When pop-culture historians look back on the summer of 2019, they’ll single out the case of A$AP Rocky vs. Sweden as a prime example of things finally going from mildly surreal to totally bat-shit crazy.
First, a primer on a saga that sadly speaks volumes about how low the world’s sunk. On June 30, the man known to Swedish police as Rakim Mayers was involved in a street altercation in the land of ABBA, IKEA, and ABSOLUT vodka.
The rapper was detained by authorities after it was alleged he, along with members of his entourage, attacked 19-year-old Mustafa Jafari on the streets of Stockholm. The Afghan immigrant was left with documented cuts to his arms, legs, and face after the incident.
After almost a month in jail, A$AP Rocky was charged with assault, to which he pleaded not guilty in a trial that began on July 30. The Harlem native known to his fans as Lord Flacko argued that he acted in self-defence. If convicted, he could face up to two years in jail.
What’s been fascinating is the myriad ways the incident has been spun.
Initially, Mayers wisely took to the modern world’s number one source for news in 2019: Instagram. Video posts on his account showed two separate sequences where he and members of his crew repeatedly told Jafari and another man to beat it and walk away. Making one wonder about the sanity of the two, they continued to tail and engage A$AP Rocky and his minions, one of whom was roughly the size of Breaking Bad’s Huell Babineaux. Messing with the bull, they eventually got the horns.
On Instagram, it all looked cut-and-dried. Which, of course, is exactly the problem with getting one’s information from Instagram. Anyone with a working knowledge of basic video editing on an iPhone can change the narrative to their benefit with the trim button. Texts and messages retrieved from the phones of A$AP Rocky and his crew suggest that’s indeed what happened.
Because Big Brother is now everywhere, Swedish authorities announced that they have additional footage of the run-in that tells a much larger story, including surveillance video from the hamburger restaurant where things began.
Feel free to ask yourself what kind of ignorant American goes to Sweden and decides there’s nothing he’d like to sample more on the local-cuisine front than a good old-fashioned American hamburger.
What was interesting was the way that the men in the Instagram clips were viewed by mainstream America. To go online was to notice every second redneck—whether proudly self-declared or sadly unaware—homing in on the fact that those on the wrong side of the beating are young immigrants from Afghanistan. For those with MAGA caps sutured to their heads, that was enough to make them an instant “Send them back” enemy. TMZ.com, the main news source for those who aren’t on Instagram, joyfully dug into the past of Jafari, reporting that he was convicted of assault in Stockholm at age 16.
It didn’t stop there. Google “Mustafa Jafari + Reddit” and you’ll be directed to a thread that contends there are other missteps in his past. A$AP Rocky’s Reddit fans use the Stockholm incident as a springboard to argue that Jafari behaved in exactly the way one might expect of a political refugee living in Sweden. In a sad reflection of Donald Trump’s America, comments suggest the land of Swedish meatballs has just as many “bad hombres” as America does, thanks to immigration. Occasional posts like “Damn fuck this dude, as an Afghan Muslim, please don’t lump me in with this trash. #freeflacko” at least leave one thinking not everyone in the world is now judging their fellow human beings by the colour of their skin. Given the “trash” part of the post, however, intolerance evidently comes in all flavours. And that brings us to the subject of race.
The case of A$AP Rocky has proven to be something of an outrage to no less than Donald Trump, who says he was alerted to the rapper’s plight by his wife, Melania Trump. That Melania looks like she wouldn’t know A$AP Rocky from Rocky Balboa, Rocky Marciano, or Rocky and Bullwinkle seems to have occurred to no one.
Over the past couple of weeks, Trump—who had previously given every indication that the only black person he has any time for is crazy Kanye West—has been all over the issue, including mainstreaming a #FreeRocky hashtag. You might have seen him take to Twitter while sitting on the shitter to suggest that the real reason A$AP Rocky has been targeted by Swedish authorities is that he’s black. Which was at least a welcome diversion from Trump calling Baltimore—which is 62 percent African-American—the major-U.S.-city version of a Shithole Country.
Trump also says he personally attempted—at the urging of West and Kim Kardashian—to get Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven to free Rocky. He was evidently unaware that, under Swedish law, that’s every bit as impossible as putting IKEA furniture together without rage tears. Or getting Donald Trump Jr. to lay off the hair gel.
Fascinating as all this is, even the most devoted pop-history enthusiast would argue it’s time for someone to stop the insanity.