If you’ve never seen Swae Lee dance with a bottle of Hennessey, I highly recommend remedying that. It’s like watching Nijinsky lithely glide in the “Rite of Spring”; Harry Potter hypnotically waving a wand of holly and phoenix feather; Gustavo Dudamel conducting Beethoven’s Fifth.
On this Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m., Swae Lee, 23, is turned up to 11. He’s frying in the Las Vegas sun but somehow hasn’t broken a sweat—frantically unleashing 360 spin moves, shoulder leans, and trap arm aerobics workouts. Nary a single drop has spilled from his nearly full fifth of Henny onto the outdoor stage at Drai’s Beachclub.
Somehow, he’s still rapping almost every word to his No. 1 single, “Black Beatles.” He and Paul McCartney may or may not be related, but Sir Paul certainly hasn’t seen anything this graceful since he watched cartoons with Michael Jackson that fateful 1982 night that inspired “The Girl is Mine.”
Swae Lee only stops communing with the spirit to pour out liberal splashes in the front row. Attendees also toss their phones on-stage to Swae’s brother, Slim Jxmmi.
One by one, Slim, 25, busts moves for their Snapchat, takes beaming selfies for the fans, and barely misses a syllable. He throws the phones back to their owners and not a single screen gets cracked. VIP hospitality. They’re doing everything but setting up Tinder matches for the guests. Actually, just wait a second:
“Fellas, you gotta leave here with a bad b**ch because it's SremmLife Sundays,” Swae outlines afternoon goals to the thousand-plus debauchees.
Let’s regroup for a second to marinate on our modern predicament. In this surreal dystopian future, there are certain intellectual situations that seem natural to fall back on. You can embrace nihilism to its most hedonistic extremes. You can simmer in a perpetual state of rage, venting your fury on social media and the overfull Voice Mailboxes of elected representatives. And honestly, both make perfect sense. But watching Rae Sremmurd perform is a reminder that tense realities only accentuate the need to seek joy wherever you can find it.
In the case of these two young siblings from Tupelo, Mississippi, raised entirely for long stretches by a single mother who worked on tanks in the United States Army, they have beaten almost absurdly long odds to become one of the most famous and best rap groups in the world. Since first emerging in 2014, they’ve produced five singles that have cracked the Billboard Top 40. Plus, both Swae and Slim wrote the hook for Beyonce’s smash hit, “Formation.”
“At first people thought that we only made one style of music and rapping, now they realize that they were wrong,” Swae Lee answers when I ask what he thinks is the biggest misconception of the group.
Upon arrival, Kriss Kross comparisons surrounded the group, which briefly made sense. They came up in Atlanta under super producer Mike Will, similar to how Jermaine Dupri incubated the careers of the Daddy Mac and the Mac Daddy (RIP). And at first few knew their exact age. Even now, neither member of Rae Sremmurd looks old enough to play blackjack, which is Swae’s favorite. He says he never wins but I’m not sure if I believe him.
“Bruh, I put a coin in the machine in the casino and got all 7s, I won $500,000,” he tells me. I ask if he’s for real. He says no, but that I should include it in the story anyway. Ergo…
The younger Sremmurd leans forward on the black leather couch inside Drai’s, long dreadlocks occasionally sweeping in front of his eyes, wearing Gucci flip flops with socks and a bright Florida shirt completely unbuttoned. Swae looks vaguely like if a young Rick James broke into the attic to steal Frank Costanza’s cabana ware cruise stash. However, he’s blessed the geriatric attire with redemptive cool. His brother, Slim wears red board shorts, flip-flops with socks, and SremmLife inked across his abs. It’s about 95 degrees and a shirt has been deemed superfluous.
I ask Slim what his ideal party would look like:
He immediately answers as though he has already seriously pondered the question. “The guy to girl ratio has to be 20 to 1. No boyfriends. Just squad.”
