Whose life is Rae Sremmurd really living?
Each day, I typically wake up in a pretty good mood. I live a relatively comfortable life and I have been blessed, no doubt. Then, I turn on the news or go online and remember that I’ve woken up in a world that hates me and others like me. I am in a world that finds it okay to kill me, mock me, and benefit from my culture. It is one that doesn’t make sure that myself and the other purveyors of the culture see the highest possible gains from our creations. Rae Sremmurd is a glimpse into the possibility for change. Their enthusiasm and lust for life are unmatched, and their worries (certainly there must be some lingering somewhere) are seemingly non-existent.
I often find it hard to be the “carefree black boy” that I deserve to be. I sometimes worry about how I am perceived by the world around me. Will I be loved for who I am, or should I feign a slight nuance that will help me blend in with my environment? And there is always the age old issue of “being too white for the black kids and too black for the white kids.” What the hell does that even mean?! (I know what it means, but the idea disgusts me). Rae Sremmurd plays a part in changing all of that.
In my head, I look like all the black boys who were met with what I believe to be an untimely, unfair demise. In my head, those black boys look like Rae Sremmurd. In my head, Rae Sremmurd looks. . . like me!
Alas, the older I get, the more confident I have become in myself and in who I am. Rae Sremmurd gives young men like me a window into what it means to be one’s self and to not care what anyone thinks about it. They achieve this so well, but I’m frightened by where they might be headed.
I’m torn between my love for Rae Sremmurd and my love for Rae Sremmurd
Let me explain. I love their vibe, group dynamic, and carefree nature. It’s infectious and gets the people going! However, I also love Rae Sremmurd on a level where I can’t always enjoy being hypnotizingly numb and allow Mike Will Made It’s dope beats to cloud my deeper thought process. There is a notion of care involved because I see myself in them.
All up and down the internet for its first week out, all I saw was people saying that SremmLife 2 is “fire” or how excited they were in the moment . To an extent, I agree. Rae Sremmurd is predicated on having fun, living life, and doing what they want. That, my friends, is fire. That is their musical model. Even SremmLife used the same model, but this time around, it feels different. As the initial fanfare calms down, I can begin to think rationally about their current situation.
Where did all these “bitches,” hard drugs, and endless supplies of money come from?!
Out the gates, they begin with “Start A Party.” This feels like a rap rollercoaster, and I can barely hold onto my seat with excitement. It draws you in with the buzzing synth/saw intro that includes a string sample, giving it a chilling cinematic quality. Moving onto “Real Chill” my anticipation is high, as Kodak Black gets thrown into the mix. Something about the South Florida rapper’s presence intrigues me. Maybe it’s his flow and persona coupled with the fact that I’m based in Florida and feel like I grew up around kids just like him. He also shares enviable qualities similar to Rae Sremmurd as he freely raps and enjoys the fruits of his labor on blast for the world to see.
Now, by the time I get half way through the 3rd track, “By Chance,” I realize something. I’m bored. Maybe it’s because “By Chance” was released on February 13th, 2016, and I’ve heard it enough already, but I think the problem is that I’m already becoming numb. The Eardrummers crew has these beats knocking because that’s what they do so well. It’s turning me into a southern trap zombie. I’m dead, yet alive at the same time. I almost had to get up, look in the mirror, and ask myself “What have I become?” Where did all these “bitches,” hard drugs, and endless supplies of money come from?!
Diving deeper into the album
“Look Alive” is nice even though I’ve heard the track 100 times already, but it’s a needed change as Swae Lee is opening up his vocals a bit more. It puts you in a different reality from the rest of the project so far. It’s a sort of whimsical vibe that brings us back to life.
“Black Beatles” is solid and I feel like any track featuring Gucci Mane is a win right now, so well done. What sticks out to me is one single line on the hook: “Young bull livin’ like an old geezer.” What is going on this world that is turning these young kids into old men? Right after that, we’re tossed back into the spin cycle of “I got money, so shake that assery” on “Shake It Fast” ft. Juicy J.
Next in line is “Set The Roof” featuring Lil Jon. This song serves a purpose to break up the monotony — and they really needed another viable single. DJ Mustard’s influence and branding is all over it, which which will get a wide audience of listeners to give it a chance. Lil Jon’s hook is a plus in that regard, as well.
I’m thrown for a loop with “Came A Long Way.” The trap ballad slows things down and gets as story-like as Rae Sremmurd is probably ever going to get. In any case, it’s a sound that moves away from the upbeat vibe the duo is known for. If you ask me, Slim Jxmmi should have held onto this one for his potential solo projects. Yes, the group is delving into solo work outside of Rae Sremmurd. Let’s not act like we didn’t see this coming.
