2016 has been a tumultuous year, to say the least. To say the most, here are some other words and phrases that come to mind: ridiculous, absurd, despicable, heart-wrenching, f***ing insane and just plain old sad. Domestically, here in the United States, there have been several major tragedies (including our presidential candidates from both the Democrats with Hillary Clinton and the Republicans, kinda with Donald Trump) on a grand scale that have shaped social commentary that will be heard for years to come. While our nation has made great strides in the terms of progressive social, racial and gender equality, the temperature of the US has come to a figural and literal broil. The former speaks to the extreme unrest displayed in the streets of America which, in turn, has provided additional fodder to the perpetual 24-hour news cycle. Constant images of rioting and destruction have led the viewing public to formulate their own opinions, leaving this country as divided, if not more, than it has ever been. A certain “Us vs.Them” mentality where both sides of “whatever the argument of the day is” are stubbornly entrenched in their ideologies, unwilling to compromise or budge.
Whether it’s the Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives/Blue Lives Matter discussion or proponents vs. opponents of Feminism, we are currently in the midsts of a new aged Civil Rights Movement. This modern-day Movement is not exclusive to just the betterment of African-Americans and other minorities; this revamped Movement also extends to people of all creeds, genders, and sexual orientations. The thing is, everyone has an opinion that
they think is correct 100% of the time. Even when facts are presented to disprove their claim, no one truly believes they are wrong. When opposing views are discussed, it feels like a personal attack on the other side’s individual character just for their genuine belief. Instinctively, what happens when you get attacked? You retaliate…which leads to verbal and sometimes physical confrontations which lead both sides even further apart than when they started. Hence, the current state of the United States. Kind of ironic if you ask me. From a global
standpoint, the conflicts have been more catastrophic and fatal. From Brexit, to ISIS, to the mass migration of refugees, international affairs have been in a constant frenzy.
Being alive in this stressful world at this stressful time, we need a modicum of chill to distract us from the insanity of this crazy planet. We need to relax. We just need to remember to let loose and have fun from time to time.
Rae Sremmurd, or Ear Drummers spelled backward (I still can’t spell it right on the first try), consist of two brothers: Slim Jxmmi (born Aaquil Brown in 1993) and Swae Lee (born Khalif Brown in 1995). A 3rd unofficial member can also be attributed to the group’s meteoric rise over the past two years; arguably the most recognizable hitmaker in modern hip-hop, Mike WiLL Made-It has produced approximately over 50% of the duo’s songs from both major album releases including the certifiable hits No Flex Zone, Throw Sum Mo and This Could Be Us. A very bold accusation from Hot97 and Beats1 DJ Personality Ebro Darden suggested that Mike WiLL had more a hands-on approach in crafting SremmLife, the debut album by Rae Sremmurd.
“They didn’t write that s**t,” he says, “Any of it. Maybe some of it. Mike WiLL Made-It — …He made that album. They’re Kriss Kross. It was a fabricated thing that we all liked.”
This incendiary quote was in response Complex Magazine’s Top 50 Albums of 2015, where SremmLife was ranked 3rd overall. Even though any and all Top _______ Lists are completely subjective personal opinions, Old Man Ebro strongly felt some type of way about said listicle. He has had a blunt and outspoken personality throughout his career on the radio and has made it very clear that he does not like a majority of the new wave of artists from this generation. This assessment sounds strikingly similar to the sentiments shared by the generation preceding Ebro’s. “You call this nonsensical, vulgar, and unintelligible noise ‘quality music’? That jumbled mess will never last!” Some variation of the words in-between the set of quotation marks above has been uttered multiple times by the parents of 70s, 80s, and even 90s babies in response to hearing the formation of hip-hop at its earliest stages. The generation of the parents of our parents said the same things about rock and roll being the Devil’s music — and so on and so forth. Most artists, especially popular musicians spanning several eras during the last century, do not compose songs to simply placate to their predecessors and the generation to come before them. Songs from yesteryear have already been written and recorded. If you want to listen to something that songs like “that?” Listen to that.
