. At the end of the video that preceded the brawl, a female associate of Rocky’s accuses the strangers of groping, though this alleged assault is not included in the footage.
There is a gap between these videos, of course, and there might have been events that preceded them, so it would be premature to draw final conclusions from the case. Obviously, such a violent assault would need a lot of mitigating factors to provide justification. But it is at least fair to think that it is very plausible that the young men were in some sense ‘asking for it’.
The law takes a firm line on initiating violence, though, still less on catapulting them into the sidewalk. It is not enough, in the eyes of the law, that these men were being annoying. It is not enough even if they had groped the women, as rightly or wrongly a judge would rule that the appropriate reaction would have been to call for the police. All that would be the rapper’s salvation is if was proved that the young men had initiated the violence themselves. This is at least possible. Both of them are facing charges of their own.
This would be the case, at least, if the rapper was not an American citizen. Legions of fans protested his imprisonment, especially when the supposed victims’ insufferable posturing came to light, and a petition demanding his release has acquired hundreds of thousands of citizens. Rocky’s manager even suggested that the conditions in the jail were inhumane, though this has been disputed by his Swedish lawyer.
As Rocky sat in jail, awaiting trial, protests grew. Kim Kardashian appealed to Donald Trump to intervene. Not only has she built a reputation for campaigning for legal reform but her sister, Kendall, is Rocky’s ex-girlfriend. Smelling a chance to create good publicity, Trump threw his ample weight behind this improbable cause. ‘Just spoke to @KanyeWest about his friend A$AP Rocky’s incarceration,’ the president tweeted:
‘I will be calling the very talented Prime Minister of Sweden to see what we can do about helping A$AP Rocky. So many people would like to see this quickly resolved!’
Cynics might suggest that President Trump was seeking an opportunity to flaunt his anti-racist credentials in the wake of his Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez et al. In a press conference in which he addressed Rocky’s case he laid brick-thick emphasis on the rapper’s support among African Americans and launched himself into a bizarre segue about how when he says ‘African American’ he means ‘everybody in this country, because we are all one.’
Such cynics are aided by the existence of tweets like those of Brenden Dilley, ‘author, speaker, life coach, personal trainer and entrepreneur’, who in a post with almost five hundred retweets said:
‘President Trump is about to help free ASAP Rocky and the psycho left will STILL continue to call him racist.
‘The guy could cure AIDS, Cancer and Diabetes and they would STILL call him evil.’
We can only hope that curing AIDS, cancer and diabetes will be next on Trump’s list of priorities after freeing A$AP Rocky.
But I think there is another aspect to Trump’s enthusiasm for this cause. He loves celebrities. The president is far more comfortable around entertainers than politicians, journalists and academics. Wading into a case involving Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and A$AP Rocky is far more fun for him than dealing with Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel or even Kim Jong-un. The same, I suspect, cannot be said of Vice President Pence, whose face was a mask of baffled professionalism as Trump spoke gravely about the jailed rapper. Nothing would please Trump more than if all world events involved beleaguered musicians, scandalous singers and half-mad reality TV contestants. The Vice President would soon be replaced by Kanye West.
Of course, the Swedes are well within their rights to evaluate Rocky’s case in a court of law. If ABBA were scrapping on American streets, after all, Americans would be within their rights to try them as well. It seems heavy-handed to have kept the rapper locked away, though, as it seems improbable that he poses a flight risk or a threat to the public. You also hope that all of the evidence which might explain his actions is exposed. Famous people have a well-earned reputation for acting as if they are above the law, but obscure people also have incentives, financial and egotistical to drag them into conflict and criminal wrongdoing. That seems to have happened here, though the next time someone is provoking him he would be wise to contact the authorities rather than living out his wrestling dreams.