It’s easy to underestimate Rae Sremmurd. Their lyrics are mainly about being very young, very rich, very high, and very turnt. It’s platonic party music in the tradition of Juicy J (Slim’s all-time top pick), Puffy, and yes, that constellation of block party Bronx MCs that rapped about beats and rhymes going on to the break of dawn. In a particularly bleak era, fun is a valuable commodity. And like any precious resource, rappers can cheaply exploit it by making empty club bangers that tap into the psychic need for numbness.
But that’s a potentially fatal misread in the case of Rae Sremmurd. They might boast about showing you “how to get retarded” on SremmLife 2 opener, “Start a Party,” but there’s something unmistakably genuine in their love of having a good time. They’re tapping into a rare voltage and gleeful adrenaline that would force Andrew W.K to reconsider his partying stamina. They have so much fun that when I ask them what their favorite band is, they actually answer Fun. I couldn’t make that up if I tried.
“At first people thought that we only made one style of music and rapping, now they realize that they were wrong.”
Whether it’s an intentional shift or an innate evolution (or both), they’ve become something more substantial than just making music to soundtrack an eternal strip club summer. Part of it is Swae Lee’s weightless falsetto, which he’s begun stretching out to a gothic eeriness. On songs like “Look Alive” and their appearances on Mike Will’s compilation Ransom 2, a haunted darkness stalks their sound. A singular and sinister timbre that almost makes them seem like a rap Bee Gees on Xanax. While Swae commandeers much of the attention, Slim supplies an unmistakable gravity and balance—as though Swae’s voice might remain in permanent orbit without his older brother.
“We don’t follow no format,” Swae explains. “Certain artists go in the booth and think, 'I need a hook, two verses, an intro. We just make banging music.' If it sounds good, it sounds good. It’s 2017—whatever sounds good is going to go.”
If that sounds simple, it’s deceptively complex. Even with beats from one of the best producers of the decade, you still need original melodies, harmonies, and infectious hooks. You can see their sound openly appropriated by Travis Scott on his hit “Antidote.” It’s hard to imagine “XO Tour Lif3” in a rap landscape without Rae Sremmurd. That’s just a few of the most obvious.
“We’ve started so many trends,” Swae says. “From dreads to Gucci Googles. So many melodies that we came up with. I want to be the next f**king Prince or something, I don’t know.”
He pauses for a second as if to walk that last quote back, but then re-considers and adds: “Me and Prince got the same birthday, y’know.”
From the moment they sit down, you can see the chemistry expected of brothers who have been seriously making music since high school. And even if their lyrics can be one-dimensional, few are better at writing memorable one-liners: “She think she love me, I think she trollin,’ “I ain’t got no type, bad b**ches is the only thing that I like”; “Ball on these n ** s, I need knee replacements.” In just three years, they've racked up a half-dozen songs that will fuel generations of interpretive Hennessey dancing to come.
“We don’t follow no format. Certain artists go in the booth and think, 'I need a hook, two verses, an intro.' We just make banging music. If it sounds good, it sounds good.”
“We’re just trying to be true to ourselves and bring good vibes, good feels, and good creations,” Slim Jxmmi says. “Our music is going to outlive us.”
As soon as he says this, the group is whisked off to the Beachclub stage. First, Slim DJs under his special DJ name, Uncle Jxm, then the brothers both perform. Every word creates a corresponding response in the revelers. Swae says: “can we get ratchet? I mean proper ratchet.” And you’d have thought he was Moses commanding the Red Sea to bust it wide open. They wail, “somebody come get her, she’s dancing like a stripper,” and suddenly, you’d conclude that Spring Breakers was a documentary.
It gets pretty intense out there, but it never descends into Roman insanity. Rae Sremmurd know exactly what they’re doing, so do their two voluptuous back-up dancers in white bikinis, and even the most screw-faced goon in the club corner has to break out a smile. Escapism is rarely this entertaining. And when someone hurls a fat candy-colored beach ball on-stage, Swae nimbly shifts his weight and kicks it so far I’m pretty sure it hasn’t landed yet. Then they keep going, never missing a beat, never spilling a drop.
Rae Sremmurd will perform tonight at Drai’s Nightclub in Las Vegas. Performance details and ticketing info can be found here.