SremmLife 2, the 2nd studio album from the brothers hailing from Tupelo, Mississippi, perfectly encapsulate the sound currently reverberating throughout the audio waves of the new generation. This music definitely isn’t for everyone but that’s okay; there is a whole subset within the culture of music that lives and breathes for this stuff. Having been released on August 12, 2016, it may seem like a head-scratching decision to premiere this type of album filled with bangers at the end of the summer. I concur; thanks to the brilliant foresight by the marketing team, SremmLife 2 was strategically dropped a few weeks before their key demographic of
debaucherous and degenerate hard-working and upstanding high school and college students were heading back to class for the Fall. “Radio Silence” is an excellent song released earlier this year by James Blake, but is that something you really want to blast at ignorant levels at 3am during Syllabus Week? Hell no. The loud and boisterous opening track”Start a Party” (press play below) is exactly what the doctor prescribed for this particular scenario.
Now, I didn’t exactly share the same ideology about Rae Sremmurd as Ebro did, but I was a staunch critic of their style of music. It was only after a friend said in passing “just check out SremmLife” that I actually gave them a legitimate chance instead of being the old curmudgeon muttering under my breath “I don’t care about their prohibitive locations were flexing was not permitted.” The opening track “Lit Like Bic,” figuratively slapped me in the face so hard, I felt like I had to apologize for my rude behavior, which was entirely dismissing something without giving it a proper listen before my final judgment.
— Silas (@eyelesssilas) July 1, 2016
Fast forward several months after my acclamation to their sonic approach to music beginning in October 2015, The FADER published an in-depth cover story detailing the upbringing for Uncle Jxmmi and Swae Lee that gave me a newfound respect for these two. This is also where I discovered the 21-minute freestyle on Tim Westwood TV in response to Ebro’s accusation of potential ghostwriters in the Rae Sremmurd camp. I don’t care that every line during 20+ minute back and forth wasn’t on the level of a complex and abstract Lupe Fiasco line; their flow, energy, emotion and consistency to spit bars for that period of time is truly something to admonish. Everything about these brothers – from the propensity to incorporate phrases tattooed on popular internet memes (Get you somebody that can do both or This Could Be Us, but you playin’) to their exuberant persona displayed and accented by their flamboyant style – are so demonstratively representative of the current culture. Authentic originality and pure, unadulterated fun is what they promote and ultimately deliver on in this project.
Behind the scenes in the production of SL2 must have been a raucous sight to see. Jxmmi and Swae sound like they were genuinely having a great time during the process of completing the album. Reflecting and reminiscing on ridiculous tales from the previous night or an actual ongoing turn-up in the midst of a studio session are recited to us so passionately, it’ll make you want to hop out of your seat and Milly Rock immediately (which should not be attempted by any persons over the age of 30, unless you are a professionally a trained dancer. Even then, it’s still questionable. YOU’RE OVER 30, go diversify your bonds or something, idk). Rae Sremm lacks a certain oomph with recognizable hit singles on the follow-up effort when juxtaposed to their immensely popular debut record, but that doesn’t detract from the potential growth as artists exhibited this time around.
“By Chance”, the first official single released from the album in February 2016 was a mundane dud of a track that did nothing to excite much of anything. The purpose of a lead-off single is to generate a substantial buzz to get your core audience amped up and to potentially reach an outside crowd by enticing them with a strong effort. A song like an actual bonus track from SL2, “Just Like Us,” would have sufficed as the designated attention grabber. “By Chance,” at best, works as a Target Limited Edition bonus track. In fact, in addition to “By Chance,” a handful of tracks have a lackadaisical and uninspired approach such as “Real Chill” featuring the oft-incarcerated Kodak Black and “Do Yoga.” Even though Jxxmi exhibits his best and most innovative flow on the Chinese-twang infused instrumental, “Do Yoga” felt like an empty attempt to placate to their female fanbase. But, a couple months after “By Chance,” the second official single was released prior to the album and booooy, was I excited for SremmLife 2.
