A popular line of thought in the last couple of years has been that Rae Sremmurd would have dominated the “TikTok era.” The rationale is easy to understand: the group—made up of Mississippi-born brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi—writes killer hooks and offers a vision of an unending good time like we haven’t seen since the hair metal era. Their laissez-faire, nonstop party attitude has made them a favorite of teens and young adults. Swae Lee understands that the comment is meant as a compliment, but he can’t help feeling frustrated when people offer a postmortem for a very much still active rap group.
“They act like we’re dead or something,” Swae Lee tells Complex. “Our music already went up on TikTok, still. We dropped that shit before TikTok was even made and it’s still going on TikTok.”
After bursting onto the scene in 2014, the Mike Will Made It proteges put out a bevy of platinum hits, including “No Type,” “Come Get Her,” and “Black Beatles.” Their third release, 2018’s SR3MM was a mammoth triple album that harkened back to rap’s most maximalist days, with each brother putting together a solo project in addition to a collaborative LP. But afterward, the uncertainty set in; Rae Sremmurd went off the radar, and many began to wonder whether the duo had turned up for the last time. That proved to be a misconception, as the brothers continued to make music together out of the spotlight, all with the goal of assembling their fourth LP. After a few false starts in 2022, the Brown brothers are back with their long-awaited body of work, titled Sremm 4 Life, the name itself dispelling questions about the duo’s longevity.
“They act like we’re dead or something. Our music already went up on TikTok, still. We dropped that shit before TikTok was even made and it’s still going.”
“We knew what we were working on, which is Sremm 4, so we ain’t gotta necessarily go on Oprah and say, ‘The group? We’re good,’” says Swae Lee. “We already are sweating—waking up, going to the studio, doing shows, doing these meet-and-greets.”
The duo’s fourth album and first in nearly five years finds Rae Sremmurd keeping the raucous energy going, but it also offers a level of depth that they hadn’t really touched before. “Not So Bad (Leans Gone Cold)” is a fever dream—a drill song that prominently samples Eminem’s “Stan” and flips it into a pensive meditation on drug use. “Something I’m Not” sees Slim Jxmmi allude to the tragic 2021 killing of their stepfather. Now 31 (Jxmmi) and 29 (Swae), the pair are finding a new equilibrium, one that doesn’t sacrifice the fun but shows that there’s some pain behind it. Still, they’re hardly buttoned up, with tracks like “Tanisha (Pump That)” and “Flaunt It/Cheap” immediately joining the ranks of Rae Sremmurd firestarters.
“We’re still party boys, but we have emotions,” Slim Jxmmi says.
Complex spoke with Rae Sremmurd in New York about turning 300 songs into a 14-track album, how the mannequin challenge presaged the explosion of viral music promotion, and their latest collaboration with Young Thug.
When you started working on this music, did you say “We’re definitely making these songs for the purpose of putting out Sremm 4,” or did you just get back in the studio and feel it out?
Swae Lee: It was a thing of us just naturally cooking up over the past couple of years. We was always aware which ones were the hottest records. We definitely went back through and listened to all the records that we did [to see] which ones were still relevant, which ones sounded the best, which survived the test of time. And, of course, we had some new records too that we cooked recently, this year and last year. It was just timing.
There were so many hands [that were] a part of it. Of course we’re leading the way, me and Slim, but we have a team, a whole system with the shit. We had to just make sure everything was on point, the numbers were right, business was right. Plus we were still touring the world off of our first three albums, they were so groundbreaking that we still had to touch the world with those albums. And Corona went, so we had a little more extra time on it. That’s how we did it.
If you had to ballpark it, how many songs were you picking from?
Slim Jxmmi: I think we had to pick somewhere between like, 300 songs.
