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Hip Hop’s Favorite Jeweler: A$AP Eva on Making Chains for Jay-Z, A$AP Rocky and Kris Wu

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A$AP Eva wasn’t always a stone-cold OG.

The Macau native (government name Eva Sam) used to work on the factory floor, manufacturing clothing before she moved to New York City. Now, she’s better known as the mastermind jeweler behind hip hop’s A-list, decking out rappers from Ski Mask the Slump God and Macklemore, to Kris Wu and Higher Brothers.

Popular Jewelry on Canal Street operated for years as a regular jewelry store, with a glimmering stock of chains, rings, and pendants that drew a few famous figures (Cappadonna of Wu-Tang Clan was Popular’s first celebrity customer). But it wasn’t until A$AP Rocky visited that the store rocketed into the public consciousness — and A$AP Eva was born.

We met up with Eva in her store to talk business, bling, and unlikely fame.

RADII: For our readers who haven’t heard of Popular Jewelry, could you introduce yourself and your store?

Eva: We’re at Popular Jewelry in New York, 255B Canal Street. My name is Eva Sam, but my nickname is A$AP Eva.

When did you open Popular Jewelry?

We opened in 1988, October 3rd. It’s the same day A$AP Rocky was born — same date, same month, same year.

No way!

Yeah! And my store had a fire. When we re-opened, it was the same day Kris Wu was born — November 6th, 1990.

That’s actually kind of crazy. What were you doing before you moved here?

Before, I was in Macau. I worked in manufacturing, making clothing.

I think hip hop music always tells people about something true. When they see something that’s not good, they make an album to let people know.

What was it like when you first moved to the United States?

When I moved to New York, it was very difficult. I didn’t have any money, and I had to live in my mother’s house for six months. After that, I found a job. I moved out to live by myself with my son. I was in manufacturing again, making clothes for another six months.

And then I thought, I don’t like this job. I want to work for my brother. So I worked for my brother for six years, and then I opened my own store.

Was your brother also in jewelry?

Yes! He opened in 1970. That’s where I learned what I know about jewelry.

When did Popular Jewelry get its big break?

A few years after we opened, Cappadonna from Wu-Tang Clan had already come. But at that time, we didn’t have any computers. We weren’t famous, not popular. We had no iPhones back then.

Even though we had NBA players and famous people coming, nobody knew. But in 2014, we had Instagram and Facebook. We could get the message out to tell everybody, “hey, we have famous customers here.”

Like Madonna, for example, she sent her assistant here four times to buy her jewelry. And Jay-Z — Puma hired me to make a Puma logo chain for Jay-Z.

That’s amazing. How does that feel?

I was very happy, because when you’re buying for Jay-Z, you have to pay a million dollars!

You’ve mentioned a lot of big names who’ve shopped here. Who else has shopped at Popular Jewelry?

We had Joey Bada$$. We had A$AP Mob. We had Macklemore — he called me second mom. And — very famous in Jamaica — Elephant Man. And [“Queen of Latin Pop”] Paulina Rubio! And many others.

Who’s your favorite customer?

I like Christian Dior’s director, Kim Jones. He was a very nice person. After he bought his items, he told me he would send his friends to my store.

Do you still have family in Macau?

Only one cousin. All my family is in the United States now.

Does your cousin in Macau know that you’re a celebrity, too?

I think they know. My brother had a classmate. One day his classmate called him and said “I know a girl, she’s very famous in the United States, and she has the same last name as you! Do you know her?”

My brother said, “she’s my sister!”

What’s Popular Jewelry’s business secret?

You have to have a big selection. You have to work hard. You have to do everything on time. And you have to give people a good price. That’s the secret!

Okay, last question. Now that you’re in it, how do you feel about the hip hop world?

I think hip hop music always tells people about something true. When they see something that’s not good, they make an album to let people know.

Sometimes it’s a good thing, sometimes it’s a bad thing. Sometimes people get mad when you tell them something true.

Adan Kohnhorst
Adan Kohnhorst is a Shanghai-based writer, producer, and multimedia artist, and the Associate Editor at RADII. His work has been featured in publications such as Maxim and the Chinese-language StreetVoice, and he’s an active member of the hip hop and DIY music scenes in Shanghai, NYC, and Dallas. He learned Mandarin in high school so he could train at the Shaolin Temple, but now just uses it to interview rappers. He blogs about China and Asia on Instagram: @this.is.adan