When I first heard Rae Sremmurd’s “No Flex Zone” back in 2014, I assumed it was a joke. Decidedly removed from hip-hop both as a genre and a culture, I didn’t understand what the song was about or why people enjoyed it in the first place. In fact, I was so not up on the culture that I interpreted the song literally, viewing it as some sort of anti-workout anthem created by (what appeared to be) two teenagers. I wasn’t a hater. I just didn’t get it.
The duo, composed of brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi, were 19 and 23 respectively at the time of the video. Assuming they were the next Soulja Boy-esque novelty act (or at the very least the next Soulja Boy-esque one-hit wonder), I wrote the group off until years later. Of course, now that we live in a post-Lil Pump, post-Lil Tay world, I know there are no age restrictions on clout, but at the time I was as confused as I was fascinated. The music video left me with so many lingering questions, chief amongst them ‘why do people like this?’
Needless to say, I eventually saw the light of Rae Sremmurd as I embarked on my own personal journey with hip-hop and came to enjoy their music for what it is. Now that we’re four years removed from their anti-flex unveiling to the world, I’m a much more open-minded music fan with a deeper understanding of both hip-hop and Rae Sremmurd’s place within it.
Aside from my personal genre-specific journey, it’s also safe to say that Rae Sremmurd are far from a one-hit wonder. Apart from a couple of tracks that are overtly-misogynous and now unfortunately-political, their debut record is practically inches away from classic territory. The wide range of slow jams, turn-up shit, and practical advice still make the album a fun listen and worth revisiting all these years later.
Two years after their debut, following dozens of features, a few worldwide tours, and constant social media solidification, Rae Sremmurd’s sophomore effort proved they were here for the long-haul. Just as forceful and fun as their debut, Sremmlife 2 cemented their place in the scene and secured their spot in history thanks to the ever-powerful help of a meme. While the Mannequin Challenge may have overshadowed some of Sremmlife 2’s deeper cuts, the sequel stood just as tall as the original while also showing off how far the brothers had evolved in only two years.
Now in 2018, we find ourselves faced with SR3MM, the group’s cleverly-titled third record which is a triple album of feel-good hip-hop. As with most three-disc albums, there were many things that could have gone wrong with this third entry in the SremmLife series, but impressively, young and brash as they are, the duo fell prey to almost none of them.
In an era where hip-hop seems to be openly exploiting streaming, we’ve seen an absolute deluge of bloated, overly-long, 20-plus track albums in recent months. From Migos and Post Malone to Drake and Lil Yachty, the past calendar year has been marred by a glut of albums containing music whose sole purpose seems to be racking up streaming numbers. While the music on these (extra)long-players are often decent to good, it feels like some musicians are content to forgo artistry in favor of chasing the numbers game.
What makes SR3MM so refreshing is that not only is it a great album, but the duo decided to take an interesting slant on it. On paper, it’s the same as those albums cited above with 27 tracks clocking in at a collective hour and forty-one minutes. However, instead of inundating the listener with song after song of the same, the duo decided to chop their offering up into three even pieces, each with a different flavor.
The first third, created by the same minds we know and love, gives listeners nine tracks of a “traditional” Rae Sremmurd album. That is followed by Swaecation, a Swae Lee solo album, and then Jxmtro, a Slim Jxmmi solo album. It’s an interesting way to silo off the tracklist, and a slightly more artistic framing device than dumping two dozen tracks on Spotify in the hopes of tricking the RIAA.
I was inspired to write about this album (or these albums) because this release took me by surprise. This post started as a paragraph review for Swim Into The Sound’s May new music roundup, but (obviously) spiraled into something more significant than that. SR3MM wasn’t a record I was particularly anticipating. I like the group as much as the next guy, but I listened to each single maybe once and went in with almost nonexistent expectations. Perhaps because of this noncommittal starting point, I came out of my first listen absolutely floored.
One thing that’s always been refreshing about Rae Sremmurd is that, despite their well-covered (some may say trite) lyricism, they always choose interesting beats. While this can likely be chalked up to honorary third member Mike Will Made-It, that doesn’t change the fact that the group’s instrumentals are a breath of fresh air. Throughout SR3MM there are guitar-laden bangers, slow-moving crooners, hyper-technical rap tracks, and everything in between. When everything sounds “trappy” in 2018, it’s cool to have an album that breaks that trend entirely.
On top of the refreshing take on instrumentation, it’s fantastic to watch each artist explore their own sound so fully and lean even harder into their respective musical influences without feeling “tied” to the Rae Sremmurd name. Throughout Swaecation, Swae Lee slows things down, takes his time, and builds a warm, summery soundscape of love and affection. Meanwhile on Jxmtro, Jxmmi embraces his more aggressive rapping style to show off his technical chops, lyrical proficiency, and ear for beats.
Both as a whole and when taken piece by piece, SR3MM is a vibrant and opulent feel-good hip-hop record. Early single “Powerglide” features Juicy J and sees each rapper spitting immaculate bars over a propulsive beat that jostles the listener around like a reckless Uber ride. “T’d Up” and “CLOSE” are additional highlights from the joint album that find each member executing their respective duties flawlessly. Throughout the entire release, Swae and Jxmmi seem more sure of their voices (both separately and collectively) than ever before.
There are lots of comparisons you can use to contextualize Rae Sremmurd. Most easily, you could draw parallels between SR3MM and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below given how “segmented” each artist’s contribution feels (though they would disagree with you). Alternatively, you could make comparisons to current trap superstars Migos with Swae Lee as the heartthrob, melody-first, feature-rich Quavo, Slim as the hyper-technical rapping Takeoff, (and I guess Mike Will as the foundational wildcard Offset). But the truth is any comparison is inherently flawed because Rae Sremmurd are in their own class.
On paper, Rae Sremmurd is “just” two rappers writing songs about women, drugs, and money, but the hook is that their personality and love for each other bleeds through their songs so fully that none of that matters. Even when covering well-trodden territory, that genericism never drags you down for long because it’s more about the two of them than anything else. On SR3MM it feels like both Swae and Jxmmi have more to say, and not just because they have more room to say it. The record is personable, vast, and joyous, the rare case of a triple album that feels earned, planned-out, and deserved. You can tell they care, you can tell they’re good at what they do, and perhaps most importantly, you can tell they’re having a great time doing it. Sometimes there’s nothing more to it than that.