SL: You gotta keep in mind––he had his 160 songs that he wanted me to get on, because if we don’t make the songs together, he might bring me a song like, “Swae, do a verse on this, boom.” And then I might bring him a song and say “Jxm, do a verse on this.” I got my 155 songs over here, “Hey bro, listen to this here. Do a verse on this tonight.” Or we might cook some new stuff up tonight. “Perplexing Pegasus” we made that same night. Some songs we make freestyle and it’s all different dynamics.
So you got back in sync pretty quickly when you returned to the studio, then?
SJ: We just continued making music. It’s something that we just do naturally, so when we started back doing it, we weren’t thinking like, “How are we gonna make music?” We just wanna make music that feels real to us.
SL: When it came to making music, we didn’t have to get back in there and learn how to rap. “Oh, I’m Slim Jxmmi, I do the…” We were already cooking up [for] 100 years prior to it, every day, so that’s what we were doing. We got the green lights from all the people we needed green lights from. We lined up our features, the people that we fuck with, we got ‘em lined up. We’re getting the clearances from them, we’re getting the clearance from Eminem. It was just so much happening that now was the soonest day we could put it out. No more waiting, by any means necessary. Boom.We kicked doors in, we stayed on people’s asses, we made the calls we had to make and we finally got the green light on Sremm.
“I don’t think people take into account when it comes to groups, that they’re all individuals.”
In that way, did it almost feel like doing the first album again?
SL: Yeah, it was. I love the process of creating the album, listening to the mixes. It’s definitely a headache, but it’s a beautiful headache, I call it. You might stay in the studio til 9 a.m. on some all night, all morning type shit just listening to mixes, trying to get ‘em right. Critiquing stuff, tweaking hi-hats, tweaking snares, getting 808s right. Tracking down session files, adding ad-libs, adding [interludes].
Coming off SR3MM, your triple album,this is very lean and tight. Did you want it to be that way deliberately in contrast to your last record?
SJ: In contrast to the last album, yes, we did want it to be more lean and focused. These days people’s attention spans are much shorter. So we wanted to give them a good product and we wanted to give it to them, pause, but hard and fast. Sremm 4 Life is one of those projects that you can listen to again and again and that’s how we wanted it to be.
SL: It was a process cutting ‘em down. I ain’t gonna lie, I wanted to cry, because I had songs that I did want on there, but we were so strict on keeping it digestible. I think a good album time is 50 minutes. There were a couple songs I did want to make it on there, but it would’ve been like 17 tracks and 14, just to step back into that space, feels like boom, here you go. We’re giving them a full plate. 14 songs, easily digestible. All songs have different vibes. You can play it back quickly. And it’s not the last album, you know there’s music coming after that, so we didn’t want to make it too extensive.
You two have always been good about that sort of thing, thinking about how people listen to music and intake your work.
SL: We call that listenability.
There was a perception from the outside that you guys weren’t making music together over the last couple years and were maybe on a hiatus or broken up. Did you talk about that, did that weigh on you at all?
SJ: When it comes to the rumors like “Oh, what is going on with Rae Sremmurd?” We never really took any time off when we made it, we just made it real quick. I personally wanted to take some time. I had my first child. We had some things going on with our family. We also are our own individual artists, so Swae wanted to do whatever he wanted to do and I wanted to do whatever I wanted to do at that time. I wanted to get my health together, get my mind together, that type of stuff. Now we’re back to give y’all the music and I like to say that we’re back and better. You’re supposed to get better with time and I feel like that’s what we’re doing.
SL: When it comes down to the speculation and people wondering “What’s the status of the group?” We did leave it in a crazy space. We didn’t really speak much on it. Rae Sremmurd, we don’t really take people too deep into our personal lives. Every day we were together, cooking songs and doing shows. I’m seeing his family, he’s seeing my family. We really live in the same state. That’s our real life and we don’t trip too much about it because I know what real life is and we just live in that.
SJ: And we’re real brothers.
