“To me he was a modern day icon, someone who was before his time.”
Entourages are more common than not in the entertainment world. And in hip-hop, these ‘guys behind the guy’ get more face time than any other industry.
Sometimes, they can even ascend to the forefront of popular culture. Mac Miller’s “Most Dope Family” got their own TV show on MTV, and Don C’s $500 snapbacks were seen being worn by more than just Kanye and Jay-Z in 2014.
It might take an astute, well-read hip-hop fan to differentiate them, but some have a greater impact on the industry than you might suspect.
Since the seemingly overnight rise of A$AP Rocky in 2011, a guy with matching braids and an unmistakable paint-splatter birthmark below his right eye has popped up in damn near everyone of A$AP Rocky’s music videos, interviews, and video appearances.
Like Rocky, this stocky Puerto Rican always had his genuine charisma on display. Rocky usually referred to his counterpart as “Yamborghini,” but the rest of the world was introduced to him as A$AP Yams.
On January 18th, Steven “A$AP Yams” Rodriguez died in New York City. He was only 26 years old.
Since his passing, the cumulative effect Yams had on the trajectory of A$AP Rocky’s career, and his role in the formation of the A$AP Mob, has been pondered extensively.
As a 16-year-old kid interested in the music business, Rodriguez secured an unpaid internship with his Harlem-based predecessors, Diplomat Records (not a bad gig for a future 10th-grade dropout interested in the music business). But like many interns, Rodriguez wasn’t given the kind of responsibility necessary to gain the experience he was looking for.
To compensate for the lack of monetary compensation for his promotional efforts of Dipset’s releases, Rodriguez admitted in an unpublished Pitchfork interview to stealing mixtapes and selling them elsewhere. However, that wasn’t Yams’ only hustle during his time at Dipset.
In 2007, Rodriguez took the insight he gained from his time at Dipset and worked with two friends, later known as Bari and Illz, to create the modern day Harlem hip-hop collective. All three adopted the moniker of ‘A$AP,’ and a crew was established.
I spoke with longtime member of the group, A$AP Melo, and asked him his story in becoming a part of the movement and his earliest impressions of Yams.
“I met everyone through my cousin (A$AP Illz) and Bari in 2008,” A$AP Melo told me. “Yams was very outgoing… cool to everyone. He’d ask you what your goals in life are, and he’d do his best to help you in any way, shape, or form.”
Looking at pictures and watching videos of Yams will explain why so many were fond of him. A big smile and cartoonish looks matched his happy-go-lucky personality. Eerily enough, the stories you hear are very reminiscent of so many other young talents that went too soon.
He wasn’t the “pretty motherfucker” that Rocky is, nor was he the high-end fashionista. He was the one who couldn’t seem to take anything too seriously, all the while possessing incredible vision. You can tell that when he spoke, his peers were obliged to listen.
Yams has been referred to as a “tastemaker” for A$AP Mob’s work – a trendsetter and sound curator. Over the course of Yams’ career, he took from the ethereal, in-house production with chopped and screwed segments that originated on Live.Love.A$AP and brought the same flavor to even more sophisticated productions by big name beat makers.
On both A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg’s debut albums, Yams is credited as an executive producer. Serving as a testament to his broad range of influences, his Tumblr is one of the most eclectic mixes of sounds compiled on a page that music followers of all tastes are likely to find.
A$AP Melo explained to me that although Yams was a devout student of hip-hop’s Golden Era (during the mid-1980s and 90s), he was heavily influenced by all genres: “To me he was a modern day icon, someone who was before his time.”
Yams’ greatest contributions to music were those that the A$AP Mob all play a part in – the creation of a new hip-hop aesthetic.
Blending different types of street wear with high fashion is the undisputed staple of the entire crew. For someone who never rapped on a song or produced a beat, Yams’ place in the genre was one that manifested outside of the studio and became an inspiration for the subculture he represented.
Yams played a part in the creation of a new hip-hop vernacular; taking language from every region and putting a New York spin on it.
Plus, how can you not respect the guy who brought Coogi sweaters back?
Yams wasn’t the next Dame Dash or the next Diddy. While he did model their entrepreneurial ingenuity, he applied it to his own stable of artists with a focus on creating a completely original sound. More impressively, he did it during one of the peaks of the Internet age thus far.
Rumors have circulated that Yams had recently penned a deal with Sony to serve as an A&R; and that his own Yamborghini Records was on the brink of entering the conversation of elite independent record labels in hip-hop.
In the hours following Yams’ passing – Drake, Mac Miller, M.I.A. and Action Bronson (among millions of others) showed their support on Twitter and Instagram.
For all of the support from fans and some of the most well-established artists, Yams’ death appears to mean something different to the ones who knew him best. Not only did they lose the co-founder of today’s most prevalent hip-hop collective – they lost Steven Rodriguez, their best friend.
I wrapped my conversation with A$AP Melo by asking him if a conversation he ever had with Yams will stand out as one that he’d never forget. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
“Yeah,” his laughter seemingly ubiquitous with many stories of the late A$AP Yams.
“One night he took me aside and asked if I fucked this bitch that we both knew. I told him ‘Yeah,’ but I had no idea how he would’ve found out about it.” More laughter ensues.
It’s only so often we hear about such a unique combination of one’s larger than life aura, mixed with a down to earth personality. Serving as an inspiration to so many that didn’t know him and a compassionate friend to those that did – Rodriguez’s death is nothing short of a tragedy.
Too often in music, contributions to an artist’s success aren’t credited to the extent that they deserve. With the growing controversy over “ghost-writing” in rap, we as fans have to be skeptical sometimes to the craft and skill that we see and hear.
While his role wasn’t one of writing anyone’s music behind the scenes, A$AP Yams was never sold short on his contributions to the genre. For some of his 26 years, he played an integral part in the rise of a new era of hip-hop.
And despite his untimely passing, the legacy of A$AP Yams will only continue to grow.
(Feature photo from A$AP Mob Instagram)