Rae Sremmurd’s Triple Album, ‘SR3MM,’ Reveals Different Sides of the Hip-Hop Duo
Brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi joined forces in their hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi to form hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd. In 2013, they signed to EarDrummers Records with the company’s founder, Mike Will “Made-It,” as their primary producer and their moniker being a semordnilap of their record label’s name. The brothers catapulted to stardom with their 2015 debut album “SremmLife” going platinum, and their 2016 follow up “SremmLife 2” yielding the number one single, “Black Beatles.” For their ambitious third release, they’ve unveiled three records. “SR3MM” refers both collectively to the three albums altogether, and specifically to the one of those three that features the Sremmurd brothers recording as a duo. In addition, Swae Lee has released solo record, “Swaecation,” and Slim Jxmmi has one of his own, “Jxmtro.” The triple album showcases one group, two artists, and three very different albums.
The triptych album format allows each of the Sremmurd brothers to let his individual creative instincts take full reign. Each solo record paints a clear picture of its artist’s style, persona, and vision, which, in turn, makes the collaborative portion of “SR3MM,” an especially fascinating glimpse into the duo’s chemistry. The first song, “Up in My Cocina,” starts things, in your face, with an unvarnished and unabashed, hard rap beat. The rapping, meanwhile, is no more than light hearted, playful, boasting — that is, in the rap vernacular. The ensuing ramble is delivered in a sort of half-singsong, with such simplicity and casual disregard that it gives the music a certain childlike innocence, which is immediately likeable. The song is about living the good life, with lyrics like, “Nothin’ but divas, up in my cocina, eating clams, rolling grams.” “Livin’ it up” is certainly the subject that inspired most of the new songs. “Rock N Roll Hall of Fame” describes the rock star life with detail and gusto, over a beat featuring flashes of electric guitar flamboyance. It makes a compelling case for Sremmurd’s future induction into the titular institution. The song “Buckets,” driven by another rock-hard trap framework, has a moment near the end, when guest rapper Future repeats, “Hol’ up, hol’ up, hol’ up / Post u, post up, post up.” Not only does it sound badass over the beat at that moment, it also seems like the most appropriate imaginable thing to say. This is music about flossing and grandstanding as Jxmmi succinctly explains earlier in the same song, “Fuck it, I’m ballin’.” Still, Jxmmi and brother Lee have devoted the greater part of three albums to really bringing the point home.
The song “42” beginning, “European size, it’s a 42,” is all about shopping extravagantly oversees. Three songs refer to fancy cars or driving in their titles, “Perplexing Pegasus,” “Powerglide,” and “T’d Up.” All three are bangers, but upon listening to the two solo albums, you’ll be able to tell whose song is whose. The first and last are lean, sharp-edged trap productions with roaring bass and the slickest rapping ever. The other song, of course, is Lee’s, and it’s characteristically brighter and more melody-driven. There are two songs on “SR3MM” that stray from the central topical focus, and dabble in romantic or personal subject matter, another Lee move. The first, “CLOSE” features a verse from Travis Scott, which does the number very well. Lee goes full singer on this song, rather than whatever he was doing on the aforementioned opener, and he sounds impeccable. This time, it’s Scott who straddles the line between singing and rapping, in his signature way, and his considerably lower voice serves as an agreeable counterpoint to Lee’s. The other song, “Bedtime Stories,” is another well-advised collaboration, this one featuring The Weeknd. Even when bleating out choruses fully committed, Lee does it with a certain levity of manner, making for a slightly quirky delivery. The Weeknd is more of a “proper” singer, in R&B at least, and his presence here lends a certain poise that allows the song to assume a more serious weight.
Lee’s solo effort, “Swaecation,” is a dramatically different affair, from the first seconds of opening track, “Touchscreen Navigation.” This infectious song finds Lee taking on a strain of pop only loosely tied to R&B, and almost entirely detached from hip-hop. There are hip-hop elements, for example, in the lingo and the production touches, but also is less obvious things, such as in the loosely structured, free-flowing, longform nature of Lee’s verses in some songs. He darts between melodic ideas fluidly, and for much longer than the time typically allotted for a verse in a remotely conventional song. Lee clearly has a talent for crafting catchy choruses, but what might be even more impressive is how he can package at least three distinct hooks into a single rap verse’s time and space, and somehow make them all register immediately.
