A$AP Mob: “Cozy Tapes, Vol. 1: Friends”

cozy-tapes

The past few years have been eventful for A$AP Mob. Four studio albums, one deceased founder, and many collaborations in, this project sees the group coming together for the first time since 2012’s collaborative Lords Never Worry mixtape.

Cozy Tapes isn’t the first A$AP release this year. It’s following well behind the release of group member A$AP Ferg’s Always Strive and Prosper, and it’s relatively on the heels of Playboi Carti’s signing to A$AP and Rocky’s deal to produce new media for MTV. The buzz surrounding A$AP has been high of late, and this tape can only benefit from it.

The 12-track LP opens with the previously released “Yamborghini High,” a posse cut with a Juicy J co-sign that features most of the members rapping over a cloudy trap beat. Notably different from the original version is an opening skit at the beginning, featuring Rocky and several unnamed men discussing the concept of “coziness,” or being dappered up. Aside from “London Town,” this is the only musical track that doesn’t feature non-A$AP vocalists (Juicy J isn’t present on “Yamborghini,” despite his credit on the track). These features are the “Friends” mentioned in the tape’s title. The guest list includes the aforementioned Juicy J assist, along with verses from Whiz Kalifia, Skepta, Tyler the Creator, among others, and bars from newly minted A$AP member Playboi Carti.

This all-inclusive feature strategy is an interesting choice. Collaborative LPs give artists the ability to compete and push each other’s boundaries, and the addition of new artists to the already varied A$AP roster makes the mix all the more interesting. Unfortunately, it rarely works. The older members of the group (Rocky, Ferg, Twelvyy, Ant and Nast) consistently kill their featured artists and newcomer Carti.  When the Mob members come together the album does best, but even then it doesn’t always click. Album lowpoint “London Town” features only A$AP members, yet falls completely flat. Not only failing to capitalize on the interesting concept proposed by preceding skit “Motivation Foreign,” it features a dull verse by A$AP Ant and an even weaker one by Carti, with nothing but the beat and Rocky’s verse to anchor it.

This is fortunately not the case on the rest of the tape. Some of the Friends’ best moments come from A$AP members keeping to themselves, as on “Young N**** Living.” The track brings out the best in underrated members Twelvyy and Ant, both of them managing to keep up with better-known member Ferg and with Twelvyy perhaps outshining him. The track is one of the album’s highlights, with all of its vocalists flowing smoothly over a gorgeous trap/cloud rap beat courtesy of DJ Smokey. Follow-up track “Nasty’s World” has A$AP Nast spitting old-school flows over modernized boom-bap and delivering an entire sixteen bar with the same rhyme scheme, no easy feat. The track stands anachronistic to the cloud and trap rap present on the rest of the tape, but it’s a welcome break, and seeing Nast do his own thing and do it well is thrilling in the possibilities it presents. The man can rap with the rest of the Mob, and earns the spotlight granted to him.

Sadly, the Mob’s collaborators rarely rise to occasion in such a manner. The Lil Uzi Vert featuring “Runner” underwhelms entirely, with Vert providing a weak foil for A$AP Ant’s passable bars. Rocky often kills his featured artists, but it’s clearest on “Bachelor,” a Genius-deemed “rich boy anthem” that features Offset, Lil Yachty, and MadeInTYO alongside Rocky. None of their verses come close to touching Mayer’s bars, and the underwhelming beat doesn’t help. This track in particular makes one thing clear: while so-called “mumble rap” gained a lot of traction in 2016, and certainly has its place, it doesn’t mix well with the crisp delivery and complex rhyme schemes A$AP brings to the table. Lil Yachty, MadeInTYO, Offset, Lil Uzi Vert, and Playboi all fail to carry their weight on tracks. Only Whiz, Tyler, and Skepta come through with verses strong enough to get A$AP’s competitive edges up.

While Whiz, Tyler and Skepta are all skilled rappers, they each bring to the table something slightly different that manages to distinguish their features. “Way Hii” has Whiz trading bars back and forth with Rocky to tell a familiar tale of drug use, with the two switching off and finishing rhyme schemes for one another. Such verses are indicators of true collaboration- meaning, the two artists actually sat down and worked together to compose a single verse- and it’s a refreshing break from the standard sixteen-bar-features most guest provide. Skepta’s spot on previous release “Put That On My Set” is radically different, with Rocky and Skepta rapping about entirely different topics; Rocky about his love for a woman, and Skepta his readiness to fight. Yet here we see a different side to Skepta. Forced outside of his grime comfort zone, the man adapts readily, rapping in a harsher tone and with a reduced accent that will make him more palatable to American tastes. But the most interesting collaboration comes off “Telephone Calls,” another previously released cut. Placing Yung Gleesh and Odd Future frontman Tyler, The Creator, alongside Carti and Rocky, is an intriguing concept by itself, but the resulting effect (particularly on Tyler) is profound. Rocky challenges the Odd Future member directly, saying “Tell Tyler, better step his flow up,” and step it up he does. Tyler’s flow has always been stilted and staccato,  but “Calls” finds him displaying a mastery he hasn’t shown before. He serves as the perfect foil to Rocky, his growls of “F*** the Gucci, f*** the Raf/ And f*** the swag and all that other s*** they wearing” directly opposing Rocky’s talk of “Gucci and Dior bidding wars.” This is the collaboration fans have been waiting for since both Rocky and Tyler hopped on Kanye’s “Freestyle 4” beat, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Production-wise, there’s little of note on this tape. Aside from the boom-bap influence on “Nasty’s World,” the instrumentals on this tape consist of understated trap and cloud rap influenced work consistent with A$AP’s previous releases. There is no “LPFJ2” level banger, and no pop experimentation on par with the beats from Rocky’s “Every Day” and Ferg’s “Strive.” While this does prevent the production from off-putting fans with a new sound, it doesn’t allow for anything new, either. Most of the tracks on this tape re-tread topics A$AP has covered before, aside from sentiment on the tribute “Yamborghini High.” Most of the features on the tape flop entirely, and Playboi Carti fails to impress or show why he deserves to be on the A$AP roster. This tape has great moments, as previously discussed, but they’re bogged down by the middling work of the collaborators A$AP chose to include.

All-in-all, this tape isn’t the Mob’s greatest moment. But it’s still a solid body of work, and in a way, indicative of the place A$AP Mob has arrived at in their ascendance. They’ve made it this far on cloud rap and Gucci verses, seen and welcomed in the next wave of rappers trying to make it. The Mob is now a decade into its existence, and they now have to set a course for the next ten years. This tape is their victory lap.

Now we see how they choose to drive forward.

Rating: 6.5/10

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