Some moments in hip-hop are bigger than others.
Whether or not the news of rapper ASAP Rocky’s imprisonment in Sweden deserves to be as big as it is, it all came to focus on one big center-stage moment this past weekend at Real Street Festival in Anaheim, CA, where he performed his first show since being released.
ASAP Rocky’s return to The States had been much anticipated and highly publicized, with many high-profile individuals, artists, and celebrities pushing for his release during his monthlong tenure behind bars. He was released and landed back in the U.S. on Aug. 4th, only a week before he was slated to perform at the festival.
After a month in custody — and with a trial looming — many assumed ASAP Rocky would cancel his appearance as one of Real Street’s headliners. He did not, instead channeling his energy and feelings of freedom into a big, once-in-a-lifetime performance filled with guest musicians.
ASAP Rocky opened his set shadowed by massive a curtain, building the crowd’s anticipation of his triumphant return with “A$AP Forever.” When the curtain finally dropped, he only semi-revealed himself, dawned in a crash test dummy costume with a full face mask.
If the mask was meant as a kind of symbolism for his detainment, then it was fitting that he only removed it when friend Tyler, the Creator came on stage, indicating that the strong public support from his friends and fellow artists were what freed him.
It was only then, too, that the situation was first addressed.
“I’m so happy my brother’s home,” Tyler said.
ASAP Rocky — performing to the largest single crowd of the day at Real Street after sets from Big Sean, Miguel, and Cardi B, among other a-listers — opened up about the incident shortly after, showing gratitude for his supporters.
“Everybody, listen. I know y’all are praying for me. I’ma need you to keep praying for me. Hopefully, with God’s will, I’m not guilty and [exp],” he said. “I get the verdict on Wednesday so I need y’all to keep praying for me. Hopefully, we ain’t have to go back to jail or nothing like that, nothing crazy.”
ASAP Rocky was arrested in Sweden last month and charged with assault. He pled not guilty in the case.
The initial incident occurred when he and two other individuals were brought into custody over the suspected assault of 19-year-old Mustafa Jafari. Part of the incident was caught on video. ASAP Rocky and the two others — members of his entourage — claim that their actions were in the interest of self-defense and provoked by harassment.
The prosecutor in the case, Daniel Suneson, maintains otherwise based on additional evidence collected.
“It is worth noting that I have had access to a greater amount of material than that which has previously been available on the internet,” Suneson said, according to the Associated Press. “In addition to video material, the injured party’s statements have been supported by witness statements.”
ASAP Rocky has since been convicted of assault by a Swedish court and will serve two years of probation in addition to paying various fees.
In spite of that, ASAP Rocky’s performance Sunday was a clear example of music’s unparalleled power as a vessel for emotion. Fans have heard his songs before — maybe even live — but in this particular performance, there were audible layers of added emotion on his tracks — gratitude, fear, uncertainty, and freedom. In addition to Tyler, A$AP Ferg and YG joined him on stage at points for this once-in-a-lifetime set.
In the scheme of things, ASAP Rocky’s arrest doesn’t have world-altering implications. For him, though, his experience and the first performance he could fully express himself to fans meant everything.
“I can’t thank y’all enough, man, that was crazy. Hip-hop never looked so strong together.”
Hip hop also rarely sees performances quite like that.
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