A$AP Rocky Says “I Was Wrong” About BLM In “Stockholm Syndrome” Documentary
by Jerry Barrow
On July 3rd of 2019 celebrating independence became something Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky would never take for granted again. While on tour in Europe, the MC born Rakim Mayers was arrested by Swedish authorities after he and several associates assaulted a local man named Mustafa Jafari in the street. Despite claiming self defense, Rocky was detained after performing at a concert and charged with gross assault. He faced a maximum of six years in prison if convicted.
The whirlwind events that followed are detailed with emotion and candor in his documentary, Stockholm Syndrome. At the time of his arrest Rocky was on his “Injured Generation Tour” promoting his 2018 album, Testing. He had been touring Europe since January of that year, giving facetime to thousands of fans who’d been indoctrinated into the extended A$AP family. A$AP–Always Strive and Prosper–is a movement cultivated by his flamboyant fashion sense, doggish loyalty to his friends and a sound that blended southern influences with unmistakable New York swagger. Along with fellow members like A$AP Ferg and the late A$AP Yams, Rocky spent close to a decade making his mark in the worlds of music, film and fashion, cementing him as a global super star. It made all of the sense in the world for him to be in Sweden. But stars get their light tested in the darkest times.
Rocky was no stranger to street scuffles. He was arrested in 2012 after an altercation in New York over some unwanted photos, but the stakes were higher now. In Sweden there is no bail and local authorities convinced a judge that Rocky would be a flight risk. So, he was held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day as he awaited trial. His manager’s phone was confiscated in a raid, making communication with his family almost impossible. “It was pretty lonely. It was like being trapped in your own thoughts,” Rocky confesses in the doc.
As word of his detention spread back in the States, fans and peers began to lobby for Rocky’s release. Boldfaced names like Kanye West and Kim Kardashian made pleas to then President Donald Trump to advocate on his behalf. His friends like Tyler The Creator appeared on Funkmaster Flex’s radio show and performed an expletive-filled freestyle about going to Sweden to free his friend and “have butt sex with Swedish men.” If a celebrity trial was a circus, A$AP’s was the Cirque Du Soleil of media events.
While his legal team poured over cellphone footage of the June 30th incident trying to build a defense, Rocky had time to reflect on his life and this is the portion of the doc that is actually more revealing than the details of the court case. Rocky shares his thoughts on those he’s lost, including his father, who passed away a week before his debut album dropped, and his brother, Richy, a Blood’s gang member who recruited Rocky into the infamous clique before kicking him out at the age of twelve. His brother, who was the inspiration for his style and his desire to rap, was shot to death on their block of 116th and Morningside. Then, of course, there is the death of his good friend A$AP Yams, who passed away from an accidental drug overdose in 2015. Watching Rocky recount finding Yams unresponsive and his failed attempts to revive him is one of the most poignant moments in the film.
While there were plenty of reasons to find empathy with Rocky, it was not the case for some of his critics. As word of his incarceration spread, old interviews resurfaced when he casted doubt on the validity of the Black Lives Matter movement. Flippant comments about protests in Ferguson were held up in the light to justify hanging him out to dry. But in another rare moment of vulnerability Rocky capitulates. “I don’t think I fully understood what the concept of Black Lives Matter was, if it was a group, if it was a hashtag…” he explains. “It was a learning experience. I could easily sit here and say ‘This is what I meant’ and ‘It was misconstrued,’ but I was wrong.”
It’s that spirit of reconciliation that inspires what transpires next and makes the title of this documentary so apt. While Rocky is eventually freed with time served (the film team does an excellent job of capturing the drama of the trial and his subsequent release) he decides to do the unthinkable and return to Sweden to perform. Stockholm Syndrome is described as a psychological response where a hostage or prisoner forms a bond with their captors. In this particular instance, Rocky is awakened to the plight of prisoners who weren’t as lucky as he was. So, in December of 2019 he held a prison-themed performance at Stockholm’s Ericsson Globe arena with dancers breaking free of cages as he launched into his hits. “With my platform I need to expose this system. A lot of people of different ethnic backgrounds are being mistreated. It don’t matter if it’s America or outside of America, we’re an endangered species everywhere we go on God’s green earth.”
So, whether you’re a die-hard fan of A$AP Mob, interested in criminal justice reform or just curious to see how a kid from Harlem manages to keep his head when all about him are losing theirs, Stockholm Sydrome is a worthy watch.
Here is a clip from the movie:
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Jerry Barrow is a Brooklyn, NY native who has been writing professionally since the late 1990’s. He currently contributes to various outlets including Vibe, Complex and LEVEL and hosts a podcast “Fathers Who Bother” where he interviews actors and musicians about their experience as parents. Follow his work on Twitter @JLBarrow. Check out some of his work for soulhead.