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Review: Rae Sremmurd Flex With Promise and Big-Name Guests on ‘SremmLife’

6
SPIN Rating: 6 of 10
Release Date: January 6, 2015
Label: EarDrummers/Interscope

One of 2014’s greatest viral moments came during Solange’s wedding afterparty, when the singer and her young son Julez performed a perfectly choreographed routine to Rae Sremmurd’s inescapable debut single, “No Flex Zone.” As the reedy, yelping voices of Mississippi siblings Slim Jimmy and Swae Lee — born Khalif and Aaquil Brown — fill the air, Solange bounds around with a smile. It’s a testament to Rae Sremmurd’s year, one in which they rocketed from relative unknowns into rap wunderkinds. Nicki Minaj and Pusha T jumped on the “No Flex Zone” remix; though Her Minajesty made the track her own, she returned the favor by playing hook girl on their debut SremmLife’s most ebullient cut, “Throw Sum Mo.”

As a whole, SremmLife brims with potential; it’s clear with each breath that Slim and Swae are hungry. They managed to tap onetime SPIN Artist of the Year Mike WiLL Made-It for most of the album’s production, and on most cuts that don’t bear his name — like the Young Chop-helmed “My X,” an exhumation of dated misogyny, the Sonny Digital mess “Up Like Trump,” or the weirdly “Starships”-goes-trap “Safe Sex Pay Checks” — Rae Sremmurd stumble over their own flow.

There’s something about Mike WiLL’s sharp-eyed understanding of the rappers’ voices that smoothes out their edges without masking their tics and quirks. “Unlock the Swag” ticks off the modern-day rap lyrical checklist in metronomic fashion: molly references, D’Usse, bands that make us all dance. It’s mind-numbingly repetitive but never for a second is it boring. “YNO” struts around wearing its glossily ironic production with pride as Swae details the brothers oft-reported former life of poverty, warbling frantically, “I used to tell them I was gonna be something / They used to look at me and laugh.”

Rae Sremmurd are at their best when they’re doing what they want, rather than eschewing their oddities in favor of radio-friendly hooks (“Safe Sex”) or buzzword phrasing (“This Could Be Us,” an already-outdated meme of a track destined to live in “planking on a million” infamy). But SremmLife is an oddly positive, mostly-PC record that celebrates enthusiasm and youth over strife or drama. In a game where so much clout is granted to rappers digging deep and getting emotional — The Pinkprint the best example of such a deliberately crafted narrative — it’s nothing short of refreshing to hear young MCs like these two keeping things loose and easy. The duo’s second single, “No Type,” serves as a metaphor for the album itself; it’s a strangely entrancing grab-bag of sounds that nonetheless introduces a pair of highly skilled, improbably memorable rappers to a tired scene.