It’s hard to imagine a time when the A$AP Mob didn’t exist. A$AP Ferg, one of the Mob’s breakout stars, is phoning in from Kansas City on G-Eazy’s When It’s Dark Out Tour, contemplating this thought. He backs it up with the fact that the late A$AP Yams had the foresight to grasp the crew’s lasting power.
“You gotta think when A$AP Mob came into existence [there] was nothing like us out. And Yams had the vision for all of that,” Ferg says. “He was a kid like everybody else, but he was on a new level, and nobody was on it. So when we came out, it was fresh. Everybody wanted a piece of A$AP. They wanted to know us, they wanted to be our friends, they wanted to learn from us. And now, this is just a product of what happened.”
Ferg is referring to New York crews evolving from the models of Dipset and G-Unit, which promoted a grittier sound rather than reinventing the future. The Mob were the driving forces behind an open-minded, universal approach to making music, setting the stage for Flatbush Zombies, Pro Era, the Underachievers, and more to flourish. While A$AP Rocky became the poster child for drawing inspiration from all points on the map, Yams deserves just as much credit for shaping the eclectic palates of the internet generation and being an advocate for new acts behind the scenes.
It’s been a year since Yams — born Steven Rodriguez — passed away. During the past twelve months, the Mob has celebrated the 26-year-old’s life through tribute songs and fond memories recalled in interviews. On the anniversary of his death, a memorial concert is taking place at Terminal 5, featuring A$AP Rocky and the Mob, Flatbush Zombies, A$ton Matthews, Lil Uzi Vert, and Joey Bada$$. Organized by Yams’ mother, the first annual Yams Day is meant to spotlight collaborators who supported him from day one. It’s an appreciation for Yamborghini’s contributions to the culture, and one can expect the same love as Steez Day, which commemorated the loss of Capital STEEZ with an all-star lineup last summer in Central Park.
“His moms just wanted to do something in remembrance of her son. She loves to see A$AP together because it reminds her of her son, and she loves to see all [of] Yams’ friends,” Ferg says. “Like Flatbush Zombies, Joey Bada$$, Kirk Knight — that whole movement. She likes to see the movements [come] together.”
Since its inception in 2006, A$AP Mob has lived by a certain code: Always strive and prosper. Many fans believed the Harlem-based crew could never recover from the loss of their spiritual guide and visionary leader. But the brothers have banded together, strengthening the family vibe and making sure their friend is never forgotten. Ferg, who has dedicated his next album, Always Strive and Prosper, to Yams, has kept his name in the rap ether with “Tatted Angel” and “Yammy Gang,” a new track produced by Cashmere Cat and featuring Yams’ mom that he’s been performing a cappella lately.
“Just by me continuing to be successful, that’s what he would want me to do,” Ferg says. “He would want Ferg to be the best, and that’s what I strive for. I feel like as long as I’m alive, he’s alive, because without him, I wouldn’t be here.”
In the end, it’s about building off Yams’ foundation to develop A$AP Worldwide into an undisputed brand in rap, launching the careers of A$AP Ant, A$AP Nast, A$AP Ty Beats, and A$AP Twelvyy. Or as Twelvyy puts it, “I’ma just push what he wanted to push. Always striving and always prospering. Everything is positivity and good energy. We are pure-hearted people. I just want to be the person to help live out his legacy the right way. He doesn’t have a voice anymore. I’ma just say everything I remember him telling me and everything I remember about him and just take it to the next level.”
Yams’ knowledge of hip-hop’s past, present, and future has earned him the stature of a rap-game Yoda. In retrospect, his co-sign meant more to the younger generation than an esteemed a&r or rap legend could ever give them. One of those earlier acts was Flatbush Zombies, for whom he helped gain recognition. Collectively, the Brooklyn rap trio met Yams in 2007 through either MySpace or mutual friends, coming to respect his opinions on rap and fashion. As they recall, it was his inherent ability to know when something was good or bad that allowed him to become such an influencer. “He had great taste,” Zombie Juice says. Adds Erick Arc Elliott, “His personality — you just want to know what he thinks about these things. You are just concerned with what his point of view is about everything, especially music.”
Meechy Darko agrees: “He’s just ahead of the curve. He just knows what’s up before everybody knows they know what’s up. He’s always been like that since the beginning.”
Even after establishing A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg as legitimate solo acts, Yams was keenly aware of who we should be paying attention to next. Aside from Flatbush Zombies, he’s been associated with Bodega Bamz and his Tan Boyz crew, Cutthroat Boyz (Joey Fatts, A$ton Matthews), and Lil Uzi Vert, a young upstart from Philadelphia who had Yams’ blessing before he passed.
“I never got to meet him in person, but he was the first person that hit me up. Yams and [Don] Cannon probably hit me up around the same time, which is crazy. Yams was on it. Yams knew about all the new music, all the time. Still to this day, he probably knows about stuff that people don’t know about. A genius,” Lil Uzi says.
Yams Day will be the start of a new movement around the world that should solidify A$AP Yams as a bona fide icon. If the turnout continues as it began (the show sold out within days of its announcement), look for Yams Day to expand into a music festival showcasing new artists. Says Ferg: “Yams will be remembered as one of the realest people on this Earth to do it.”
But the Mob doesn’t have to do much, as Yams’ name has already permeated hip-hop. On Rocky’s sophomore set, A.L.L.A., he’s honored Yams with a purple birthmark on his face and saluted him in an unreleased track, “Yamborghini High,” that he previewed at Clockenflap Fest in Hong Kong last November. Spearheaded by Rocky, the Mob is also working on his posthumous project, The Cozy Tapes, likely to feature more Yams recordings from the vault.
Outside of the group paying homage, whether it be Future rapping, “Long live A$AP Yams” on “Slave Master” from Dirty Sprite 2, Joey Fatts tattooing Yams’ face on his hand, or a book of Yams’ best and funniest tweets, the tributes to the Puerto Rican R. Kelly will live forever.
Yams Day features A$AP Rocky, A$AP Mob, Flatbush Zombies, and more at Terminal 5 on January 18.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 15, 2016