Steven Rodriguez, better known as Eastside Stevie or A$AP Yams, was a brash, larger-than-life presence in the hip-hop world. Though invariably compared with Murder Inc.'s Irv Gotti and Roc-A-Fella's Damon Dash, both of whom he idolized, 26-year-old Yams' career was still on the ascent when the heartbreaking news of his passing broke this weekend. (Rumors are he'd just landed a major A&R position with Sony.)
To those of us who followed him for years, though, he was much more than an aspiring mogul. He had to be—after all, he came of age in a radically different era than Irv or Dame. On social media, in writing, and through interviews, he was a living repository of hip-hop history, an enthusiastic tastemaker, a businessman, a brand, and an assured comic personality. Short and stocky with a paint-splatter birthmark on his right cheek, he was a distinctive presence in every A$AP Mob photograph and video. But he also played a public-facing role online before anyone knew who A$AP Rocky was. It enabled him to parlay his established platform, the now-defunct RealNiggaTumblr, into the launching pad for a group of kids from Harlem to become international stars. But more than anything, he was an obsessive hip-hop fan, one with a generous spirit, someone whose every move was for his friends and the culture to which he'd devoted his life.