Another genius has left us too soon. Steven Rodriguez, better known to the world as A$AP Yams, unexpectedly passed away on the morning of January 18, 2015. He leaves behind friends and family, as well as the fans, the supporters, the haters, and the non-believers. He leaves behind the lives he’s touched with his business savvy, his unforgettable quotes, his charm, and his carefree way of looking at life. There's a lot to be said about the leader of the A$AP Mob, but this quote on why he loved wrestling sums him up perfectly:
“When you stop having fun out here and stop enjoying things like you did when you were a kid, your life gets boring. I’m going to watch wrestling forever.”
Yams was only 26 years old when he passed. Two years younger than Christopher "Big Punisher" Rios was when he suffered a fatal heart attack. It's a chilling coincidence that both deaths came in such an untimely manner. These were two Latino brothers who both made an indelible impact on the culture in a very short period of time. They were two people Latino rap fans were able to identify with. Many act like they don't know, but Latinos have a rich history in hip-hop: We've tagged on trains, danced to break beats, rapped, and produced records since the beginning of this thing. We may be few and far between but our contributions are undeniable. From Crazy Legs to Cypress Hill to Fat Joe to Big Pun to Yamborghini, our legacy runs deep. And Yams continued that legacy with his incredible foresight and ear for good music.
Even though he dropped out of high school, got an internship with Diplomats Records, managed a few producers, and sold mixtapes to make a little extra coin, things really began to take off for Yams when he started a now defunct blog called REALNIGGATUMBLR. This was where Yams maintained a carefully curated collection of hip-hop pictures, songs, and videos from various regions and various time periods. He would post songs from new artists he was feeling as well as mixes that he put together of everything from 90s R&B ("Spread Those Cheeks Girl Vol. 1, 2, 3") to the best Max B songs.
Injected with Yam's trademark wit, REALNIGGATUMBLR gained a sizeable following. Many looked to the Tumblr to see who was bubbling and about to blow. So when, in April 2011, he posted a song called "Purple Swag" by A$AP Rocky, a fellow uptown kid he had been working with since 2008, and a guy he described as having that "good ‘Player’s Ball’ swag, definitely ‘So Fresh, So Clean’ swag," it wasn't a complete surprise that it blew up.
In a 2013 interview, he told Complex:
"Once I got to a point where I know people are really checking for me, as far as what’s the new hot artist to check out or what’s the best new shit—they know they can go to my blog and see something that they’ve never seen before. Once I built that audience up, I just threw [“Purple Swag”] out just to see what the response was, and to our surprise it was very well."
A$AP Yams was the Yoda to Rocky's Luke Skywalker, a keen business mind who opted to stay behind the scenes with his ears always to the streets. He was the one who worked tirelessly with Rocky to mold a unique sound out of a myriad of influences. Without his ear, it's safe to say A$AP Mob would not have been able to carve the lane it's been running for the past four years. And thanks to Yams' marketing acumen, the Mob was able to stand comfortably in that realm between the streets and the Internet and ink a label deal with Polo Grounds for their A$AP Worldwide label. All the hard work paid off. Rocky's debut album Long.Live.A$AP, despite leaking months before its release, hit No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart.
As if to prove A$AP's early success wasn't a fluke, after creating a star with Rocky, he did it again with A$AP Ferg. Ferg's debut album, Trap Lord, also melded together an expertly curated melange of regional influences. It broke into the top 10 of the Billboard chart and birthed a top 40 single in "Shabba." But Yams wasn't solely focused on his crew, he had enough knowledge for everyone who wanted to listen. He started to help cultivate the careers of up-and-comers like Bodega Bamz, Aston Matthews, Joey Fatts, and Vince Staples. He was the new Irv Gotti, the new Dame Dash, the new Russell Simmons, the new Eazy E. And he very clearly saw himself in that light, telling the New York Times:
“That’s how I’m branding myself. So when labels see me, they already know off rip that I’m bringing a star into the building.”
While A$AP Mob was enjoying a wave of success, Yams was fighting a tough internal battle. His love of drugs turned into a dangerous addiction, one that led him to take, among other things like cough syrup, "8 xanax bars just to let that high kick in." He checked himself into rehab and reemerged in the summer of 2014 a new man. One who no longer wanted to chill on video sets or do club walk-throughs or hang out anywhere where he may be tempted to delve back into his vices. Things seemed to be looking up for the self-proclaimed Puerto Rican R. Kelly.
Unfortunately, the revival wouldn't last long. Our last glimpse of him came courtesy of the “Multiply” video, which was not only a reminder of his genius, but a warning as well. The Mob was coming for the crown in 2015.
The roll-out for the new Rocky project had Yam's fingerprints all over it. There was the novel digital promotion with the microsite made for the countdown of the video's release. The "Multiply" video showed their hood in a fresh, stylized way that was unmistakably A$AP. They showed love to their influences by having Juicy J projected prominently through the video. And half-way through, they cut to a clip of Yung Gleesh dancing to the ear-piercing beat of "Pretty Flacko II." The little preview had fans thirsty for the whole track. A$AP then turned around and released it on the aforementioned site through a private A$AP Worldwide SoundCloud link. It was genius.
And now that genius is gone.
The city weeps today. Hip-hop weeps today. A$AP Mob weeps today. They not only lost their leader, they lost their brother. We lost a real one. We lost a beacon of hope, a shining light, a visionary, and every other synonym you can think of. Yams was a good-natured dude that got along with everybody. A quick glance at Twitter or Tumblr today shows just how beloved he was by artists, journalists, and fans alike. He was always quick to drop subtle gems followed by hilarious quips. By building and maintaining these relationships, he was able to turn A$AP Mob into one of rap's most influential movements.
The Mob got a lot of shit for the way they dressed, the way they sounded. But what is more hip-hop than being fly and paying homage to the people that influenced you? What is more hip-hop than being successful in an industry you won’t cater to? May he live forever in their music, his tweets, and his quotes.
Always Strive And Prosper.