Group albums and mixtapes are a bit like ensemble comedies: eclectic groups of stars are given equal screen time, plot and cohesion oftentimes take a backseat to laughs, and there's far more clunkers than classics in each category. For every "Tropic Thunder," there's two or three "Grown Ups"; for every Diplomatic Immunity, there's an Eminem Presents: The Re-Up and a DJ Khaled album. In comparison with the group's first two solo projects, ASAP Mob's debut tape as a unit, Lord$ Never Worry, was decidedly in the latter camp. Whereas Live.Love.A$AP and Trap Lord both boasted massive personality and career-defining sounds, when ASAPs Rocky and Ferg joined forces with ASAPs Nast, Twelvyy, Ant, onetime crew member Da$h, and several guests, the air was by and large let out of the balloon. 

Not so much on their follow-up, Cozy Tapes Vol. 1, which arrives a whopping four years after its predecessor. This time, they've done away with solo tracks, which made up two-thirds of LNW, and instead go for a much more familial, fraternal vibe. Instead of watering down the tape, it does the opposite. Guests and producers from out of town bring their own flavors to tracks, and the Mob falls in line, making it seem like anything but a subpar collection of NY-centric B-sides, which is basically what the first was, outside of the massive "Work." Cozy Tapes 1 is still low-stakes, but with an eclectic, episodic feel to it, it's far more fun. Juicy J is on the most Three 6-sounding cut, Wiz Khalifa's on the weed-centric song, Onyx show up on the grimy NY cut, and Key!, Madeintyo, Playboi Carti, and Lil Yachty all lend their skills to tracks that emphasize the Mob's (Rocky in particular) connection to Southern sounds. If the content isn't cohesive, the boastful mood and carefree vibe are, and while in no way touching the thematic and sonic depth of Rocky and Ferg's last albums, this tape is definitely an easier listen from start to finish.

You could very well make the complaint that what is nominally an ASAP Mob tape doesn't do enough to highlight its less-recognized members, as Lord$ certainly did. Rocky's the focal point of all but two songs, no other member has more than four appearances, and Playboi Carti (playing the unofficial member role that Da$h used to) equals Ferg with two songs apiece. Rocky hasn't really given us a serious chance to get to know Nast, Ant, or Twelvyy with full projects of their own, and that's clearly not the goal here either. But do any of these guys have half the charisma and talent that Rocky and Ferg have? If Rocky attempted a more minimal, experimental approach like he did on A.L.L.A. here, you might have a case, but he's on absolute fire as a pure rapper -- long gone are the days that he relied on tried-and-true triplet flows and other skills picked up from UGK and Three 6. He's unpredictable and nimble, challenging Tyler, The Creator to step his flow up on "Telephone Calls" and easily out-rapping him while sounding ten times more natural and unhurried in his delivery. Rocky's own creative goals have increasingly taken him off the jiggy rap road he once called his only home, but Cozy Tapes is a reminder that even if they're not always manifested in his solo music, his skills have been growing.

In an era when every rapper seems eager to sell you their mixtape or tell you that it's not a mixtape, it's especially hard to judge Cozy Tapes on the same level as any for-sale project because it so clearly fits the classic definition of a mixtape. It's messy, it's shallow, guests often come and go without establishing much of a presence beyond "Walk, walk, Gleesh walk." What it feels like, more than anything, is something ASAP Yams would've championed. Back in his Yamborghini Tumblr days, the Mob's founder and spiritual guide promoted music, both new and old, that didn't aspire to much beyond sounding swaggy and fresh-- he was always a Cam'ron guy more than a Nas or Jay Z guy. You can see his type of curatorial vision in the inclusion of Southern stars and Lil Uzi Vert, as his blog didn't seem to mind regional boundaries as long as the rappers in question didn't sound stale. Yams was famous for his outlandish boasts and finger-on-the-pulse expertise, and more so than anything the Mob's put out since Rocky's debut, Cozy Boys reflects those characteristics. I'm close to positive that this tape will have no bearing on where Rocky and Ferg go from here, but it's a nice reminder that while they're capable of writing great tracks about psychedelic experiences and psycho family members, respectively, they and their friends still have the ability to kick back, have fun, and sound great doing so.