On Friday night, frigid late evening air and a slow-moving line made the triangular plaza in front of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center feel like an arctic tundra. Still, anticipation – and the VLONE shirt count – remained sky high, as rap fans and hypebeasts shuffled into the arena to bear witness to the 5th annual Yams Day, a one-night rap showcase and celebration held in honor of the late A$AP Mob godfather, A$AP Yams.
Inside, a 15-foot bust of Yams’ symbol, a snarling bull, menaced the crowd from the middle of the stage, flanked by twin DJ booths fashioned as Lamborghinis. The centerpiece, though, was a wrestling ring (in honor of Yams’ love of wrestling) situated at half-court. During the night’s early acts, it was unclear how this ring would be utilized. While Night Lovell, Maxo Kream, and Bun B banged out quick, six-minute sets from the comfort of the stage, Kenny Beats’ guest Key! ventured into the ring to perform. As Pi'erre Bourne bopped around in the ring performing “Poof,” he was unexpectedly upstaged by the arrival of A$AP Rocky, who, swaddled in chains, fought his way through the crowd and hopped up on the ring; thrashing the ropes and whipping Barclays into a frenzy as Bourne dutifully continued with his performance.
After a short set from Smooky Margielaa and his diminutive Bronx sidekick Bouba Savage – the world’s most famous 12-year-old rapper – the musical performances continued, but took a backseat to the wrestling ring, which was suddenly occupied by an actual wrestling match, complete with referees and superplexes. THOTTWAT (fka ICYTWAT) performed now, urging the mosh pit to get bloody, and Bouba Savage cannonballed into a sea of arms, but the crowd seemed mostly interested in the battle taking place atop the ladder that had been erected in the middle of the ring. The mosh pits, which were most active when DJs played Fivio Foreign, Pop Smoke, and Lil Uzi, died down during sets by slowthai and the Staten Island duo G4 Boyz. (Shades of the American reaction to Giggs’ verse on “KMT” were clearly felt.)
For the remaining two hours, A$AP Rocky served as the official Yams Day hypeman; he bounded around the stage, denounced “soft shit,” worked to preserve the show’s slowly disintegrating structure, executed stage-dives, and at one point heaved Bouba Savage into the crowd as if attempting a half-court shot. As Metro Boomin launched into “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1,” the ring (d)evolved into a packed, adult bouncy castle of dudes, dancing vigorously, pumping up the crowd, and practicing wrestling moves. A single Jordan sneaker sailed over the crowd.
Next up: Jim Jones and his massive entourage, then Young M.A. The stage and the wrestling rings were overrun by seas of dudes. Rocky smoked joints and dangled bras tossed on stage. As he screamed “titties!” for the umpteenth time, the big screen flashed the word “TITTIES” then panned to the crowd: another sea of dudes. Yams Day was a sausagefest. The fire marshal threatened to stop the show if the sea of dudes didn’t evacuate the stage. Casanova launched a “Fuck the fire department chant” while waiting for the stage to clear so he could perform. Counting the delay, he had the longest solo performance of the night. It was still shorter than Metro’s DJ set (20 minutes) and A$AP Mob’s set (15 minutes). The show’s shortest set belonged to Lil Yachty, who performed for 40 seconds before announcing that he was headed behind the DJ boards to play Migos. “Yachty, you suck, nigga,” Rocky said.
The show closed with Sheck Wes, 2 Chainz, a speech from Yams’ mother, and the feel-good closer, a rousing, Ferg-led set from A$AP Mob that featured a Tyler, the Creator cameo and boldly extended past the midnight curfew. Yams Day 2020 had no shortage of thrills and spectacles, but it lacked direction, and at moments it seemed to teeter on the verge of anarchy. It did have a few refrains: chaos in the wrestling ring, calls to free Pop Smoke (who was scheduled to perform and who had been arrested earlier that day), and salutes to Yams, the man who inspired this annual night of pandemonium.