The world gets more of Swae Lee’s vocals on “Now That I Know” and “Take It Or Leave It.” This is cool because because it gives him a youthful edge when he sings. It’s what the people want, but the difference about this and the past is that he sounds scarred. He’s in this realm of this is what “niggas” do and women are “bitches.” I could honestly do without “Do Yoga.”
The Deluxe Edition has two standouts. “Swang” is on that spaced-out flex that makes you feel like you’re floating. There was room for this one on the standard version. Also, “Just Like Us” was a track that should have either made the standard version because it is reminiscent of SremmLife, or Swae Lee should have positioned it towards his solo work.
Expectations vs. execution
I was concerned about this project when I realized that the singles being released weren’t sticking as hard as they did in their debut album campaign. Then again, SremmLife was a huge debut that performed very well. They exceeded expectations and claimed their space in the game. Naturally, the curve to recreate the same magic would be challenging. Did they even try to, though? It’s almost as if they intentionally wanted to separate from their previous branding and got sucked into a music video world far from Tupelo, Mississippi.
Overall, the atmosphere is darker with more muddied sonics than the first album. There is an air of gloom surrounding them outside of tracks like “Set It Off.” Perhaps this can be attributed to Mike Will and P-Nasty’s executive production, but they did plan the original SremmLife, also. So what’s the reason behind their changes? I feel like it’s the same reason as to why any of us change. It’s the world around us. It asks everything of us while telling us we have to mentally and emotionally marginalize ourselves to what they deem acceptable. It tells us we have to be a certain way in order to “sell” — and that who we are naturally isn’t good enough.
This project seems like it was put together because it had to be. It’s like a bridge to SremmLife 3 and they are walking across this album in order to get the final phase of this trilogy. Or maybe they are more eager to get to the solo work than they are putting forth in the media. Not to be redundant, but for crying out loud, the second after the album dropped, the Complex feature was released claiming they were ready to begin working individually. Let’s be honest. This was only a matter of time. As the group’s iconicism rises, Swae Lee’s abilities as a songwriter and hook man become more apparent.
Jaded grown men?
This album has some big wins, though. Swae Lee is coming into his own as a vocalist. He is expanding his repertoire and that will only provide him with more opportunities for himself as an artist and songwriter. They are working with more people. “Set It Off” is co-produced by DJ Mustard. This put them in an electronic avenue which also allowed them to collab with Lil Jon. I expect to see them at more festival shows in the future and that is awesome.
A major issue (and perhaps the comprehensive problem) that sticks out to me is how this world forces young stars to grow up so quickly. Young black males are already striking fear into the eyes of non-POC with their skittles and iced tea. This world’s idea of maturation often comes with many themes and notions that are destructive to young people. This album makes me feel like a broke, no-girl-gettin’ homie who ain’t fresh aztheyiz. They were just two young, down to earth guys from Tupelo, MS, and now they come off as some jaded grown men drowning in money and strippers.
Don’t get me wrong. When these songs go off in the function, I will be turning up with the best of them. Of course I’m going to wild out and enjoy it — because that’s what it’s made for. However, after it’s all said and done and the music fades, I’m going to eventually ask myself, “What’s next for the brothers Sremmurd?”
Am I comparing them too closely to their original debut project? Could be. Is my ego unnecessarily attached to their success and longevity? Maybe. Is this not a fair assessment or analysis of their situation? You know what, it probably isn’t. That’s because I’m only going off of the information that I have as someone looking in from the outside. Obviously, that isn’t much to go on. But, who I am is an onlooker who wants Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi to win, and I want them to do it for as long as they can. I want them to own their situations as young black men just like I’m learning how to do.
We shouldn’t have to second guess who we are in order to fit in
Whether they know it or not, the Mike Will protégés have worked in a way that shatters societal norms and stereotypes of what it means to be young and black. They reinforce the idea that a person is themself and not what the status quo deems them to be.
I am ecstatic when I think about their rise to stardom and the opportunities it will surely give them, but I am frightened by the potential downfall that lurks waiting to swallow them up so many young stars. I worry that the status that they have earned might turn them from the joyous human beings that we wish to become into the jaded men that we fear to become.
We shouldn’t have to fit into a description that perpetuates age-old problems. We shouldn’t have to second guess who we are in order to fit in. If I could talk to them, I would ask them to stay free as much as is humanly possible. I would tell them to not let the wants of this world dictate how they develop as artists and men. I would tell them I love them and that I’m praying for better in the third life and beyond.