Photo by Jessica Lehrman
“All this shrimp, nobody to share it with.” –A$AP Yams
JFK has an eternal flame, but A$AP Yams got New York City lit. Last night, we, thousands of us, gathered at New York’s Terminal 5 for Yams—who was born Steven Rodriguez but lived as the Puerto Rican R. Kelly, whose braids hung tight and swung low, whose “menthol-flavor” cologne still hangs on the air. We weren’t there to remember the man; he’s never been forgotten—just check Instagram’s popular page or listen to the radio. Outside the concert, Yams’s most-famous portrait, first seen on the front page of the New York Times arts’ section, was projected onto the side of a West 56th Street building. In death, Eastside Stevie looms just as large as the city that birthed him.
Last night, it was incredible to see all of New York and so much of hip-hop all together on one stage. Festivals throw artists against one another for forced chemistry, but this wasn’t that. At the end of the night, A$APs Rocky and Ferg moonwalked across a stage sprayed with water by YG Addie for Yung Gleesh, who matched a FUBU shirt to his bathrobe. Joey Bada$$ shared a broken mic with Rocky. Mere feet away, Danny Brown stretched a Coogi sweater vertical and showed off a fixed smile; Lil Uzi Vert giggled and tousled his green hair, tongue out, stupid high. Someone asked for the stage to be cleared; no one moved. DJ A-Trak was trapped between the Coogi-laced couch and several dozen people; DJ Drama Instagrammed or Snapchatted, it was hard to tell from far away. A$AP Twelvyy had just performed “Last Year Being Broke,” right after French Montana had sort-of faded into his eyelids. Along with Joey Bada$$’ crew of 90s flannel enthusiasts, there were the acid-heads of Flatbush Zombies and Spanish Harlem’s Bodega Bamz and the far-flung Yamborghini Records signees, who Lou Banga corralled with Henny in hand. Nearby, RetcH juggled Styrofoam cups like Erich Brenn. And Mack Wilds was there? So, yeah, it was a crowded space; family reunions can be that way.
And hundreds more tried to get in, outside, but security was unrelenting, colder than the cold temperatures. “This is A$AP Nast’s brother! He has to get in!” someone screamed. A$AP Bari came to check out the scene and said, smirking, “If y’all didn’t call and wish me a happy birthday, I’m not helping y’all. You’re not my friend!” Nast’s brother was let in. Someone backstage said, “I’m gonna pass out from smoke.” For his part, Rocky said, “Thank you for coming! We love y'all. Next year, I promise it'll be a bigger venue. Thank you to the family and friends of A$AP."
As a tribute show, Yams himself was something like a presenting sponsor. It was his sound: He championed gruff-voiced outsiders, new school traditionalists and originators. And besides, there he was, riding a unicorn, floating amongst the stars on 40-foot screens; draped in VLONE and under a Braves fitted, mobbing with his friends and smiling. This is how we remember him, as much a part of Coogi fabric as the fabric itself. The same goes for hip-hop, the city, the internet, the 2010s. Maybe because Yams was so…there, so present in mind and spirit, none of the dozen artists took the opportunity to do more than ask for a moment of silence or, as French Montana did, tell everyone you’re “supposed to get fucked up for A$AP Yams today,” weird for obvious reasons. (Also, one of the early artists thought it was Yams’s birthday, which it’s not.)
Jam-packed as it was, the night was lacking that “moment” until Mama Yams, holding her spot on a packed stage, raised her fist to cheers and read from a Hallmark card of a cartoon bear with outstretched arms. “Thanks,” said the card. She smiled and went further: “Welcome everyone. I am Tatianna Paulino, I am A$AP Yams’s mother. I would like to thank all of you for joining us tonight as we celebrate the life and legacy of Steven Rodriguez, A$AP Yams. On behalf of A$AP’s entire family, we would like to say a huge thank you for being a part of an important moment in our lives. I wish to announce tonight that we are establishing the Always Strive and Prosper Foundation. Our mission is to ensure that no parent ever has to go through what we did.” And then she dabbed. Twice. And that’s when “Yamborghini High” started. She bounced, hugging all of her $ons onstage.
It was a night to celebrate. A$AP Yams gave New York hip-hop an identity when it didn’t have one, creating a life lovingly constructed from the walls of his childhood bedroom and Tumblr pages. The artists and sounds he promoted and built are now played alongside Dipset, DMX, Juvenile in DJ sets. At his show, on his night, A-Trak mixed Dipset into “Peso” into Master P; Yams would’ve, could’ve died... except that he’s already living forever.
Fuckin’ Up the Count
Bring Em Out
Madeintyo & Royce Rizzy:
Flex Up & Win
I Want (Skr Skr) (Remix) feat. A$AP Rocky
Fetti (Playboi Carti)
Fuck Do You Mean
Alchemist (DJ set)
A-Trak (DJ set)
Hail Razor (Pro Era)
Live for the Highs, Live through the Lows (Nyck Caution)
Knight Time (Kirk Knight)
Mixed By Ali (DJ Set)
Lil Uzi Vert:
All My Chains
Super Saiyan Trunks
Yammy Gang (A$AP Ferg)
Let It Go (A$AP Ferg)
Work (A$AP Ferg) (feat. French Montana)
Off the Rip (French Montana) (Remix) (feat. A$AP Rocky)
Shabba Ranks (A$AP Ferg and A$AP Rocky)
WDYW (Lil Uzi Vert)
Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye
1 Train (A$AP Rocky feat. Joey Bada$$, Danny Brown)
Last Year Being Broke (A$AP Twelvyy)
New Level (A$AP Ferg)
Peso (A$AP Rocky)
Water (Yung Gleesh)
Jeff Rosenthal is a real one. Follow him on Twitter.