WASHINGTON — When rapper A$AP Rocky was freed from detention in Sweden and returned to the United States earlier this month, it marked the end of a bizarre saga that at one point involved the president; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and the State Department’s top hostage negotiator. Though President Trump’s campaign to free Rocky appeared to end well, a behind-the-scenes battle provides a unique glimpse into the unusual characters and fraught tensions involved in Trump’s outreach efforts to the black community.
According to new details provided by sources involved, Trump’s role in pushing for Rocky’s release started with a reality television megastar calling the West Wing, a mysterious entertainment industry “fixer” and two Trump supporters. The president’s allies who connected Rocky’s team with the White House hoped to facilitate a scene that would bolster Trump’s image among African-Americans. Instead, they say they were left angry when Rocky failed to thank Trump or those around him.
Rocky’s legal woes began on June 30, when he was involved in a street brawl in Stockholm. On July 5, a Swedish court ruled that Rocky and two of his associates were flight risks and needed to be detained as the investigation into the incident continued. Rocky claimed he had acted in self-defense and released videos on Instagram showing that the man he hit had followed him through the streets. The rapper, whose real name is Rakim Mayers, ultimately spent nearly a month in detention.
Behind the scenes, the White House and its unconventional allies scrambled to secure Rocky’s freedom.
Darrell Scott and Kareem Lanier entered the picture a few days after Rocky was detained. Scott, an Ohio pastor, was one of Trump’s highest-profile African-American surrogates during the 2016 campaign and went on to serve on his transition team. Lanier is the co-chairman of the Urban Revitalization Coalition, a nonprofit led by Scott dedicated to promoting elements of the Trump agenda to the black community. The two men, who were hardly household names, have become a regular presence at the White House at events focused on addressing African-American issues.
Scott and Lanier said they became involved after hearing from a man named Hassan Muhammad, who describes himself as a “fixer” for high-profile figures in the entertainment industry. In a pair of phone conversations this week, Muhammad, who has no web presence and was unwilling to name any of his contacts, said an associate of Rocky’s reached out to him about the rapper’s situation.
“I know how to handle or solve problems,” Muhammad said.
Muhammad, who had met Scott and Lanier in 2017, reached out to the two Trump associates for help on July 10, just five days after the Swedish court ruled that Rocky should be detained. “If you are in a situation like this, then there’s only one or two places you call, the White House or the State Department,” Muhammad said to Rocky’s team, adding, “I know somebody at the White House.”