A$AP Rocky has always kept his own counsel. Save for the mob’s late architect Steven “A$AP Yams” Rodriguez, the Harlem-based artist has led the charge for his crew, acting as both fearless leader and front-of-house spokesperson. An independent figure that since reached the height of the industry, the past few months of Flacko’s life have been nothing short of beguiling. In a stark contrast to the infallibly cool demeanour that he usually harbours, Rakim Athaleston Mayers was suddenly 7000 km from home and in an unfamiliar state of vulnerability. After footage of an altercation with two persistent and overzealous Swedes emerged, the video of Rocky tossing one of the men to the ground quickly escalated from meme fodder to the center of an international incident.

Declared to be “locked up in solitary confinement with no visit or phone call privileges” by A$ap Ferg, the plight of Pretty Flacko soon became a cause celebre for people around the world. Now that the matter has been largely resolved and he won’t serve any further jail time, Flacko intimated about the effect that being robbed of his freedom had during his first public appearance. "I just want to say, what I experienced it's crazy," Rocky said to the crowd at SoCal’s Real Street Festival. "I'm so happy to be here, y'all don't even understand. That was a scary humbling experience.  God is good. People that I don't even f--king know was reaching out. Hip hop never felt so good man."

No longer physically held in captivity, it seems as though Rocky is doing his utmost to get back to business as usual. Fresh off of one of the most traumatic experiences of his life, what remains to be seen is where he goes from here. Before we move onto any form of analysis, let’s simply look at the facts of what’s went down since he touched down on US soil.

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For starters, Rocky has been spotted in the studio with two artists that emanate from diametrically opposed sides of the hip-hop spectrum. Before he was reprimanded by Erykah Badu for doing so, Rocky’s platonic life partner Tyler, The Creator posted a video of the two getting up to their usual hijinks before the revitalized Tyga shared an IG snap of the two which was succinctly captioned “ Back to the 💰 (bag).” Upon his return to the stage at Real Street, Rocky aired a previously unheard, Juicy-J produced number to the Orange County crowd before playing a new track that’s come to be informally known as “Babushka” among fans at Block Fest in Finland. To top it all off, one comment that peered out amid all of the well-wishes on his first post-prison Instagram post came from Madeintyo. Where other MC’s were content to share a litany of prayer emoji’s, The ATL rapper—who previously linked up with Rocky for 2016’s “I Want (Remix)”, enquired whether his release was due cause for them to “drop the new shit!” 

Acclaimed as Rocky has been since he first burst onto the scene with LIVE.LOVE.A$AP, Flacko’s output has always operated in a realm of resolute superficiality. Preoccupied with fashion, foreign cars and fine women, even his most ardent supporters would concede that his music exists in a world that places psychedelic style over substance. Entrenched in high-end luxury, his commitment to an opulent lifestyle was so apparent that past remarks were weaponized against him during his time in jail. Taken from a 2015 interview with Time Out New York, Rocky refuted the notion that he had any moral or civic obligation to speak on the injustices that fuelled the prominent Black Lives Matter movement at the time:

“So, every time something happens because I’m black I gotta stand up? What the fuck am I, Al Sharpton now? I’m A$AP Rocky. I did not sign up to be no political activist.” He added, “I don’t wanna talk about no fucking Ferguson and shit because I don’t live over there! I wanna talk about my motherfuckin’ lean, my best friend dying, girls, my jiggy fashion and my inspirations in drugs. I live in fucking Soho and Beverly Hills. I can’t relate.”

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Used as a disqualifier for compassion by some, Rocky had since claimed that these comments were removed from their original context but that wasn’t enough to dampen the outrage that many felt about his apathetic stance. Spoken by a man who, at the time, was the toast of a fashion world that’s founded on insularity and exclusivity, what remains to be seen is if his first-hand experience of prison will play a role in realigning his perspective.

No stranger to doing time in his own right, T.I not only rebuked the idea that he should be chastised for his past remarks but believes that Rocky’s brush with detainment will be the catalyst for a refurbished mentality. “Do I agree with his statement? Hell naw, the sh*t was stupid. But, his stupid statement ain’t gonna keep me from being the stand-up guy that I am and supporting what I know is right in my heart," he told Talib Kweli’s “People’s Party.” "Now, when we get him here, we can talk to him about that and see if he feels the same way. I highly doubt he will."

Subjected to a hardship that he’d never known before, A$AP Ferg’s recent interview with Billboard revealed that Rocky is sporting both a smiley face and broken heart on his nails. As such, it’s easy to discern that the Harlem rapper is finding himself in the midst of emotional turmoil due to what’s transpired. Over the course of modern hip-hop, there are numerous case studies in which an artist has found themselves with a new outlook on the world’s inner-workings after a jail stint, which has then bled directly into their material. The recipient of a grave injustice in his own right, seeing Meek Mill appear on The BET Awards stage to perform the politically charged “Stay Woke” was arguably the most powerful cultural rechristening in recent memory. His ensuing 2018 album, Championships, saw Meek exhibit a level of maturity and clarity of vision that was otherwise unobtainable and he’s continued to use his story as a form of artistic activism ever since.

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Locked-up overseas on falsified sexual assault charges, Freddie Gibbs provides another exemplar of how to use music to pull you back from the brink. After he broached the fallout of prison head-on with the intimate You Only Live 2wice  from 2017,  an interview with Peter Rosenberg saw him discuss how the making of 2019’s Bandana—his second collaborative project with Madlib—allowed him to address how the experience had changed him and put that period of his life to rest. “There were a lot of things that I didn’t want to see—a lot of things that I still deal with mentally," he explained. "This album right here, man, this album was a form of therapy. It was therapeutic. I said a lot of things on this record that I maybe, probably wouldn’t have said if I wasn’t facing 10 years in prison.”

Fresh off of one of the most harrowing experiences of his life, there are two converging paths that have been placed in front of Rocky. Either he takes stock of what has occurred and how it altered his perception in the same brutally frank, no-holds-barred fashion as Meek and Freddie, or he tries his damnedest to reintegrate himself right back into the life that he led before that fateful afternoon in Sweden. Whatever he decides, it’s clear that the experience has changed Rocky in ways that he’s yet to fully explain.