The hip-hop purists are mad as hell. You can spot them easily with their wooden jewelry and shea butter oils. Or perhaps they’re those large fitted cap-wearing nostalgists who get aroused at the thought of the 1990s with the same carnal fervor Republicans feel for Ronald Reagan.
Fact of the matter is, the fun, party-centric, generally meaningless strain of rap is closer to hip-hop’s original roots than their favorite conscious rapper or the it “bringing New York back” artist. Once more, the genre has grown in its 30-plus years to encompass a wide swatch of different colors and moods. But, it always has to go back the early days of some emcee rhyming cool shit over a disco or funk beat in front of a room of people looking for a good time. The brotherly duo of Slim Jimmy (23) and Swae Lee (21) (Aaquil and Khalif Brown, respectively) form Rae Sremmurd, who have the whole “facilitating a party” formula down pretty well, in an updated form that fits squarely inside contemporary culture. When they’re in top form, they’re among the best at moving speakers and feet in hip hop; this is all to evident on SremmLife.
Tupelo, Mississippi-born and Atlanta-based, Rae Srummurd, (which is supposed to be Ear Drummers, Mike Will Made It’s imprint through Interscope, spelled backward, but isn’t. It’s kind of more of an anagram than a palindrome. This is your smart-ass moment) shot straight into the public’s eye over the summer with their instant hit “No Flex Zone.” Soon thereafter, an even better record “No Type,” was released, which silenced claims of the duo being a one-hit wonder. Now, at the top of 2015, their major-label debut, SremmLife, is released and shows even more crossover appeal and potent hits on the horizon. The opening track, “Lit Like Bic,” is rambunctious with slight touches of a dirty guitar. It’s an ode to being completely and utterly inebriated. “Up Like Trump” comes later, menacing, with a sinister piano and explosive bass. The song, which is more or less about chasing the dollar, is as alluring and grisly as the power of the dollar itself. “Throw Sum Mo,” with Nicki Minaj and Young Thug, is playful, bouncy and features both a harmonic bridge and two of America’s hottest rappers. They hold their own with the two stars with enormous personalities. It’s high point in terms of charisma on an album full of charisma.
SremmLife really serves little to no more purpose than to be a party record, yet the album’s best track is more of a ballad, with Swae Lee shrilly crooning on the hook, called “This Could Be Us.” Mike Will Made It crafts a wonderful beat, and the melody fits perfectly. In terms of actual songwriting, it’s easily the brightest moment on the album.
When SremmLife hits, it hits with deft accuracy, but it is bogged down by a few downright awful songs. “Safe Sex Pay Checks,” the album’s closer, disregards the fact that the record is full of cleverness and energy for a formulaic pop song that might have ended up in Rae Sreummurd’s hands because Juicy J or Miley Cyrus passed on the beat and pre-written hook. The album is so bound to current youth culture and is highly referential to it throughout. This is understandable, as Rae Sremmurd is in some ways a personification of a great house party and “black Twitter.” However, “My X,” which incorporates the guttural “hwahh” chant from the “Nae Nae,” is cringeworthingly placid. It takes Drake’s endearingly chip-on-my shoulder brand of petty into typical male malice.
Coming in at only 11 songs, SremmLife is a lively surge of hedonism and recklessness, an anomaly for plenty of rap records of the duo’s ilk, where rappers think it’s a great idea to cram an album full of songs like it’s a Memorex.
Do Slim Jimmy and Swae Lee have enough staying power to make it past 2017? I have no clue. I’m no oracle or soothsayer in this instance. If you want the answer to that, go call Miss Cleo for a reading. What I do know is that Rae Sremmurd is going to continue to rule all of our respective after-dark soundtracks in 2015 and yes, hopefully for years to come.