A$AP Rocky had a question for the crowd: "Where the mosh pit at, nigga?" The crowd rippled like a tidal wave at Rocky’s request, breaking off into different scenes. The guy in front of me moshed for his life. He had little regard for personal space, so I braced his back, non-verbally telling him to keep that shit on his side. The back of his T-shirt showed a blurry black and white photo of A$AP Mob’s fallen leader, A$AP Yams. It’s dated January 18, 2016, one year after his death, for the inaugural concert meant to celebrate the legacy of Yams. He told his friend this was his third time at Yams Day, he’d never missed one. In this moment, it was clear what Yams meant to people. The Bronx infiltrated New York Expo Center’s 10 acres to prove Yams lived on well beyond his short time here on Earth.
The legacy Yams was able to solidify with his brain child, A$AP Mob, would mature posthumously. He pioneered a hip-hop collective from New York with members who weren’t afraid to fuse bring high fashion and elements of rock culture with them. Before the Mob, rappers from Harlem were decked in furs and Pelle Pelle jackets, and moshing with fans wasn’t an everyday occurrence. Yams took the old business model of some of New York’s most reputable hip-hop collectives and merged it with an inclusivity rap hadn’t tapped into before. His reach alone helped push "weirdo" culture, as Rocky would called it at the Expo Center, one that's clearly present in the outsider aesthetic that propels SoundCloud rap.
The stage was the quintessential New York landscape. An AWGE Bodega and liquor store were splashed against the stage backdrop adorned with personalized graffiti, including one that read "Yammy Gang." An animated portrait of Yams hovered over the stage, his eyes panning the crowd as if he wanted in on the action.
There was an energy that lingered throughout the performances. Retch and Aston Matthews took the stage with a vigor that suggest their friend was hurling water bottles in the crowd with them. That feeling was intensified when Lil Yachty arrived, shaking his signature red braids to "Ice Tray," prefacing the song by saying that he "fucks with everybody, except for Joe Budden." The Atlanta rapper brought out Ski Mask the Slump God, and the two jolted across the stage, conjuring enough energy to summon Yams’ presence. 6ix9ine, the Brooklyn rapper who himself is a permutation of the formula A$AP created, join the two, stage diving during his performance of "Gummo." Just before the end of his set, Yachty initiated a mosh to "Minnesota" in memory of Yams, a man he’d never gotten a chance to meet.
Yachty’s comment is a sentiment I hadn’t thought much about before walking into the New York Expo Center. The stage was filled with artists who hadn’t experienced mainstream success before Yams’ untimely passing in January 2015. The presence of Playboi Carti, PNB Rock, Nav, along with Yachty suggest that Yams and A$AP’s regionally-blurred, genre-bending sound translated well beyond the confines of Harlem, evolving far past the modern New York rap scene Yams envisioned in 2011 when trying to break Rocky’s career.
"Yams stood for all the weirdos, all the burnt out motherfuckas, all the druggies, all the lil niggas who don’t know what they want to be, but know they’re something. That’s the dream we had fucking with Yams," he said. "Culture is beyond boundaries, color, and all that other shit. It’s beyond ethnicity and nationality. Inspiration is inspiration. I want y’all niggas to look at us like the black Steve Jobs. We want to be innovative, push the envelope. But fuck all that, get fucked up tonight."
The stage was congested and from the audience it was hard to make out who was who. "I appreciate you supporting and paying respect, but y’all gotta get the fuck off the stage," said the DJ. Half of the people on stage are asked to exit, but no one moved. The show halted, and it wasn’t long before the audience was shouting, "Get the fuck off the stage." Rocky appeared in an effort to distract a restless crowd, and moshed with his constituents, getting carried further through the crowd. Security swarmed the stage, pleading for Rocky’s return. Loud noises and movement behind the stage’s backdrop were obvious even from the audience. "We’re here for Yams, y’all gotta chill," someone says over the mic. By the end of the night there was speculation of an altercation between Casanova and 6ix9ine, which the two later denied.
I didn’t see the brawl, but it was enough to create a frenzy to the exit. All at once, the crowd rushed toward the exit. Over the stage, Yams’ animated eyes watched over the aftermath.
Kristin Corry is a staff writer at Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.