Music
Tune in and turn up
Rae Sremmurd / Eardruma Records / Interscope

4.0/5.0

When Mike WiLL Made-It first announced that the next Rae Sremmurd album, SR3MM, was going to be a triple-disc album—one by Swae Lee, another one by Slim Jxmmi, and a third by both—it was an ambitious plan. But considering the brothers delivered a series of buoyant hits on 2015’s SremmLife and 2016’s SremmLife 2, they’d alluded to having the range to fill three new records with even more interesting work. SR3MM is proof of that.

This begins with Swae Lee’s evolution on Swaecation. The melodic angel has always used his voice as a form of instrumentation in his music, but never as pleasantly as he has done here. While he is still partially indebted to production and unable to fully make his voice the highlight throughout, Swae’s vocals are a crucial part of each song on this record. Musing over love on tracks like “Red Wine”, (produced by the incredible G.Ry and NEENYO, responsible for many of modern R&B’s staple tunes) the album’s more melodic beats are where Swae’s latest manifestation is heard clearest. He is establishing himself as a highly progressive artist, one who steeps himself in smooth R&B, distilling the chaos of young love and lust into vital, undeniable pop.

Behind the booth, Swae has surrounded himself with an eclectic cast of producers who manage to leave their sonic fingerprints everywhere without smudging the final product. “Hurt to Look” is an exuberant cut produced by FWDSLXSH and Bizness Boi, the architects of some of 6LACK’s standout tracks, as well as London’s-own EY. The song is a slowly intoxicating composition, suspending Swae’s vocals atop a drum pattern and retro-synth pop beat. His hooks are captivating, and the production choices are primed for ubiquity. “Touchscreen Navigation” in particular is a display of undeniable cotton candy pop prowess, with its arena-ready synths, island-flavored garnishes, and wispy vocals co-produced by Singawd, yet another long-time collaborator of 6LACK. Swaecation is a tender passion project that allows one of hip hop’s most melodically gifted stars to explore outside the familiar template that has brought him success thus far. Simply put, Swae Lee has delivered his most earnest and wholesomely candid work to date.

But SR3MM also reveals how much Slim Jxmmi has grown. Several earlier Rae Sremmurd songs were displays for Swae Lee’s vocal acrobatics, with Jxmmi playing springboard, but on Jxmtro, Jxmmi is showing much greater range and is rapping with much more force. While it’s unlikely that the ‘rari will go faster without the roof, Jxmmi even puts together some of the most quotable bars: “I don’t even keep a wallet ‘cause the cake don’t fit” on “Juggling Biddies”; on “Chanel”, “I got enough bread to recline.” His lyrical content is limited, as he opts to rap about the quintessential rap themes of money and fast cars, but it’s clear that he takes no bars off when he raps, ensuring listeners feel every single word he spews.

And, of the three projects, Jxmtro gravitates the most towards today’s trap sound without copying generic flows or mimicking styles. Each beat is filled with sharp 808s and bellicose bass undertones, creating infectious bangers that bring strong replay value. The double-time flow on “Brxnks Truck” is masterful; “Growed Up” is another example of when style, swagger, and sound work in perfect unison as he shows off his own melodic capabilities. But even when his flow isn’t filled with tricks, his personality and enormous presence are extremely effective.
Rae Sremmurd’s music is intended to please chart followers, festival crowds and hip-hop fans alike – and SR3MM caters to them all with the collective third record. If listeners are looking for the fun of Rae Sremmurd that audiences have become accustomed to on their previous efforts, they are sure to find it on songs that zig and zag from half-ballads with Travis Scott on “CLOSE” to the reliable Mike WiLL-bangers “Powerglide” (featuring Juicy J) and the sugary, bubblegum hit “Up In My Cocina”.