SL: We knew what we were working on, which is Sremm 4, so we ain’t gotta necessarily go on Oprah and say, “The group? We’re good.” We already are sweating––waking up, going to the studio, doing shows, doing these meet-and-greets. So we know what real life is, even if we ain’t shedding light on it for the world to see. We’re still together and we gon’ keep it rocking. We built this mansion from bricks from the ground up, so we can’t just let it crumble. We’re keeping the legacy going. Our kids gon’ be rapping to SremmLife.
The speculation starts on social media and then it snowballs, but you were out there, it just wasn’t heavily publicized.
SL: We were out there doing stuff every day, but it wasn’t the spotlight on us together. And plus, I’m doing some solo stuff, so everyone is taking that and running with it. Like [Jxm] said, we’re individuals, too. He might go and build the biggest tech company, do boxing, whatever he wants to do, and I might go over here and do whatever I do. But the foundation, the basis of all of this is Rae Sremmurd. I’m doing this shit till I’m 73.
SJ: And I might wanna stop doing it when I’m 45, you know? I’m probably never gonna stop making music, but I’m just saying, I don’t think people take into account when it comes to groups, that they’re all individuals. They might have something they wanna do with their lives that they end up doing while they’re doing music. It’s okay to take a little break. I wouldn’t call it a break, because everything I did in that time was to better myself as an entertainer.
When Rae Sremmurd burst onto the scene, you were making party music and turn-up songs. You’re still doing that on this album, but it feels like you’re trying different things. There’s the song with the Eminem sample, there’s the “Something I’m Not” song, which is probably the most personal I’ve heard from you two guys. Were you conscious of “We want to put out party songs, turn-up songs, that’s our signature, but we also are maturing and want to have something else in there, too?”
SL: With this album, you’re gonna see some different topics on there. The world doesn’t really understand Rae Sremmurd to the fullest right now. We’ve only put out three albums, those were like our introductions, so we’re definitely getting deeper into who we are and giving them more of our personal life in our music. But of course, we’re staying true and doing what we love, which is making those upbeat, cool energy songs that you can get dressed to where you feel yourself. Songs you can ride to the party to, in the party, just fun, turnt records.
SJ:We’re still party boys, but we have emotions. That’s how we’ll put it.
SL: We can touch every topic, because we go through it, we’ve been through it, we’ve seen, experienced a lot of stuff. Like you said, we’re older, so that comes with more experience. That comes with more topics you can touch.
“We’re still party boys, but we have emotions.”
On “Something I’m Not,” Jxm talks about what happened with your stepfather. Are there any nerves about getting more personal on a song that’s different than what you’re usually known for?
SJ: Every time I make a song, I try to be personal. I don’t try to be personal, but I try to talk about my life in a way. I felt like [the song] was a place for me to express that and I feel like music is always an expression of life. That’s just a place where I felt like I could get that off. It’s just a crazy thing, I don’t really like to talk about it much, to be honest.
SL: With me, when I’m making a song, I could make any type of music. I could make emo music, I could make pop music, I could make country music, whatever it is. But when I write a song, I’m really just trying to create imagery in my listeners’ heads.
This record is pretty lean on features. You’ve got Future and you’ve got Young Thug. How did the record with Thug come together?
SL: Yeah, the features on the album, we kept it slim. We wanted to stay true to the people who’ve been in our circle since we started. The Thug record, we did that about a year or two ago. We got a lot of songs with Thug, actually, we’ve been rocking with Thug since Sremmlife 1 in 2015, before any of us became who we [are]. We fuck with Thug, he’s hard as shit. He’s been one of the hardest artists in the game for a minute, we’ve recognized that and we’ve been locked in. I think it’s definitely crazy that we got that clearance. That shows how far the love [goes]. Bruh is going through his situation, but he made sure we got that green light. We got all the clearances we needed. Even Future, that’s day one, we had him on the early albums too. We’re just staying true to SremmLife and going with features that match our vibe.
