I wondered why it was raining so damned hard in Harlem yesterday. Almost immediately thereafter, I started getting inundated with text messages and phone calls that A$AP Mob creative director, spiritual leader and label executive A$AP Yams had passed away at the age of 26. A whole bunch of people walking around in New York City trying to figure out how and why something had flashed onto the scene and changed the plans of their entire day is a fitting way to remember 26-year old New York-born rap fanatic Steven Rodriguez.
If wondering why the head of a rap label passing is more important than any of the hugely popular emcees on said label passing away, do understand that few people ever in the history of rap music had the creative vision of A$AP Yams. As a comparative tool used for the purposes of hipping you to the enormity of Yams’ legacy, let’s compare him to Sean Combs.
Puff Daddy took Mary J. Blige and put her in b-girl clothes to break her out of the pack. “Juicy” was the single that broke the Notorious B.I.G., Puffy the one that was smart enough to know that every urban-based American black person had seen their parents dancing in the kitchen doing the dishes (as I had) or getting dressed up to the nines to head to a house party while James Mtume’s 1982 single “Juicy Fruit” was playing in the background. To know that out of millions of styles of clothing or thousands of lesser-regarded R & B/dance chart singles that certain ones will strike the most comfortable of nerves in the most people at once is a talent that few have, and a talent that deserves significant recognition.
A$AP Yams is likely the one who knew that putting a grill on a white girl in the video for A$AP Rocky’s “Purple Swag” would set the image and tone of what Rocky (and the rest of the ASAP Mob) were all about. This was rap for the post-internet and post-racial hipster-dominated age, once again Harlem providing the swagged out soundtrack to a strange new future.
Also, as a label executive at A$AP Worldwide, Yams was the one who ultimately okayed Rocky calling Skrillex a “n*gga” (and granting Sonny Moore a “hood pass” forever) as Rocky raps on “Wild For The Night,” the Skrillex-produced rap jam that shattered the wall erected between rave and street culture as never before. As well, he’s the one who had the final sign off on correctly guessing that A$AP Ferg had just enough West Indian in his ethnic background to pull off convincingly screaming “Shabba Ranks” at the top of his lungs. Hood dudes from Harlem rapping over dubstep? “Trap” rappers from New York City screaming a dancehall emcee’s name over a traditional Southern trap anthem and using a stuttering midwestern double-time flow? Yeah. None of this makes a lick of sense. But when A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg were executing A$AP Yams’ creative direction – just as Puffy’s idea of 80s pop and contemporary hip-hop culture fitting together some 20 years prior – couldn’t nobody slow them down.
There’s journalists and rap pundits (myself included) who openly wonder if there’s a rapper who can “save New York rap?” Of course, by “saving New York rap” we mean, “is there someone who can do what (Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Rakim, KRS-One, Biggie, insert charismatic classic era legend’s name here) did over heavily-sampled and boom-bap laden beats. Of course, while we were having that conversation, there’s A$AP Yams scouring the internet looking for classic rap sounds and styles that had yet to ever be combined. Not unlike Rick Rubin pulling Bob James’ “Take Me To The Mardi Gras” out of the crates to create the break for Run-DMC’s “Peter Piper,” Yams getting Rocky to re-appropriate the flow of Cleveland rappers Bone Thugs N Harmony to mimic hipster vocalist’s Lissie’s version of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness” on 2012 Schoolboy Q single “Hands on the Wheel.” While neither A$AP Rocky nor A$AP Ferg are LL Cool J or Rakim, they kept the legacy of New York making significant contributions alive until pop music decides that it’s time for another New Yorker to be the most significant pop cultural contributor of his generation. In his vision keeping New York rap alive at the onset of the hyper-digital age, A$AP Yams is important and must be remembered.
Yams likely had a bunch of other tricks up his sleeve, too. He was universally beloved, names including similarly rap history mashing emcce Drake, as well as ad-libbing pop-trapper 2 Chainz, fellow internet era superstars Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa, and yeah, the guy that the smart money is on to be the next “King of New York,” Action Bronson, too.
Yams’ non-A$AP projects were significant, too. The Cutthroat Boys collective included Vince Staples, Ashton Matthews and Joey Fatts, Fatts’ social media statements on Sunday morning bearing the weight of his sadness. “Yams came and got me out the slums I was sleeping in cars and garages,” Fatts says. “A n—a can’t stop crying. Yams was the first person to care about what me Vince staples and Aston Matthews had to say. No one else. He believed in us. I LOVE TOU STEVEN RODRIGUEZ I LOVE YOU BROTHER. REST IN PEACE, I FEEL LIKE ENDING IT ALL. REALLY LIKE MY BESTFRIEND.”
There are those who will presume that A$AP Yams’ one-time addictions to cups of codeine, promethazine and Sprite (aka “lean”) plus Xanax pills were how he met his demise. However, A$AP Mob member A$AP Ant denies those allegations. However, no matter how he died, let’s consider how A$AP Yams lived. Emcee Chace Infinite stated regarding Yams, “The energy you gave was something that had to be witnessed to be understood. Eternally grateful for having known you. … I promise to exhaust myself accomplishing YOUR vision.” As well, New York-based Jason Ano – video editor for the aforementioned “Purple Swag” video and someone who has likely seen more footage of the Mob up close through the lens of his camera of anyone in the past decade said, “he was a quiet mastermind… he knew exactly what was needed and what was going to be great.”
New York Times writer Jon Carmanica once wrote about A$AP Yams that he was “a bridge: between the Internet and the streets, between regions, between generations.” Maybe the only way to showcase the excellence of Yams’ execution isn’t through my words, but through A$AP Rocky’s from “Wild For The Night.” In retrospect, they’re amazing, and in cutting across genres, regions, history – and predicting the future, too – they’re incredible.
Finna wild out for the weekend, me, myself, and I – my three friends
Nigga feeling froggy, then leap in, A$AP niggas finna sneak in
Middle finger to the critics, me and my nigga Skrillex
You know we finna kill it, A$AP we the trillest
You don’t really want that Glock boy
You don’t really wanna feel them shots boy
You a b-boy, I’m a block boy, I’m a D boy, I’m a hot boy
Six shots got me feelin’ like Pac, boy, party all night, shit don’t stop, boy
Drunk as fuck and I’m ready to fight
Wilding for the night, fuck being polite, boy