Friday, November 4, 2016

A$AP Mob - Cozy Tapes Vol. 1 Review

Ever since 2011, when A$AP Rocky dropped his game-changing debut mixtape Live.Love.A$AP, the Mob already formed around him has been the butt of many jokes. Unlike similar acts rising up at the time, like Odd Future or Black Hippy who could boast a more than redeemable artist list, the only avenue into and out of the Mob was through Rocky. He was, and is still, the face. Hot off the heels of Rocky's breakthrough mixtape, the Mob wanted to follow suit, releasing Lord$ Never Worry, a bland and bloated project that did nothing but to solidify their lackluster place in Hip-Hop. Two instances since then have alleviated their negative narrative, one being the rise of A$AP Ferg through 2012's 'Work Remix' and 'Shabba,' even though he's yet to eclipse them since, and the sudden death of founder A$AP Yams in 2015. The former gave a hint that someone other than Rocky might actually be talented, the latter, unfortunately, gave them a bigger following and defining rallying cry to use in their (hopeful) rise to the top. The first official project since Yams' passing, Cozy Tapes Vol.1 Friends, is dedicated to him.

For the Mob, the immediate success of the tape is a double-edged sword. On one end, it'll resurge them, right at a time when monstrous collectives are falling by the wayside. On another though, the virtuosity found throughout the tapes is done by everyone but the Mob themselves. There's a reason its subtitle reads 'Friends,' as the Cozy Tapes are filled with them, top to bottom, bringing in huge New Age artists like Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, Madeintyo, and Tyler The Creator. Add Rocky to the mix, who appears on eight of the 12 songs here, and there's not much room left for the Mob members themselves. By design mind you, but the point still remains that neither A$AP Twelvyy, Ant, Nast, Ferg, Yung Lord, Da$h, or newest signee Playboi Carti appear more than four times. Most disconcerting however is the complete and utter lack of A$AP beatmakers Ty Beats and P On The Boards, as the production shifts to (mostly) low-profile, high-potential Soundcloud producers. For fans, you may not even notice, as the hodgepodge of out-of-Mob producers do an excellent job crafting bangers right up their alley, with Rocky's constant flow versatility allowing for more than one style to be welcomed.

 The most A$AP-centric track here kicks off the mixtape while acting as its lead single, 'Yamborghini High.' Not coincidentally, it's also one of the record's worst. A sloppy, mostly generic Trap anthem that doesn't offer any semblance of what makes the Mob unique, 'Yamborghini High's' most entertaining bit actually comes in the first two minutes where the group discusses the word 'Cozy,' drawing comparisons to the decked out slang and fashion of Outkast circa Stankonia. Rocky's deadpan hook on the opener is redeemed on follow-up track, and second single, 'Crazy Brazy,' which punches, flexes, and flows with unparalleled fluidity, despite the semi-apparent resemblance to Drake and Future's 'Digital Dash.' That's not the only song borrowing from other predecessors, as 'Telephone Calls' sees immediate influence brought on by Black Hippy's 'Vice City.' Thankfully both these songs, especially the latter with Tyler's incendiary verse, excel in spite of their easily mockable state. As far as other standouts go, 'Young Nigga Living' comes close to the aforementioned tracks, if only for being extremely consistent throughout its duration. Both Ant and Twelvyy see clear improvements here, and while Ferg's vocals are getting a tad bit overemphasized, his energy still radiates.

The Cozy Tapes aren't all highs though. For starters, the mix behind old and new, the Mob's former Cloud Rap aesthetic and their new Trap-laced formula, doesn't go over well on 'Way Hii,' especially when Wiz Khalifa comes in for easily the worst spot on this whole record. Even BJ The Chicago Kid enters by force, feeling completely out of place given the context. Elsewhere, a disappointment for me, 'Bachelor' was careless and definitely mishandled. A proponent of Lil Yachty since the beginning, even I saw his verse as phoned-in. But it wasn't just him, both Rocky and Offset are unmemorable, and if not for Madeintyo who makes due with his time on the stage, 'Bachelor' would've been better suited as a throwaway. Even its preceding track, 'Runner,' blows past it despite the two artists, Ant and Lil Uzi Vert, falling behind all previous four in terms of talent. Finally, there's 'Nasty's World.' There's nothing particularly wrong with it, but A$AP Nast, with his vision on Hip-Hop's Boom Bap past, always feels like the odd man out in the group. Even Hardcore Hip-Hop trio Onyx gets sampled here, further making its placement in the middle of the tape unusual and unnatural.

While that's the most erroneous arrangement, the rest of Cozy Tapes doesn't exactly flow smoothly, in that it doesn't flow at all. These are 12 tracks thrown together without a care for order or overall theme. The only formal subject described by Rocky in the lead-up and on the cover is that of Yams, yet the only song remotely dedicated to him is 'Yamborghini High.' The next 11 tracks dance around Hip-Hop tropes with constant redundancies. Don't look for anything new, different, or original here, as Cozy Tapes is very much in the moment. In many ways, Cozy Tapes can even be seen as a compilation record, as if a dozen scrambled loosies somehow found their way onto a formal setting. Regardless, much of what Cozy Tapes has to offer is a vast improvement over the works the A$AP Mob previously bestowed, even if it got a fair share of help from some friends. A poor collaboration here, an ill-suited sample there (Willie Hutch’s 'Brother’s Gonna Work It Out' doesn't fit 'Put That On My Set' whatsoever), can't nullify the overall quality found elsewhere. No, there's no 'Shabba,' 'Work,' or 'Goldie' to take the Mob to the next level, but there's enough here to keep them relevant.

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