Harlem Mourns A$AP Yams
On Sunday, hip-hop learned that it had lost of one of its youngest, most promising moguls: A$AP Yams, whose real name was Steven Rodriguez. The spiritual head of the A$AP Mob, Yams developed Rocky and Ferg as artists and played a major role in the careers of other up-and-coming New York MCs. He was the epitome of a tastemaker, whose eclectic ideas about hip-hop have reconfigured the rap game, bridging the aesthetic gap between regional hip-hop scenes and other subcultures. He was struggling with drug problems in recent years and his cause of death is still unknown, leading to speculation about whether it was a shooting, an overdose, or something else.
Like the rest of the A$AP Mob, Yams was born and bred in New York City. To find out how New Yorkers were dealing with the loss of their native son, I visited a bunch of spots around the city associated with the A$AP Mob, including Morningside Heights and Washington Heights, where Yams grew up. I chatted with people on the street and got some insight into Yam's life and what his passing means to the culture.
Esther, student, 115th and Morningside
VICE: So where was Yams most active?
Esther:You could think about any Hispanic hot area, so like around here, Harlem, down to 109[th Street.] And definitely up in Washington Heights.
How did you feel when he passed away?
It was surreal. There are so many important moves that A$AP was making. I'm Hispanic myself, so having him come from our community [was important.] I thought [his death] was a really bad hoax. I didn't think it was real. It was too soon. I felt they didn't make enough noise about it. It sucks as far as the hip-hop movement. It's usually the youngest that go first.
What do you think this means to the Hispanic community in Harlem?
We still hold him in a high regard. There was a huge overflow of respect shown on social media. It is a loss, but a lot of people are now gaining insight into who he was. That's what happens whenever an artist goes too soon. Only afterwards do you get to hear their life story.
How did you meet him?
It was just once, around the way, a couple of friends of mine were hanging out with him. It was just like, "Hey, what's up." He was pretty chill. It wasn't a big huff and puff. I guess a lot of my friends knew him. This is before A$AP Mob, when they were just starting it up. My friends told me about it afterwards—"Oh yeah, they're talking about doing all this stuff." And then they did it.
Roman, musician, Atmos on 125th Street
How did you find out about A$AP Yams's passing?
Roman: A friend posted a little article on Facebook. I read that and I was like, That's crazy. I went to MTV news and it was number one on the page. So it was true. It definitely went down.
How did you feel when it happened?
I was just like, Was it gang-related or something like that? Or was it drugs or something like that?
Did you ever see him around in Harlem?
Back in the day when I used to work for this spot, Atmos. That was like '07, '08. He had a few 40-ounce bounces. I know he was a mogul in the music game, the mixtape game and whatnot. Apparently he was a good networking person, somebody to know.
What do you think it means to Harlem?
I think it means that everyone needs to measure shit out right. Look behind the labels, read the fine print, know what you're doing to yourself. And I'm just assuming, that [drugs are] the cause of his death.
For Harlem, though? I feel like it's a wake-up call.
Mike, entrepreneur, 140th and Adam Clayton Powell
Mike: My man Yams is an icon. I know who he is. He went to school with a lot of my mans and all that. He hung out around 112th and Lexington. 96th, 86th Street.
When you saw him around, what was he like?
I thought he was a cool dude. Just chill. He liked to party or whatever. I knew a couple of his friends. He went to school with my man, so I knew people through him. He was always fashionable. He spoke up a lot. He spoke for what he believed in. He pursued his dreams. He might not have been in the front street. But a lot of the underground dudes who made it out of this city did it because of Yams. He knew people before everyone else knew people. In high school, he was already wearing all the fly shit. Doing all the flyest shit, you feel me?
A$AP Bari, he's from this area too. Before all that A$AP shit came out, Jabari said, "Yo, we about to jump!" As he was saying that, it was him and Yams putting that work in ahead of time for other niggas. That's how Rocky came up. A lot of dudes came up through him. He pushed the limit for everybody else to pursue their dreams, and do what they got to do.
Yams, he was a good dude. When he passed, I was like, "Ah, man, B!"
Deb Downz, rapper, 114th and Manhattan
Are you familiar with Yams?
Deb Downz: You talking about the white-looking dude, right? He had that shit on his face?
I don't have much recollection of him, but he a Harlem native, he down with A$AP Mob, and they were doing pretty well in their movement.
As a rapper, how do you feel about their influence about this area?
They made a good movement, it worked for them, I didn't really pay that much attention. But because of his death, I know about him now, which I guess is the only good that can come out of this.
Gregory, writer, 125th and Malcolm X
When did you hear about A$AP Yams passing?
Gregory: I actually found out about it when I was working. I was sitting at home and my Twitter was going off. I was thinking it's a new Nike story or something and everybody's retweeting and it was like, "Rest in Peace, Yams." I was like, this must be a joke or something?
Then I saw Rocky confirm it. Then I saw Ferg and Twelvy do the same. I was like, Damn, it really must be serious. I just saw him a couple of weeks ago in SOHO, at Supreme rocking some Bapes. So I'm like, "What happened?" Definitely caught me off-guard. I like A$AP and them. I fuck with them heavy.
What does this mean for Harlem?
I'm not sure if regular people on the street really understand what happened, but for us, we lost a tastemaker. He was 26. So we can relate to Yams, he put a lot of people on, a lot of the fashion stuff on, a lot of the music, a lot of the new artists that are breaking right now, like Bodega Bamz, Flatbush Zombies. He's put a lot of people onto their music. It's sad to see him go so young because he really was influential, despite him only being 26. He was a brilliant mind and he knew what he was doing. He believed in something and he went for it.
And then me just meeting him a couple of times... He was a real humble dude, just real laid-back, real chilled, and just had fun.
That's how I remember him. We definitely lost a young visionary. He was unique. There will never be anyone else like him. He was like the Dame Dash of our generation. Those people are rare, very rare. So when you come across them, and they actually leave a mark and make an impact, it's special. Like I said, you'll never see anybody else like Yams with his personality, his charisma, his vision, his ideas, his fashion sense... It's a huge loss for the culture. But yeah, it hurt me.
What was his role in A$AP, to you?
He was the key person to putting A$AP together, which is dope, because they're so multifaceted. You can't look at them and be like, they're just one thing. They all bring something different to the table. And it's just cool that he saw everybody's potential before anyone else did.
It's cool that everyone [in the A$AP Mob] has their own cult following and they're not mainstream. He was really instrumental in bringing a new flavor to New York and putting that flavor at the forefront, and letting us do what we do, as young pretty motherfuckers.
After A$AP Yams's death was confirmed, Complex posted a picture on Instagram of a brand new Yams Mural painted on the side of the Apollo theater in Harlem. I went to that spot and was disappointed to see that it was just a cheap Photoshop job—a hoax. A Red Lobster sat in the lot instead.
I asked some more people around if they knew who A$AP Yams was. A girl told me that she didn't even know of him until she'd heard of his passing. She said, "I don't think it affects Harlem that much, not the point where we would have candlelight vigils..." For a moment, I wondered if maybe the his life's significance had been lost on his own community, that his legacy could be forgotten. Then I looked up and to my surprise, saw, above a storefront a fresh "A$AP" tag.
Although Yams is gone from this Earth, his memory lives on in the sounds and aesthetic he brought to hip-hop.
Rest in peace to a young legend who died long before his time.
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