Steven Rodriguez aka A$AP Yams, founder of New York City's A$AP Mob and consistent purveyor of rap tastes, died early Sunday morning at the age of 26. His death was confirmed by several peers and friends, as well as a statement from labels Polo Grounds Music and RCA.
Rodriguez was born to a Puerto Rican father and Dominican mother in Morningside Heights, growing up during the decadent late 1990s and inspired by rap moguls and New York icons of the time, such as Irv Gotti and Damon Dash. " [Gotti], J. Prince, Dee and Wah, Tony Draper…I took their positive aspects and analyzed their fuckups and applied it to my game," he told The Village Voice in 2012.
By the turn of the millennium, a teenage Rodriguez split his love of hip-hop across its splintering mediums, immersing himself in New York rap's longstanding tradition of independent distribution via an internship for Duke Da God, the Harlem-based A&R who helped flood the streets with the Diplomats' promotional mixtapes in the early 2000s. Rodriguez eventually dove headfirst into the emerging community of online rap enthusiasts, gaining the admiration of artists and influential critics alike with his RealNiggaTumblr page; the site, a rolling pastiche of borderless rap music and vintage photography, was enlivened by commentary delivered in Rodriguez's distinctly uptown voice.
Old friends and mentors recall that Rodriguez wanted nothing more than to build a brand; Duke Da God told The New York Times' Jon Caramanica in 2013 that the young charge "always had a plan in his mind," going as far to tattoo "ASAP" on his arm at the age of 17. Boyish in looks but bearing a loose, disheveled silhouette, Yams maintained an integral presence in New York City's budding downtown community, selling mixtapes and managed artists before forming A$AP Mob with A$AP Bari and A$AP Illz in 2007.
He connected with A$AP Rocky via a mutual friend the following year and took the rapper under his wing; together, the two would produce a new strain of Houston-influenced Harlem rap, and the results were explosive. By 2011, Rocky had signed to RCA, and Yams had his own major label imprint, A$AP Worldwide. Rocky's first album, 2013's Long.Live.A$AP, would debut at the top of the Billboard 200 chart, cementing Rodriguez's legacy as a trend forecaster. "Yams is the hip-hop encyclopedia," Rocky told the NYT. "He's no joke. That's one person I can't front on when it comes to music."
Ever the experimenter, Rodriguez continued to extend his reach. After successfully cultivating the careers of A$AP Mob members Rocky and A$AP Ferg, he reached out to younger artists he believed in, buoying the momentum of rising names like Flatbush Zombies, Vince Staples, and Heir Dash while overseeing the A$AP Mob's continued recorded output. Rodriguez hosted radio shows and designed apparel, remained a nightlife fixture, and kept his loyal fans engaged with riveting social media output. "I don't go with advice, I like to go based off my own instincts," he told XXL in October of last year. "So if something fails, I have nobody else to blame but myself."
The young firebrand was also not shy about his love of drugs. His recreational use of Xanax was well known (a tattoo on his left arm read "BLACK OUT" next to Xanax bars) and he was often seen clutching the white Styrofoam cups made famous by Pimp C and Lil Wayne and associated with the mixture of codeine and soda known as lean. Last summer, he'd attempted to rein in his substance abuse and entered himself into rehab, and in a since-deleted Tumblr post he claimed sobriety since late June: "In rehab I started getting knowledge of self and realizing that I am a god, and as a god nothing should have control over them whether it's lust drugs money or any vice…I'm trying my hardest to avoid festivals, video shoots, club walk-throughs or anything that's going to make me hate the human race more than I do. I' ,m [sic] addicted to the money though fasho." His last tweet, "BODEINE BRAZY," was sent early yesterday morning.
I always wanted to b like U b I ain't ready to b the big homie yet I was still learning game from U slime U got me hot I ain't even get to see U n a Bentley blood
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