Airy, altered, distorted vocals over a strong, trap-infused masterpiece of a Mike WiLL production, Look Alive delivered the emphatic punch for a hit track that Rae Sremmurd missed on that lame duck a couple months prior. The way that Swae Lee glides into the hook so effortless followed by a reserved and tame verse by Jxmmi’s standards make for a quality vibe setting aurora perfect for a local kickback with the homies or a traditional hellraiser on a college campus. Many tracks on the album just feel and sound right without overcomplicating things. Songs such as the ultimatum-themed “Take it or Leave It” or the rags-to-riches story “Came a Long Way” are cool, straightforward and to the point. I would love to see them truly delve into their deep, emotional, turned-down versions of themselves and really speak about their travels from Mississippi to Atlanta to eventual hip-hop stardom all over the world. “Came a Long Way” grazes the topic in a favorable manner which leads us to believe that this track is a step in the right direction towards true transparency.
“Set the Roof On Fire” featuring Atlanta Crunk Muzik legend Lil’ Jon and produced by DJ Mustard, was a supreme letdown based on expectations and actuality. On paper, this looked like a monumental track. Upon several (upwards of 10 full listens) to this track, the determination is such: DJ Mustard beats are fine, Rae Sremmurd can rap fine, Lil’ Jon will always be on level 20 of 10 in terms of being hype, which is also fine, but these three elements do not mesh well at all. The downtempo stylings of Dijon (his name is really Dijon) contradicts the unruly energy the 3 vocalists display on a majority of their other recordings. A producer like Mr. Carmack would have been more appropriate to really drive home the sentiment of the title of the track. The gentleman’s club anthem, Shake it Fast, on the other hand, featuring Juicy J, did not disappoint. High voltage energy all the way through from everyone involved which sparks the question: has Juicy J ever had a bad verse? The answer to this question should always be no.
My favorite song from SremmLife 2, possibly from their entire collection of music, is “Black Beatles” featuring another oft-incarcerated-yet-newly-liberated-individual Gucci Mane! This song fits under the category of songs in the Rae Sremmurd discography that just feels right. Smooth, laid back production from Mike WiLL, accentuated by outstanding hooks
and a solid verse by Swae Lee, a hyperactive, confident, and boastful Slim Jxmmi presentation, with a top-notched, quotable filled, Guwop verse sandwiched in-between. By far the most cohesive track off the album where everything is clicking on all cylinders.
Equilibrium and balance is a partial key to having a successful life. Hearing both sides of every story before coming to a definite conclusion is a characteristic of a rational human being. Positioning one’s self on an extreme end of a particular topic while having a close-minded view is detrimental to whatever goal is trying to be accomplished when the end result should lead to progression. Music is the same way. Exclusively listening to a specific subgenre within hip-hop will leave one being deprived of all the interesting and unique sounds that are out there. Your new favorite song might end up at the bottom of a pile of previously discarded and disregarded music you never gave a chance in the first place.
Everything might not be for you, but that’s okay. Everything wasn’t made for you, but a legitimate attempt should be made to understand something before completely dismissing an idea. Although SremmLife 2 can be glossed over because of the extremely repetitive subject matter, this is also an extremely important record for 2016. The next generation of artists will be wholly inspired by the contents of this album to continue innovating and creating their own authentic lane as Swae and Jxmmi have done with both projects. This is not everyday music for me, but they have perfected the craft in their own universe. There is a time and place for their sound and they are a forced to be reckoned with, coming out of the new school of rap artists. With a release date in early August, Rae Sremmurd ensured that SL2 would be the soundtrack for most kids letting loose in high schools and colleges across the country. Looking forward to the joint and solo progression of Rae Sremmurd. SL2 is the step in the right direction and it has converted this skeptical old soul into a fan. This world, this country, myself included, needs to take a break and relax. Enjoy life. Have fun. Start a Party.
Rae Sremmurd – SremmLife 2 – 3.5/5