“I made the right choice when I told my wife about the bakery attack. But then, it might not have been a question of right and wrong. Which is to say that wrong choices can produce right results, and vice versa.” — Haruki Murakami (The Second Bakery Attack)
Death arrives without a voice. It knows no words. No apologies are given, no condolences left, no comfort provided—the silent actions of a taker. The day death came for Steven Rodriguez, better known as A$AP Yams, preparations weren't made available for the minds, hearts, and spirits of those he knew. There were no hints that his last breath would be taken. It was sudden and shocking, a devastating earthquake on an unsuspecting, ordinary day.
“That was my flashlight in the dark,” Joey Fatts recalls. “Whenever I was going through something I would call him. He was there for me more than my own dad was.”
Hip-hop as a whole lost a cultural contributor, a creative visionary, and an avid advocate of all things dope, but beyond the music a mother lost a son, and family lost an irreplaceable member. For Fatts, it was the loss of a brother. Not by blood, blood is too thin of a measure.
Yams' support came early; he saw something in a homeless MC/producer from Long Beach, with the potential to be so much more. He saw the next Dr. Dre, a young creative with a blueprint for the next wave of West Coast artistry. Opportunity, brotherhood, mentorship, and positive reinforcement is what he brought into Joey’s life, but in a flash, there was no longer any wind beneath his wings, no light to break through the darkness.
"I was very depressed once he passed away. I think that played a big part of it. It really hit me hard. I went into a slump. I was kind of embarrassed that I couldn’t produce the things I wanted to do. He was my guidance, when things didn’t sound right he would be that critical voice. I was a little afraid and embarrassed to do it on my own. On top of that he was my brother, I was used to having him here."
Self-doubt, depression, and the pain of losing a loved one were accompanied by drugs he had never before dabbled in: lean and prescription pills. It was an attempt to cope, a way of escaping what death had left through the measures so many of his rap peers express in their music. Drugs became habitual, digested on the daily. Joey says he wasn’t completely spiraling out of control, but rather lacking in focus.
The concept of control shifted early in March 2017, when Joey was arrested in Memphis. He was on the road, headed to Virginia Beach for the opening show of his At Your Neck Tour alongside D Savage and Eddy Baker, when their van was pulled over with a reported 20 ounces of marijuana on board. For the better part of 2017, Joey sat in a jail cell, quietly fighting for his freedom.
Just last month, Joey was released on a suspended sentence, a free man, ready to reclaim his life. When he answered my phone call, the 25-year old was leaving Billionaire Burger Boys, happy to sing their delicious praises. When he spoke of being in a better place, they weren't just words. Jail, despite its conditions on a man’s soul, was a blessing in disguise.
“God sends the craziest things at ya,” Joey explains. “I’m thankful that I did go to jail and that I went through that whole situation. I feel like I was slipping and wilding out. It was only a matter of time before I would’ve overdosed or did something stupid to where I would be in jail for the rest of my life.”
Going to jail was a pause, a chance to learn and study. His time wasn’t lost but well spent:
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"I was learning about the law in the law library. Learning about music. It’s deeper than just rapping and making beats, it’s frequencies that make people feel a certain way. It’s all types of stuff that’s into it. Also learning about CBT, Cognitive Behavior Therapy. How you think and thoughts about things. Things of that nature. Behavioral things. I also want to help people who are going through the same things as me. I like to be the one who knows what the hell I’m talking about. I couldn't really help nobody with depression problems or someone with self-esteem issues because I wouldn’t know what I was talking about, but I educated myself so that now I can really help a lot of people out."
That passion and desire to help others manifested into a dream of building group homes in the hood; safe havens for troubled teens who need mentorship and guidance. With the right institution in place, Joey believes a lot can be done to assist kids and young adults. Joey’s mind isn’t boxed into the moment, he has a vision that extends far beyond his work as a rapper, producer, and label CEO. His redemption story is on course for a positive second act.
Back in June, Fatts' label released I’ll Call You Tomorrow II, a mixtape that was recorded prior to his arrest. The release was a placeholder that was put together to fill the void of his absence.
“The 'Do What You Need To' record, the Playboi Carti record, 'Every Little Things' were just loosies I planned on putting out,” Joey says. “The real sound I was going for was the 'All My Life' and 'Life Time,' more like classic West Coast music.” The first taste of that sound is the Dave East-assisted "U-Haul," a record Fatts self-produced and is pushing without the assistance of a major label or distribution arm.
"I know the ins and outs of distributing music and marketing so it’s kind of pointless [to seek out a label or distributor]. I’m looking for people to come on and help me grow. I know how to tour by myself. I’ve done six headlining US tours independently. There's not really anything I need a label for. It’s about getting people to come onto my boat and enhance this brand. You get intrigued by all the money they throw at you—I had a deal for $1.7 million on the table—but you got to think about lawyer fees and all that. At the end of the day, that’s just a loan. A loan you have to pay back some type of way. I'd rather get it out the mud and [have it] all be mine than having to worry about giving somebody a split."
A radio budget is nice, but it does cost you on the back end. The advance is sweet, but it must be paid back in full. This mindset has kept Joey from accepting lucrative label offers, but sidestepping labels alone doesn’t keep an artist free of the politics that come with making music.
Earlier this year, Fatts and his cousin Vince Staples released “562,” a gorgeous, Super Mario-produced loosie. Unfortunately, shortly after the song was released, it was taken down from all the major on-demand streaming services. As the story goes, when Joey first heard the beat, a female vocalist was present on the hook. He asked Super Mario to get her permission before moving forward—a request that was ultimately greenlit—and even offered to pay the artist to allow the record to remain available, but she wouldn't budge after a change of heart.
“Those are the people you never hear of, though, the people who feel that they’re entitled to something. They think about money, worried about points,” he says. “Yams taught me that you got to fall in love with the art, that you got to fall in love with the music and the money will come.” A true shame, as all three creatives made a record that’s rather special.
Just like Vince, Joey doesn’t look at the days ahead with worry. He's optimistic that the best of times are awaiting tomorrow. "With the music [that] I’ve been making, the video ideas I have in mind, and the business I've been lining up, it’s about to be amazing. I’m going to be bigger than I ever been,” he says with an enthusiasm. And if work isn't enough, Joey is also preparing for the birth of his daughter in January.
The story of Joey Fatts isn’t one without its bumps and roadblocks. But he’s still here, still standing, hoping to leave the world a better place than when he arrived. His actions won't be silent, and he will give more than he takes.
Yams would be proud of the man he’s becoming.
By Yoh, aka Yohborghini, aka @Yoh31