In August 2014, when Rae Sremmurd performed at the Trillectro musical festival in D.C., the shiftless crowd was quickly clamoring for Migos to run up and take their place. Rae Sremmurd premiered "No Type" to minimal enthusiasm at that particular time (9 p.m.) and place (in the rain). While "No Type" is now climbing the Hot 100 and topping many critics' best-of-2014 lists, back at the RFK Stadium Festival Grounds in August, the rapping sounded like nonsense. I was front and center among the crowd, shaking my head, thinking those kids better soak it now, because they're one hit single short of getting booed off the main stage.
What I mistook for immaturity and abandon was, in fact, the joy of two suddenly successful amateurs. Twenty-three years after Kris Kross repackaged Naughty by Nature's steez for the Toys-R-Us demo, Rae Sremmurd has done us one better, offering vibrancy as well as edge, with unrivaled cheer to boot.
Unlike other breakout projects of the previous year, SremmLife is a miniature affair, exhilarating nonetheless. "Lit Like Bic," "Up Like Trump," "Safe Sex Pay Checks"—as suggested by the titles alone, Rae Sremmurd's debut tape is every bit as slap-happy and ("My X" being the jilted exception) unserious as you'd expect. "I be sipping on Patrón and wine," Jimmy raps on "Come Get Her": "I'm just tryna have a good-fucking-time." For good reason, "No Flex Zone" and "No Type" are the obvious hits: "No Flex" is scrappy, irascible, and contagious; "No Type" is faded but committed, and contagious. Catchy is key, and Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy are, in fact, two of the most charismatic rappers out right now. My mother would pinch those cheeks.
Singles aside, the chants and ecstatic poetry of SremmLife are fully charged from start to finish. Never faltering toward the monotony of most Migos hooks or the allegedly artistic boredom of late-stage Future, the boys from Tupelo are grit and grease, energetic in both cases, an uncanny synthesis of Rich Gang and Ke$ha. Much (not all) of this credit for SremmLife's edge is due to Mike WiLL Made It, whose ear for punk and pop vibes makes for a sort of rabble-rouser's ecstasy best enjoyed in basement venues (where you can thrash as wide as you like) rather than an arena.
Catchy is key, and Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy are, in fact, two of the most charismatic rappers out right now.
When paired with Big Sean on the baritone trap trance that is "Yno," in which Jimmy chants, "Tokyo drift through the hills/Used to have to walk, no wheels," one similiarity between Sean and Sremmurd is impressively clear: While not the most dexterous rappers ever, these guys are ace protagonists. Where Sean and Wiz Khalifa are, arguably, too cool and too earnest at once, we find Rae Sremmurd pitching fistfuls of paint at the walls to discover what sticks. In contrast with, say, the pistol-whipping severity of Chicago's drill kids, or the obsessive, sometimes overbearing consumerism of Migos, Swae and Jimmy sound newer, younger, constantly refreshed and happily juvenile. (I should note: Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy are 21 and 23 years old, respectively.) "Lit Like Bic" leads off with a fit of Slim Jimmy's mumbling, as if possessed by a Ouija spirit, before Swae Lee orients to a proper hook and expansive fantasy: "They wishin' we was floppin', I can see it on their faces/I can point at different bitches, and I bet they all from different places."
Their strikes are rare and forgivable. Following a year when Nicki Minaj eclipsed Lil Wayne, "Throw Sum Mo" deploys homegirl as background noise and an A-B-C chant, as if she were Lil Debbie. "Unlock the Swag" buries Jace's best Juicy J impression three minutes deep. The album overall is a triumph, however, varied and fulfilling, with too many hits and slappers to regard Rae Sremmurd as a one-hit wonder of 2014. Technically, they've dropped the best album of 2015 so far. Good luck dragging Slim Jimmy and Swae Lee from the limelight; the boys are kicking and screaming and wringing the cracks from their young voices.