A$AP Rocky has been the in the news recently for his release from prison in Sweden. During Rocky’s European Tour Run 2019 in Sweden, he was being harassed by two obnoxious individuals, with whom he got into a brawl. Rocky was arrested and charged with assault. He pleaded not guilty and claimed self-defense, with a reported maximum sentence of five years imprisonment, even though it was actually “two years maximum.” Rocky was detained in Stockholm for over a month before trial, during which time fake rumors spread, saying that he was in solitary confinement for two weeks. Rocky was found guilty and ordered to pay $1,300 to the assailant, Mustafa Jafari, for damages and legal fees.
Recently, Rocky released a song called “Babushka Boi,” with an accompanying video that seems dedicated to his past. The timing of the song and its message seems to be a reflection of what he has just dealt with, and it’s a manifestation of Rocky’s keen sense of individualism.
It should be noted that this song was first heard in February, during the Portland concert of Rocky’s Injured Generation Tour. Nevertheless, the distinctive imagery and lyrics still seem to cover and highlight Rocky’s humbling experience in Sweden.
The aesthetic of the music video seems extremely inspired by cartoons and comics; from the plastic guns the police use to the vivid color palette, the music video looks like it is straight out of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” But although it takes a lighthearted approach to many topics, including crime, the tone of the video doesn’t mimic that cartoony world. It shows scenes of cops dying dressed as pigs, matched with shots of a butcher shop; considering Rocky’s experience in prison when he was 16 and his run-ins with the law, it provides a complex commentary on police brutality and how black people are portrayed on the media.
The overall message of the video and song provide the viewer with the culmination of Rocky’s past and his braggadocious attitude. Rocky is truly seen feeling himself, and starts off the song saying, “They call me F-L-A-C-K-O and don’t play, no, ’bout my papes.” This line refers to his nickname of “Pretty Flacko,” and how a lot of people look at artists solely for the amount of money they make, but Rocky has built his career looking past the money.
This theme is continued during the outro of the song, when Rocky says “Uh, pearls and diamonds, that’s excessive. Money, power, that’s excessive. Money problems, that’s expected.”
Rocky started from the bottom, selling drugs and witnessing drug culture at an extremely young age. Rocky’s father, who told Rocky “to always be yourself,” was imprisoned for selling drugs when Rocky was 12 and later died in 2012, before the release of his debut album, “Long Live A$AP.” Rocky’s brother Ricky, a drug dealer, taught Rocky how to rap and was killed by a rival drug dealer when Rocky was 13. Rocky started selling crack at age 15 in order to provide for his family, who was moving between homeless shelters. In 2015, Rocky’s mentor and long-time friend A$AP Yams passed away before the release of his second album, “At, Long, Last, A$AP.” In 2016, Rocky’s sister Erika died from a drug overdose.
Rocky’s life is built around tragedy and encouragement from his friends. He experienced the deaths of major people in his life before each of his big releases, but throughout all of this, Rocky has found stability by sticking to his father’s advice of being his true self. Rocky values individualism above all else and truly reps himself.
Rocky has always been a rapper to shout out to the people he is connected to. He has a great appreciation for the people who stick around and create art with him. In the “Babushka Boi” video, rappers such as Schoolboy Q, A$AP Ferg and A$AP Nast play Rocky’s partners in crime. Interestingly enough, in the MackwopTV behind the scenes video for the creation of the music video, a sign was shown indicating that YG was supposed to be in the video.
The line, “Card scammers and Prada boosters,” also refers to the people Rocky has met doing their own hustles and trying to pave their own lanes, who ultimately inspired Rocky to continue with his vision.
Rocky’s interest and impact in the fashion world also have a major influence over the song. Babushkas are headscarves typically worn by Russian and Polish grandmothers, but Rocky has adopted one in his now-signature style. Donning a babushka in the music video, Rocky seems more in his element than he has ever been.
Before the release of the song and music video, Rocky dropped a trailer that showed Rocky tap-dancing to Russian music, which is sampled throughout the full-length song. At the beginning of the trailer, it shows the text, “Why does this black boy wear a babushka?” Rocky’s crew give their ideas of why Rocky is wearing a babushka, laughing at his self-expression in a way that mimics many haters on the internet.
Rocky is also known for his teeth, sometimes rocking grills; he has a good smile that matches his charming personality. In the song, Rocky says, “Peep them teeth, no dentures, please. Princess cut, no dentist, please.” Rocky also flexes his fashion sense in both the video and song, shouting out his Prada pants and sunglasses, which he wears in the video.
Rocky’s “Babushka Boi” persona and his crews’ aliases are partially based off of characters from the 1990 movie, “Dick Tracy.” However, a popular phrase in the song, “The world is yours” comes from the tagline of the cult 1983 crime drama, “Scarface.”
The message of the song itself seems to reflect what he has experienced throughout his life. Now that Rocky is at the top of his domain, he feels like he has accomplished something and wants to share that with the world. Rocky always gives a shoutout to Harlem, his hometown, and is looking to give out opportunities to those who grew up with him. Unlike Tony Montana, the main character in “Scarface,” Rocky seems to have found peace in what he has and is constantly looking to grow and create.
The song is littered with other references to Rocky’s life. The line, “Smokin’ while I’m strollin’ down Wooster” is about Wooster Street, a street known for its high-end fashion shops. Rocky also occasionally smokes weed while walking down roads, shopping or traveling. However, Rocky said an interview with Angie Martinez that he has been sober since the beginning of 2019, so either this song was written a while ago, or this line is just a reflection of his past experiences.
“Babushka Boi” is dense with material relating to Rocky’s life but, ultimately, it only gives us a small picture of Rocky’s rise and attitude. That being said, this seems to be a return to form for Rocky, whose latest album, “Testing,” had mixed reviews. A$AP Rocky is definitely an artist to look at in the future, not only for his music and fashion, but also as a role model teaching young people how to live and stay true to themselves.