“I’m sleeping in my halfway dream,” he says in the film. “I heard my name. I kind of opened my eyes and closed my eyes again and then they said my name again. And I opened my eyes and I’m like, ‘Yo, what the fuck?’”
The “they” in question was former President Donald Trump, who took on Rocky’s case and turned the rapper’s trial — sparked by a fight between two men and him and his crew — from national music story to international cause célèbre.
“Many, many members of the African American community have called me — friends of mine — and said, ‘Could you help?’” Trump says, as shown in the film. “So I personally don’t know A$AP Rocky but I can tell you that he has tremendous support from the African American community in this country … I have been called by so many people asking me to help ASAP Rocky.”
“I said ‘Aw shit,’ Rocky says in the film, smiling. “Look like I might do a bid.”
On July 5th, 2019, six days after the fight, a Swedish court ruled the rapper a flight risk and ordered him detained while police investigated the fight. Using contemporaneous, never-before-seen footage paired with audio excerpts of the trial, the film plays out more like a procedural courtroom drama than hagiographic life story. The Architects-directed film, which premiered Sunday night at the Tribeca Film Festival, follows the rapper through his month in a Swedish prison, his subsequent release (despite a guilty verdict) and his post-freedom run of live shows and studio work (highlighted by a starstruck Rocky gushing to Rick Rubin over the producer’s career).
But it’s the rapper’s ambivalence toward Trump’s involvement that provides one of the film’s most fascinating storylines. “I kinda was scared that Trump was going to fuck it up,” the rapper says. “But then on the other hand, I’m just like, ‘That’s what’s up, man.’ You want the most support you could and it’s like, ‘Oh, the president supports you.’ That felt good. Cause for the most part, I don’t think he ever knows what’s going on in the urban communities … I was thankful for that, I can’t lie. I was also scared that it would jeopardize me being in [jail] longer.”
As Kim Kardashian notes in the film, it was her and estranged husband Kanye West who helped notify Trump and his team of the rapper’s situation. “Rocky and Kanye have been friends a long time and I’ve been doing a lot of justice reform and bill reform with that administration,” Kardashian says in the film. “So I was compelled to reach out to the White House and call my contacts over there to see what we can really do.”
While the rapper was eventually found guilty of assault, a Swedish court gave him the equivalent of a suspended sentence and allowed him to fly home. (He returned to perform in the country five months later.) As the dust settled, reports emerged that the Trump administration was angry at the rapper and his team for not properly thanking him for his support.
“The White House didn’t ask for anything. There were no conditions attached, but my condition … was that all I’m asking for you guys to do is say thank you,” Trump surrogate Darrell Scott said he told the rapper’s manager according to a 2019 Yahoo! report.
But toward the end of the film, the rapper finally admits that, to him, Trump’s involvement did more harm than good. “It was a chess move and they tried to strong arm a lot,” he says. “In reality, I had no problem saying thank you to the man, especially if he helped me. That’s the narrative they pushin’: That he got me out. And he didn’t free me. If anything, he made it a little worse.“