Rae Sremmurd’s debut album, SremmLife, is dynamic and contains about a tablespoon of substance. It’s an absolute achievement.
But again, it’s about a lot of nothing. And at first glance, when it comes to the duo, I thought that would be their defining characteristic — a lot of nothing.
Rae Sremmurd (pronounced “RAY Shhhhhrrimmmuur,” because why not) are fresh-faced, but they are not boys. They’re men from Mississippi. Young men stricken by dumb rap names, but men nonetheless. The brothers Brown, Khalif “Swae Lee” and Aaquil “Slim Jxmmi,” remind you of things you’ve heard and seen, Kris Kross being the first that comes to mind. But they’re actually like nothing you’ve ever heard or seen. And at first glance, it’s all bad.
The word “Sremmurd” is almost bad enough to never give them a chance. That’s why I didn’t at first. Because their name is undeniably terrible. “Rae Sremmurd” is “Ear Drummers” backward and EarDrummers is the name of the production company started by another someone with a terrible name, super-producer Mike Will Made It.
The same way realizing “Flo Rida” was actually just “Florida” (it took me 18 months) caused me to aggressively despise Tramar Lacel Dillard, learning the origin story of the name Rae Sremmurd provided the easy, cynical rationale to dislike yet another I just moved to Atlanta to get famous soon-to-be one-hit wonder.
This second song almost made me get over the name, to begin to think of them as legitimate, something more than simply R-rated Kidz Bop. Not that they might put out a good album — because of course they wouldn’t — but that they might still be around next summer.
And then I saw them perform, a few weeks after “No Type” came out. And my takeaway was that the two wanted to be rock stars. And not in a Shop Boyz way — more like a “We can’t wait for y’all to realize we’re already rock stars” type of way.
I thought I wanted nothing to do with this life they spoke of — this SremmLife. I thought SremmLife was beneath me. But then I remembered where I came from, my crunk music forefathers. And like that, I understood the appeal of SremmLife. And then a few days ago, I heard its album SremmLife. Discussing Rae Sremmurd at the end of 2014, Hot97’s Minya “Miss Info” Oh described her 180 to The Fader: “If there is such thing as music critic crow, I must eat it.” That, too, was my take, because after a few listens, I realized it was time to fully embrace SremmLife.
SremmLife is simple. Because SremmLife is simple.
If you analyze the lyrics in SremmLife, “SremmLife” boils down to partying, shining, not getting hung up on old girls, always moving on to new girls, keeping condoms around, making money, not being worried about what others are saying, having no time for haters, and not being very picky.
But that’s just one layer of SremmLife. And easily the least important.
SremmLife does not unlock any secrets to the universe, because SremmLife is not rocket science. But SremmLife does have angles. You can put the subject matter of SremmLife in a box, but not the type of songs the brothers are capable of making, nor the way in which they perform each track.
SremmLife begins with the sound of a lighter sparking. The song is “Lit Like Bic” and it’s how this 45-minute Let’s watch Vine compilations on WorldStar before we go out pregame begins. There’s a turn-up anthem called “Up Like Trump” that includes the lyric “Rock like Billy Ray [Cyrus], that’s a n---- idol.” Another song, “My X,” has a built-in Nae Nae chant in the hook. In “Unlock the Swag,” there’s the line “I’m rich, I’m young, I splurge for fun.” And then, out of nowhere, “This Could Be Us” presents itself. It begins with a piano part that calls back to Blackalicious’s “Deception,” before introducing its terrifically ominous horns, a verse about Spin the Bottle, and a moment in which Swae Lee appears to pick random notes out of a hat to sing. Oh, and it’s a riff on the meme “This could be us but you playing.” And somehow it all works. And then you get to “Throw Sum Mo” featuring a Nicki Minaj hook and a Young Thug verse. And the brothers aren’t overshadowed by either. In fact, it all fits nicely into the package, with Nicki providing stability, allowing the Brothers Sremm and Thugger the freedom to see how many different things their voices can do in one song.
Two songs later, you finally get to “No Type.” After listening to SremmLife, “No Type” remains the best song. But in no way does it overshadow the rest of the album. Which is up there with the Miracle on Ice in terms of surprises.
Having made it through 10 songs — and ready to admit this album is actually good — I found the final song undeniably gripe-worthy. It’s called “Safe Sex Pay Checks.” It’s quite clearly a “mainstream” song, something you hate to see artists relegate themselves to making. But then you remember this isn’t just a collection of songs. And this isn’t just an album. SremmLife is a soundtrack. An 11-song backdrop for a youthful moment in time.
At that moment, it made sense why they’d close out this near Power Hour with a song including the lyrics “chug chug chug, don’t stop till you get enough” that will ultimately become the anthem of Trinity College, thus getting the Brothers Brown invited to perform at Slope Day at Cornell.
You don’t have to skip any songs in SremmLife — it’s compact and does its job. And you also don’t really need to replay any songs. Everything that isn’t “No Type” clocks in between a six and an eight, and each song takes the night that it’s scoring in different, important, often irresponsible, memory-making directions.
The reason someone like Lil Jon was so incredible between 2003 and 2005 is because his music seemed to mirror the energy and the setting in which he lived at that exact moment. His songs and albums (and those that followed his lead) during that time period were standalone works, but more importantly, they were soundtracks. They set the tone for house parties, drives around town, halftime basketball locker rooms, youthful “firsts.”
Lil Jon didn’t teach anyone anything with his repetitive, hype-man-like lyrics. But a lot was learned about how and when we liked to have fun, from how we acted when his music was on. Crunk not only became a genre of music, but a way of behaving. It was an adjective to describe the way you live.
SremmLife is Crunk 2.0. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it.