There are still a fair share of lyrics concerning to “livin’ the life” as in the aforementioned song’s descriptions of luxurious traveling, or in “Offshore,” which glorifies traveling hedonistically. However, these are merely secondary matters in both songs, which are more largely concerned with the search for adventure and fulfilment. “Offshore” has an appearance from Young Thug, another artist who indulges in rampant free-singing and rapping exercises. His contribution here is a performance that captures some of his madcap, alien, eccentric genius. It’s unclear exactly what he’s doing, but it sounds a like Thug is maybe reading a dramatic monologue from a one-man-play in which he plays numerous characters, all while running laps and climbing on things.
Most of Lee’s solo songs deal with love and relationships, and these take many forms. On one hand, there’s the slightly twisted, “Los Angeles,” with the lyrics, “Hide from me, girl… I’m a smokin’ gun and I’m still on the run,” and then there are numbers like “Hurt to Look,” basically just a sappy love song. Another thread that makes its way into the lyrics of several songs, “Heart of the Moment,” “Red Wine,” and “What’s In Your Heart?” regards the importance of authenticity in self-presentation.
Mike Will Made-It has produced the vast majority of Sremmurd’s tracks, and continued to do so on this album — except for on Lee’s component. He only contributed one track, “Offshore,” and you can hear his signature trap elements in it, although they are more subdued. Lee worked with various producers, and it shows in the variety of the sonic output. Songs like “Touchscreen Navigation” and “Heartbreak in Encino Hills” have a vaguely ‘80s character somewhere within. “Guatemala” is driven by a dancehall reggae beat, and showcases Lee exploring an entirely different aesthetic.
While Lee has been getting salty and gazing reflectively at the horizons, his brother has been keeping it gangsta. Made-It has remained very active on Jxmmi’s tracks, and this plays a paramount role in achieving the songs’ ultimate feel. From the first track on everything is dark,and sinuous, with shape-shifting high hat cadences shuffled and assembled into off-kilter, hood-informed, corporeal dancefloor mobilizers. THere’s always outrageous, distorted bass, and usually little instrumentation other than some faint, slightly discordant sounds hovering about. This sound is there on the first song, “Brxnk’s Truck,” and it persists throughout the album.
“Jxmtro” is an unadulterated hip-hop record. Jxmmi is a skilled rapper, and he demonstrates it on the new songs without ever needing to adopt some gimmick or some attention-demanding stylistic peculiarity. In fact, lunatics like Young Thug can seem like a bit of a farce alongside someone like Yxmmi. He’s got a simple, but solid, consistent flow, and his delivery is always confident and powerful. He gets on the mic, and gets in your face, and talks a lot of shit, and if you don’t at least appreciate that just for its realness, perhaps you shouldn’t be listening to any hip-hop in the first place.
Jxmmi has more to share about how largely he’s been living, but he expands his repertoire here to the broader subject of how badass he is in general. He raps about going to the strip club in “Players Club.” about buying a girl Chanel in “Chanel,” and about, generally, coming this far in “Growed Up.” “Chanel” features an appearance from Pharrell Williams, who is on top of his game as usual, displaying skill, versatility, and humor on the mic. He also devotes a considerable amount of energy to calling out haters. In “Anti Social Smokers Club,” he repeats, “No, these niggaz can not smoke with us.” On Changed Up,” he gives a piece of his mind to those who have accused him of changing over the years, even though they were never his friends to begin with. And he disarms such accusations in general, by putting his priorities out in the open on the song, “Keep God First.” As he outlines them, “You know that God come first / You know my family come first / You know my squad come first / You know the money come first.”
Apparently, there is somehow a four-way tie among the various winners of the contest. Jxmmi hasn’t been the least bit shy, on “SR3MM,” about how much he loves his money — which means we could only imagine how much time he must spend in churches and at picnics. As pure speculation, this four-way tie might also offer an explanation for Rae Sremmurd’s latest release. After all, separate albums, sold together, would be a way of securing a tie. It would only make sense for egos to be something of an issue for the brothers, considering that they had the audacity to call themselves the “Black Beatles.” On the other hand, it is true — although the sound bite taken out of context can be easily misinterpreted — that John Lennon once said, “We’re more popular than Jesus.” So, the matter is settled: Rae Sremmurd is officially the Black Beatles. Few people agree on a favorite Beatle. With Swae and Jxmmi, you have two widely divergent artists, and two corresponding albums. They’re both very commercial, so please end even your jokey Beatles analogies well before the Revolver era, but both “Swaecation” and “Jxmtro” and quality albums in their own respective genres. It simply comes down to whatever floats your black, yellow submarine. As for the collaborative album, it can come across as a bit compromising, as it doesn’t exactly capture the same bold vitality as the solo efforts, but it does bare testament to an exceptional musical chemistry that consistently makes for successful songs.
“SR3MM” is available May 4 on Apple Music.