Rae Sremmurd, first and foremost, is ridiculous. The youthful duo from Tupelo, Mississippi, sounds as if its members cannot be legally consuming the alcohol they’re so fixated on, and the pair is realistically a closer musical relative to Justin Bieber than Migos. It’s still mildly shocking they ever dug their way out of Vine purgatory, even in the face of the 49,000 units that SremmLife moved first week. Call it a testament to Mike WiLL Made It’s immaculate promotional rollout, call them a Kriss Kross redux, file them under whatever label you want, but “No Flex Zone” and “No Type” ran America for a solid six months. In a world of Bobby Shmurdas, that wins you at least one stab at a studio album.
Sremmurd also represents a surprisingly solid bridge between the almost alienating weirdness that’s fueled Atlanta’s resurgence over the past few years and the mainstream success the city basks in. The tandem is technically viable enough — what with Swae and Slim both boasting a semblance of rap talent — to avoid the incredulity that Mike WiLL x Miley Cyrus prompted. (Even if they don’t see fit to often show it, the Rae boys run rampant over Baauer’s “One Touch.”). But Sremmurd isn’t playing with fire in the same way that Atlanta’s new renaissance leaders fundamentally are. We’ve watched Young Thug’s yelping pave the path for OG Maco’s howling and we’ve watched the “whatever, he’s not a singer” affordances given to Rich Homie Quan rapidly become a free pass for iLoveMakonnen’s apparent inability to sing a note on tune, and for now, the escalation’s paid dividends. Maco’s landing Rolling Stone features, Makonnen’s signed to OVO and Atlanta’s the most buzzing hip-hop metropolis in America — but it’s not difficult see the house of cards collapsing.
Sremmurd, then, smartly circumvents that entire discussion. It may be cloaked under the Migos-esque syllable-chopping and wailing, but SremmLife actually plays it remarkably close to the book. It’s hook-verse-hook, it’s driven by the subwoofer-threatening Mike WiLL production he’s successfully honed over the past three or four years, it’s the calculated addictiveness of pop music infused with ATL energy; in a sense, Sremmurd’s success is more of a testament to Mike WiLL’s curation than the group’s abilities. But Slim Jimmi and Swae Lee are also masters of amplification, manipulating punchline fodder (“Lit Like Bic”) or Twitter memes (“This Could Be Us”) into entire song premises. Through narrowed, unforgiving eyes, it’s indicative of a remarkable lack of creativity. Alternatively, though, it shows Sremmurd knows exactly what makes them the toast of college fraternities and teenage car drivers nationwide, and it’s definitely not the way “No Flex Zone” broke new ground by reevaluating not-flexing in a spatial sense.
Swae’s the better singer, Jimmi’s the better rapper, but it doesn’t really matter either way. Listening to SremmLife to dissect the (surprisingly adept) rhyme schemes on “Unlock the Swag” is like criticizing Chance the Rapper for not hitting the club floor harder. You listen to SremmLife for the moments where Sremmurd spits out assertions of its dominance that mask its fundamental absurdity with confidence, and in sacrificing any attempt at a narrative more insightful or cohesive than “girls are hoes,” Swae and Slim open up the entirety of the album’s forty minutes to top their own standards of memorable stunting over and over again. “Nigga, I am the gorilla of the village,” Swae snarls on “No Flex Zone,” and on “Up Like Trump,” Slim Jimmi reassures us that he’s “got a bitch twerking on Skype.” You might call it nihilistic or misogynistic, but that implies Sremmurd has awarded SremmLife’s brutally simple life philosophy (girls, alcohol, partying) a modicum of thought, and it might be labeled unapologetic, but that implies defiance in the face of some vaguely pervasive and overwhelming standard. That’s lending Rae Sremmurd a little too much rebellious agency because they kinda just do. SremmLife is anthemic, clearly not meant to be consumed unless you’re clocking over a .08% BAC, or at least a BAC high enough to reject critical thinking. When the hook of “No Flex Zone” drops, the whole world halts to chant along. Whatever’s in-between is irrelevant.
3 out of 5
You can purchase SremmLife on iTunes.
Written by Sun-Ui Yum.