Rapper A$AP Rocky (real name Rakim Mayers) and two members of his crew were held in a Swedish prison for almost a month stemming from a June 30th street fight in Stockholm that was documented (at least partially) on video. On its face, it seems like Rocky was attempting to deescalate the fight when the video begins. During his incarceration, there were rumours that Rocky was being held in inhumane conditions in the prison and was denied counsel (an unfortunate frequent occurrence in most prisons across the world). Focused on the urgent matter of getting Rocky released from a foreign prison, a petition started by his team, A$AP Mob, gained traction, alongside public pressure on the Swedish government. The #JusticeForRocky petition outlines the team’s version of events.
Kanye West and Kim Kardashian then made headlines when they spoke to Donald Trump about the issue, a move typical of the couple, who have been using their platform (or mostly Kim’s) to assist in various criminal justice matters. Kim decided to tweet about this, thanking Donald Trump. In the context of what Trump’s government is doing, the last part of her tweet is grotesquely offensive:
Thank you @realDonaldTrump , @SecPompeo, Jared Kushner & everyone involved with the efforts to Free ASAP Rocky & his two friends. Your commitment to justice reform is so appreciated 🙏🏼🤞🏼 https://t.co/Ym1Rzo5Z6c— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) July 18, 2019
For over a year now, Kim Kardashian has situated herself at the centre of prison reform in the United States. This has happened through a credibility assist from activist, lawyer, and television host Van Jones, and through the increasingly invisibilized work of countless activists and lawyers in the background (including these two Black women). Kim has done some impressive work, most notably helping with the freeing of Alice Marie Johnson for a non-violent drug offence in June 2018. But following this, it was Kim Kardashian who Van Jones chose to use his platform to interview, beginning the legal journey we see Kim is on today. Ten months later (April 2019) Kim announced through a Vogue cover story that she is pursuing her law degree. I remember Kanye leaking this information last year and Kim denying it. Now we see that it was only the timing that was off: Kim’s legal education and aspirations were highlighted during the latest season of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. But even if Kim’s legal work isn’t simply a total exercise in rebranding, her insistence and stubborn double-downing on characterizing Donald Trump as a champion of criminal justice reform is flat-out wrong.
As for Kanye, all of the goodwill he built up during his conversation on David Letterman’s Netflix show (which is still an important interview) seems to be squandered. Which is sad - it’s rare a celebrity speaks so openly and honestly about the gaps in the mental health care system. For example, for someone at Kanye’s level of financial privilege to still be alienated from his family and friends during treatment for a mental health episode is surprising. This is the conversation that needs to continue, not the irresponsible and piecemeal political interventions (and clear fascination with Trump) Kanye has showed us for years. Kanye seems to insist his alignment with Trump is proving his political legitimacy, but I don’t think it matters. Now that Kim has inserted herself as a stronger and more consistent figure in politics, we can see a clear line in their priorities. This is why I don’t understand why Van Jones does press specifically to legitimatize Kim as genuine. Even if she is on these issues, what side is she on?
We have seen, tragically, how undeniably dangerous Donald Trump is, specifically to people of colour. He has somehow recruited Kim and Kanye as political tools and, in turn, you might say that Kim has decided to use Black people as political tools, which is not very far from the ways in which she and her entire family have profited off blatant appropriation of Blackness, purposely taking all the credit. The cynic in me wonders if their formula has found another venue, especially since Kim is now performing this politic on television (on KUWTK) and her upcoming documentary on prison reform.
Other celebrities have stepped in to be helpful in clearer ways. Justin Bieber, seeming to balance the hypocrisy of Trump’s actions with the urgency of getting A$AP Rocky out of jail, tweeted:
I want my friend out.. I appreciate you trying to help him. But while your at it @realDonaldTrump can you also let those kids out of cages?— Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) July 20, 2019
Even more constructive was G-Eazy’s contribution. He identified the blatant racism at play, tweeting:
This is the sad truth...The difference between me and Rocky’s treatment in Sweden brings to mind two concepts that disgustingly go hand in hand: white privilege and systemic racism. Let's call it what it is. He should not be behind bars right now. My heart goes out to @asvpxrocky pic.twitter.com/PHDrKsfiUF— G-Eazy (@G_Eazy) July 20, 2019
Last year, G Eazy was arrested for assault and drug possession in Stockholm, Sweden. He did not spend time in prison and paid a fine.
Kim and Kanye have never hid the mixing of their brands to create a super empire, and it’s not all bad. Their family is a resilient extension of the Kardashian-Jenner brand, and the love seems very real. What we need to be mindful of is Kim picking up where Kanye left off politically. On the A$AP Rocky intervention, Donald Trump flexed his muscle, claiming to have a plan to help Rocky, only to be shut down. On July 25th, it was announced that assault charges had been laid and Rocky’s hearing started last week on July 30th. He faced up to two years in prison.
This past Friday, August 2nd, on day three of the trial, Rocky and his two co-accused were released from jail. More details from the trial can be found here. It’s worth pointing out that the release is temporary, pending an August 14 judgement. In his typical twisted and invasive manner, Donald Trump tweeted, “A$AP Rocky released from prison and on his way home to the United States from Sweden. It was a Rocky Week, get home ASAP A$AP!”
Adding to all this politicizing, Rocky was seen at Kanye’s famed Sunday Service yesterday, seeming to strengthen his ties to Kim and Kanye and adding to the narrative that their Trump influence was instrumental in securing his return. Obviously it goes without saying that this was the preferred outcome – but the question is: who does it benefit most?