Rakim Mayers and Terell Ephron, better known as A$AP Rocky and A$AP Relli, met in high school in New York.
Both were members of A$AP, which Ephron described on the witness stand in Los Angeles Superior Court Wednesday as “a conglomerate of young men that have many different talents.” Even as Mayers became a famous rapper and fashion icon — and millionaire many times over — the two were like “brothers,” Ephron testified.
But one November night in 2021, tensions erupted into a fight on a Hollywood sidewalk. Ephron testified that Mayers pulled a gun from his waistband and shot him, grazing his hand.
Wednesday’s preliminary hearing marked the first time Ephron has publicly recounted the night he says Mayers shot him. Mayers, 35, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of assaulting Ephron with a firearm. Superior Court Judge M.L. Villar did not rule on whether Mayers should stand trial, continuing the hearing for further testimony on Nov. 20.
The rapper, who walked into court wearing a black three-piece suit, sunglasses and a surgical mask, listened from about 20 feet away as his old friend explained their group’s rise in the music industry, the resentments that fractured it, and the tit-for-tat name calling that devolved into gunfire outside a Hollywood hotel.
Ephron testified that he founded A$AP around 2008 with six or seven childhood friends. The group represented “a lot of things,” he said, but the acronym stood for “Always Strive and Prosper.”
Ephron said he brought Mayers, then an aspiring rapper, into A$AP. “I mean, we were cool. We was really cool. I mean, like, we would chill — when we was young, we would chill all the time. We had dreams, pretty much.”
As Mayers’ career took off, Ephron said, he was only “slightly” involved. “I got placements done — didn’t get credit,” he testified.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Paul Przelomiec asked how money was distributed within A$AP. “It’s not,” Ephron replied, testifying that his income now comes from real estate in Costa Rica, “private equity” deals and unspecified investments.
Even as he denied being jealous of his old friend, Ephron admitted that Mayers made “open-ended promises” to support potential business ventures, then never followed through. Ephron felt once Mayers made it big, he forgot about the group that helped him succeed.
“He’s the top capo — he got put in a good position through A$AP,” Ephron testified. “Everybody’s looking at Rocky like he’s got the answers.”
Ephron was blunt about the current state of the group: “Everybody’s broke or bums.” Some of the original members died of drug overdoses. One was again living in a housing project. Another was homeless, Ephron said.
In October 2021, a member of the group called A$AP Josh died. In a group text, his mother asked for financial help bringing his body back to New York. Mayers, Ephron testified, “stepped in and said he would pay for it.”
Ephron said he believed Mayers never followed through. Przelomiec showed a text message that Ephron sent the rapper: “You so f—ing fake it’s sad.”
“Don’t ever forget who introduced you to this life,” he added. “When I was at my lowest you looked at me like I was a piece of s—.” Ephron acknowledged learning later that Mayers had, in fact, paid for the entire funeral.
A month after sending the texts, Ephron was in a car with Jabari Shelton, another founding member who went by A$AP Bari, when Shelton got a call from Mayers. Shelton put the call on speakerphone, and Ephron said he heard Mayers invite Shelton to his performance at ComplexCon.
Shelton refused, telling Mayers to “stop having your assistants hit me,” Ephron testified. “Out of nowhere,” he recalled, “Rocky says, ‘F— that n— Relli.’”
After overhearing the conversation, Ephron said he sent a message to one of Mayer’s friends, calling the rapper a “pussy.”
The evening of Nov. 6, 2021, Ephron was sleeping at the Loews Hollywood Hotel. He woke up to see he’d missed calls from Mayers and two other members of A$AP: Illijah Ulanga, nicknamed A$AP Illz, and Jamel Phillips, known as A$AP Twelvyy.
According to text messages shown in court, Mayers wrote to Ephron, asking “Wya?” — short for “Where you at?”
Then: “Let’s get to it.”
“Stop duckin my calls.”
Using FaceTime, Ephron called Mayers and told him, falsely, he was staying at the W hotel. Mayers, who could see the room on FaceTime, said, “That’s not the W. That’s a bum-ass hotel.”
Ephron agreed to meet Mayers at the W. “We was just going to link up, talk,” he recalled thinking. “There was a little bit of tension so I thought there might be some roughing, but I thought we were going to walk away like brothers.”
Ephron walked down Hollywood Boulevard toward the hotel. Mayers was asking where he was, “so I started jogging.” He was on Argyle Avenue, he testified, when he heard Mayers say, “What now, pussy?”
He said he saw Mayers “coming in hot,” with Ulanga and Phillips behind him.
In a confrontation partially captured by surveillance cameras, Mayers grabbed him by the collar, Ephron said. Ulanga tried to break it up. Then, Ephron testified, Mayers pulled a handgun from his waistband and pressed it to his chest, stomach and head.
Ephron said he told his onetime friend: “Shoot that s—. Why you brought a gun if you not going to use it?”
Some people walked by. Mayers put the gun back in his waistband and started to walk away, Ephron said. When he saw that Phillips was putting away a pocketknife, he said, he felt betrayed.
“Seeing red,” Ephron followed after Mayers and Phillips, airing A$AP’s dirty laundry, he testified. He was “letting him know how everybody feel — because nobody’s brave enough to say how they feel about this man.”
Ephron brought up A$AP Yams, a founding member who died in 2015 of a drug overdose. He called Ulanga “a crackhead,” and noted Phillips was living “back in the projects.”
“I felt this was my time to get everything off my chest,” Ephron testified.
As he followed them onto Selma Avenue, “Rocky turned around and shot me,” Ephron testified. He felt his hand get “hot.”
Przelomiec showed a photograph of Ephron’s left hand, the knuckles of several fingers skinned raw.
Ephron testified he grabbed Ulanga and “used him as a shield.” Przelomiec asked, “Did you intentionally put Illijah between you and the defendant?”
Mayers was moving back and forth, Ephron said, trying to get a clean shot. After firing three or four shots in all, he testified, the rapper ran off.
About an hour later, Ephron returned to the scene and picked up two casings off the street. He sent Mayers a video of the cartridges, writing, “U try killing me.”
Mayers replied: “Rell wtf u talkin bout?? Why u tellin ppl I shot at u.”
After Ephron told Mayers he had tried to “take me from my daughter,” the rapper told him to “stop makin s— up.”
Accusing Ephron of extortion, Mayers told him to “call the police if i ‘shot’ @ u u weirdo.”
Two days after the shooting, Ephron walked into the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollywood station with his attorney and handed over the casings.
Measured and composed when questioned by Przelomiec, Ephron’s demeanor changed when cross-examined by Mayers’ attorney, Joe Tacopina.
Tacopina suggested Ephron made up the shooting to get money from his former friend, who he is now suing in civil court. He claimed Ephron’s lawyers asked Mayer’s civil attorneys for a monetary settlement a day after the rapper was arrested.
“They were requesting money to impact a criminal case – or not impact a criminal case,” the lawyer said, noting it was “illegal” to “barter a criminal case away.”
Tacopina asked Ephron if he sent a text to Mayers’ manager that read, “I’m getting ich [sic].” Ephron said he meant to write, “I’m getting irritated.”
“You didn’t mean, ‘I’m getting rich?’” Tacopina asked.
The exchange grew heated. Ephron called Tacopina “a tough guy.” Tacopina told Ephron, who had shown the lawyer his license to carry a gun in Florida, that he wasn’t the one who kept guns in his waistband.
“Yeah,” Ephron shot back. “But your client does.”