The collective album, overall, is more innovative, more daring, and flat-out riskier than its predecessors. SR3MM’s most ambitious jaunts, like the back-to-back combination of stargazers “Perplexing Pegasus” and “Buckets,” push their talents to new heights by redefining what the duo can and will do, both together and apart. When Swae jumps too far out of pocket, Jxmmi is there with the answer, balancing things out with even-keeled verses with a presence that feels like a necessary gravitational force. On SR3MM, the yin and yang of Rae Sremmurd forms a perfect whole.

Few songs reflect this dynamic more than “Powerglide”. It’s a brazen trunk-rattler, which isn’t surprising given that it derives liberally from Three 6 Mafia’s “Side 2 Side” and its drawn-out yet catchy chorus—overflowing with detailed imagery of women, drugs and cars—is governed by Swae Lee, who also gets the first two verses. Although he is detached from the ricocheting beat, his rapping and singing gives the song the intoxicated haziness that we encounter in Lee’s solo work. The second half of the song is then brought back down to Earth by Jxmmi, whose choppy flow punches along with the beat with lyrics that ground the song in a more traditional rap sound. “Powerglide” is a nod to some of Southern rap’s most influential modern acts, and by looping back to its originators, Rae Sremmurd extend trap toward something entirely new.

“Rock N Roll Hall of Fame” also captures the duo’s back-and-forth grandiosity. As was the case with 2016’s “Black Beatles”, “Rock N Roll Hall of Fame” feels, for its first half, like a Swae Lee solo cut. Swae finely finesses his voice through thunderous beat, until Jxmmi barrels in around the two-minute mark. Jxmmi is a much-needed, razor-edged counterpoint to that finesse.

A smart choice in the project comes from the fact that Mike Will not only came with heavy ammunition but allowed other contributors to breathe their creativity into the production. With his backing, Swae and Slim were given some of the most dynamic instrumentals out in a while; each beat doing a perfect job of exuding a myriad of emotions from both artists. Slim Jxmmi tears through the hook and verse on “42” like a possessed man, moving at a vicious pace. On “Bedtime Stories”, which strobes in a fluorescent neon glow, Swae Lee floats in and out of a wispy falsetto, albeit supported by The Weeknd’s smoothest vocals. The most thrilling song is “Perplexing Pegasus”, with Swae Lee going full crooner, belting out a pitchy-but-charming melody.

A few tracks, though, like “T’d Up”, the album’s first single, are disappointing in their lack of novelty. Swae repeats the song’s title, slang for being inebriated and ready to party, but he seems strangely languid and disconnected from the beat’s pocket. Meanwhile, Jxmmi delivers his verse straight, doing little to enliven the track. The instrumental—produced by Swae Lee, Metro Boomin, and Darrel Jackson—veers slightly outside of the duo’s bouncy, Southern crunk sonic palette, with its glassy, warbled synths and menacing bass. But the strong production can’t save the track from its general lifelessness.

SR3MM is also long—dauntingly so. Its 27 tracks range across one hour and 42 minutes of digital space. That said, the three albums contain fresh, carefully curated music; you never feel like you’re listening to outtakes or throwaway tracks that didn’t make other albums. But the length of SR3MM allows Rae Sremmured to collect all of the duo’s musical peculiarities and gives them space to flourish. The triple-disc aspect is the ultimate middle finger to haters who think this strain of hip hop can’t be complex.

The brothers have previously given us the sense of being unbothered, unburdened, and unlimited that comes with being young, rich, and Black. It’s that same sense of liberation that fuels the boldest decisions on this album. There’s an infectious joy within Swae and Jxmmi, and the two artists genuinely sound like they had the time of their lives making this album. This gives Rae Sremmurd the last laugh on those who thought they’d never crack the triple-disc album format, marked all the while by the knowledge they never needed one to succeed. With its structure and sound, SR3MM is a definitive work; Rae Sremmurd went three for three.

For more of our reviews, read why Cameron Cook thinks Post Malone’s ‘Beerbongs & Bentleys’ is a tough, weary listen right here.

Words by Contributor
What To Read Next