It is no secret that the rap and hip hop communities are at odds with the criminal justice system. In fact, it seems like a large portion of hip hop music is created to at least subconsciously comment on the current state of criminal justice in America, and does so in such a way as to try and convince the majority of the American population that there is in fact a problem. According to research done by the Santa Clara Law Review, “hip-hop culture denounces crime and punishment in the United States by defying the underlying penal philosophy adopted and championed by legislators for decades. Since the inception of hip-hop as a musical genre, hip-hop artists have rhymed in a narrative format that starkly informs listeners and fans that the entire fundamental regime of prison for crime in the United States is suspect, illegitimate, and profane.”
While this sentiment is definitely accurate, there has to be an underlying reason for this perspective. And there undoubtedly is. Throughout the history of rap and hip hop, the artists that create music in these genres tend to face inordinate levels of prosecution, incarceration, and probation. In fact, there are hardly any formative artists from the eighties and nineties that did not at one point or another face criminal charges during the heyday of East versus West rivalries. Even Tupac and his crew all dealt with the criminal justice system, and that has continued today with American rap and hip hop artists never seeming to be able to stay clear of the criminal justice system. Even Tekashi’s most recent run-ins with federal prosecution got national attention.
One big name in recent American news media for international prosecution from the rap industry is ASAP Rocky, who was arrested in Sweden on various assault charges in 2019.
Who is ASAP Rocky?
ASAP Rocky, born Rakim Athelaston Nakache Mayers in October of 1988, is a rapper, singer, songwriter, and producer who got his start as a member of the A$AP Mob in Harlem. He spent his early years right in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan and then moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where he began rapping at the age of nine. His early life was definitely not easy, as he lost several family members as a young man. His father went to prison, his sister overdosed, and his brother (from whom he received most of his rapping instruction) was killed in Harlem when Mayers was only thirteen years old. All of these experiences as a young boy definitely led to the lifestyle he leads now and have influenced his music in several ways. His early lyrical influences were groups such as the Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep, but he is currently being mentored by Rihanna and as such, he is actually becoming part of a new phase in rap and hip hop music.
Just like with any musician, the emotional lessons he tries to convey from and through his music are a combination of his early life experiences and his present struggles. He channels the experiences of his past through the realities of the present to create a vibe that is unique and expressive.
His career began when he was only in his early twenties when he released his first single, “Purple Swag”, in 2011. It quickly became a street anthem, and then his second single, “Peso”, was leaked online and gained so much popularity that it got airtime on the popular Hot 97 radio station in New York City. After producing and releasing a music video for “Purple Swag”, he was contacted by several different record levels. His first record deal was for three million dollars which he signed jointly with RCA Records and Polo Grounds Music.
His first real hit as a performer was when he joined forces with Kendrick Lamar as the opening act for a Drake tour in 2012.
Overall, ASAP Rocky has released three full studio albums and is currently working on his fourth. Long. Live. ASAP was released in January 2013 and reached RIAA 2x Platinum. At. Long. Last. ASAP was released two years later and was RIAA Platinum as well, but did not reach double platinum status. Testing came next in 2018 to slightly less acclaim, and now he has said he is working on a scheduled release of the album All Smiles. One of his most popular releases is the single “Praise The Lord (Da Shine)” which was released on his third album.
He has been nominated for a total of 37 awards globally and has received five, including a few BET and BET Hip Hop award wins.
ASAP Rocky, like so many others in the rap community, has had his share of legal troubles. They started as far back as 2006 where he served two weeks in Rikers Island after being convicted for drug dealing.
Then, from 2012 until the present, he has dealt with a string of assault allegations and arrests, culminating in his most recent legal scandal, an international case involving the country of Sweden.
According to CNN, the verdict came back convicting ASAP Rocky of assault and sentencing him to conditional probation following a street brawl. A prosecutor said that Rocky and his entourage “assaulted the victim by kicking and beating him with a whole or part of a glass bottle while he lay on the ground.” However, he and his team decided they would plead not guilty and that they would argue self defense. Unfortunately for ASAP Rocky, the prosecution and the judge did not see things this way, and he was convicted of assault. However, with support from President Trump and a good legal team, he was able to avoid any further jail time after his sentencing hearing. There was a large amount of public pressure to support ASAP Rocky, and he was eventually allowed to leave Sweden in August of 2019 after spending several weeks there in and out of incarceration.
In short, ASAP Rocky has had a series of very unfortunate legal issues, mostly stemming from alleged violence. He is part of a community that is very outspoken about the disparity and injustice present in the criminal justice system and he has used his platform and his position as a globally recognized influential musician to speak to the injustice he has felt. And while he was eventually convicted of assault in Sweden, he has conducted himself very well and is in a position to have even more impact on his fans in the years to come.