Steven “A$AP Yams” Rodriguez was a powerful element in the rise of the A$AP Mob. His music helped usher in a new wave of East Coast rap that took the planet by storm. To get a sense of his lasting impact at the time of this article, his single “Yamborghini High feat Juicy J” currently has more than 141 million views on YouTube. But in the middle of the truly meteoric rise of the A$AP Mob, tragedy struck. A$AP Yams died suddenly on January 18, 2015, after an accidental fentanyl overdose. The hip-hop world was shaken to its core at the death of this 26-year-old rising star. Yam’s death was part of a growing trend inside the entertainment world and mainstream America, where fentanyl overdoses were fast on the rise.
Taking a broader view, fentanyl overdoses have spiked in the country at an alarming rate over the past decade. Musicians, college kids, and even cops are not safe from the rapid death toll the drug has claimed across all American demographics. According to the DEA website, as little as 2 milligrams can kill you. The death rate increases when those small amounts are mixed with other drugs. Rolling Stone recently did a feature on how many celebrities — Prince, Tom Petty, Lil Peep, etc. — have fallen victim to having very small doses of fentanyl laced with other drugs. Two students at Ohio State University just died after an accidental overdose from buying fake Adderall pills. San Jose State University football star turned Police Officer, Dejon Packer recently died in his home from “fentanyl toxicity.”
No one is safe from this drug. Full stop.
In response to the devasting toll caused by fentanyl, A$AP Yams’ mother, Tatianna Paulino founded the Always Strive and Prosper Foundation (It follows the A$AP moniker, the acronym created by Yams). Darryl Phillips joined her in actualizing her vision. Serving as Executive Director in the non-profit they spread awareness to the streets on how to avoid the deadly impact of drugs, focusing on fentanyl. We spoke with Tatiana and Darryl about Yams’ music, A$AP Yams Day, and their mission to heal the hood.
Can you tell me why the Always Strive And Prosper Foundation was created and what your goals are with it for young people?
Darryl Phillips: The foundation was created really as a a commemorative, but also a meaningful mission brought together by Tatiana Paulino, A$AP Yams, mom. She wanted to be able to help one family or, you know, an individual person, whoever. If we could kind of help in any way to not experience some of the mourning that she was going through. It kind of started as something that we just were talking about. Then we got together in a community room up in Riverdale, in the Bronx and just started discussing what we saw as issues.
From there we tried to figure out we could deal with substance abuse.. But really it was just about this woman here [Yam’s mom] wanting to be able to help other families and other people to not go through the same pain.
Sometimes when a rapper dies, in the expansion of public awareness, the humanity of the individual can be lost. Can you tell us who he was to you before the rest of the world got to know him?
Tatianna Paulino: Well, I don’t even know how to describe that. It’s like, he was my kid. He was my friend. He was my son and he was everything for me before he was A$AP. He was my kid.
He made a lot of jokes. So for me in the house, it was like having a comedian around all of the time. You know, having a great time, having dinner with him. He was hilarious. So I miss all the family time that we had together.
Now, do you remember the day or even the moment you decided you were gonna create a foundation?
Paulino: The same time he passed away. I wanted to do something to help other parents and other families with the problem that I’m going through at the moment. Because it’s really hard. He was helping a lot of people in the music business, we can help another family. I said, “We have to do the foundation. We have to keep his legacy alive.”
Do either of you have advice for parents who may be concerned about their kids abusing drugs or being exposed to these environments? What is your advice to them?
Phillips: I think the advice is to try and have a conversation [with your kids]. To always be able to instill something about truth with your children, with your kids, your brothers, your family members. Speak to each other in a way that involves care and some kind of trust.
I had a conversation at a friend’s house once and you know, we’re talking about drug use and just how it was impacting community lives. He’s like “Well, you know, my son is not really around friends that are into that.” The son chimed in and said, “No, actually they are.” The dad was shocked.
Then provide extracurricular things. Like “Hey, do you know, what is it that you wanna do? And how can I help you do that with art, basketball, chess- you know? Ask how you can support their personal vision of themselves.
Paulino: I think as parents, we have to be open-minded. Try to get information, to see what’s really going out there. Because sometimes we are behind, because of our age.
Can you talk about A$AP Yams Day? What happens at those events?
Phillips: It was something where we were asking the mob, can we do something? A$AP Rocky was kind of always carrying a flag for that, as well. He wanted to make sure it was something that was really commemorative. It’s a concert that involves not really random artists, but up-and-coming artists.
The first year [Jan 18, 2019] seemed to be the coldest day of the year. It was marking the day that he passed. It was a who’s who of artists. But we also had up and comers take the stage as well.
The Weeknd, Kendrick, Tyler [the Creator], there has been such a host of people that have come to support it. And now we can incubate programs to do little events that we could outside the concert to develop the community. You know, I think every day is A$AP Yams Day.
Do you have any messages for the artists that promote, you know, the high drug lifestyle these days? They really do seem to have the ears of the teens and kids.
Phillips: We can’t blame the kids ever. Us being old school, we always understood that even when it was in NWA was a reflection of what we were going through in our community. We were experiencing every day going outside, the injustice that was over us. We had a generation of kids that grew up living with their grandparents. Not even their parents. So I think we have to look at the overall larger picture, which is the drug war. We have to look at the pharmaceutical companies that are really pushing the agenda [of how these drugs are made so available to teenagers]. From Purdue [an international pharmaceutical company responsible for many opioid deaths] and many others.
Follow the money on all that.I can’t blame the artists. We have to try and see what we can do to counter it or to figure out how to abate it in some way.
Tatianna, can you tell me some of the other upcoming events, your organization will be hosting?
Paulino: So we have a back-to-school event usually involving a basketball tournament. We have a show in Harlem and it’s going on in the lower east side. We have a toy and coat drive that we do as well. That’s around the Christmas holidays. It was just really us giving them scarves, brand new toys, and other people coming to donate stuff for the kids. We try and keep these quarterly events alive as well. We are always working to figure out other ways to support other people doing other events also.
Phillips: So Michael K. Williams was a friend of mine. He knew of our organization as well. And when he passed, you know, we were able to contribute. We’d like to do something, I think a little bit outta state. I’m going to talk to some people about A$AP Yams events in LA and on the west coast.
For more information and support on upcoming events, issues with fentanyl, and other addiction issues please contact the Always Strive and Prosper Foundation and on IG @asapfoundation.