You two were ahead of your time in a lot of ways, but I think one of the biggest was everything that happened with “Black Beatles” and using viral challenges to promote your music. I’m sure you guys have seen people tweet all the time, “If Rae Sremmurd came out during the TikTok era…”
SL: That’s goofy to me.
What are your thoughts on that?
SL: When I see that tweet like “If Rae Sremmurd came out in the TikTok era…” they act like we’re dead or something. Our music already went up on TikTok, still. We dropped that shit before TikTok was even made and it’s still going on TikTok. I get what they’re saying, they’re saying that our music––it’s a positive gesture, because what they’re saying is our music would be attached to the TikToks and going viral, making it viral and everybody would be making challenges to it. I feel like we really steered music in that direction with the mannequin challenge. But challenges are gonna keep coming and keep going, and our albums are gonna keep coming and keep going. We’re gonna keep putting out fire music and letting that shit naturally happen.
SJ: With TikTok––I like it, you like it, the kids like it. If you feel like you want to see Rae Sremmurd on TikTok, make a TikTok to our new album.
I do think it’s a compliment.
SL: I know what they mean, but the songs are right there, TikTok is right there. Go do it, go crazy. I appreciate all the TikToks that have been made to the songs we already got out.
SJ: Outside opinions on social media don’t really affect my approach to music or the way I look at things. If you feel like that, go make it a trend.
“We fuck with Thug, he’s hard as shit… I think it’s definitely crazy that we got that clearance.”
You still have a lot you want to accomplish as a group and as individuals, but when you look back on the first decade of Rae Sremmurd, what do you think is the biggest way that you changed hip-hop?
SL: This haircut, first of all. When we came into the game with the shaved sides and the dreads on top, that just changed the game.
SJ: Loud clothes.
SL:When we came with the auto-tune, the heavy reverb, the melodies and high-pitched singing tones and all that stuff, it definitely trickled down to a lot of people. We’ve still got a thousand more styles and songs that we ain’t put out. We’ve got vibes we ain’t even shown the world that have never been done before that we’re pioneers of. We’ve got so much.
SJ: I feel like we made it cool to be yourself. My brother says this all the time: it doesn’t matter what type of life you’re living, we’ve got music that anybody can [listen to]. “I ain’t got no type,” I don’t care what you do, everybody can vibe with that. Male, female, it doesn’t even matter. We make international music that way, where it doesn’t even matter what you do, you can relate.
You two have always been in your own lane in a way that’s rare.
SL: Everything we do ain’t forced, it’s just natural. It’s who we are. Of course, we’re thinkers, so we put some thought behind it, too, everything’s calculated, but we ain’t chasing nothing.
SJ: We’re having fun. When you’re shining a positive light, you’re having fun, other people want to have fun, too. They see you dancing, they want to dance, too. They might start dancing with you. We want to be that positive light when we walk in a room. That’s how we’ve always been since we were young, since our little skating rink days. We’d go to the club, everybody would be standing against the wall, and we’d walk in there and next thing we know, it’s a party. That’s just who we are and that’s how we’re gonna stay. It’s our essence.
How will you each know that Sremm 4 Life had the impact you wanted it to have?
SL: We definitely pay attention to our fans and what they say. When we perform, we pay attention to the energy. In six months, yeah you’ll definitely be able to tell if it is connected. The numbers ain’t gon’ lie. That’s how we really know: The numbers [show] what’s making people move.
Is there anything else about the album you want to mention that we didn’t touch on?
SJ: This is just my personal opinion: the biggest sleeper right now [is] “ADHD Anthem,” that’s my favorite song. I feel like when we drop this album, because we do a lot of festivals and big events, we turn the crowd up, mosh pit, all that type of stuff, when we do the “ADHD Anthem,” I can already feel the mosh pits. I can see the water getting slung up in the air. I just can’t wait for that.
SL: With this record, we just want everybody to know we ain’t done turning up and we really love this shit and we hope y’all love it, too.