Why do we always want to break up rap groups? It’s like the second any upstart rap collective bursts into the mainstream, radio DJs, journalists, fans and bloggers enter into a mindset to find out who’s the star and who’s the sidekick. The N.W.A. were the most dangerous group in America, but Eazy’s the cool one right? Yeah Outkast is good, but how about that Andre 3000? Odd Future’s ok, but what’s up with that weirdo Tyler? At least most of the people in Wu-Tang got a chance to be someone’s favorite since there was ten of them. So it’s only a matter of time before Quavo or Offset from Migos announces a solo album (sorry Takeoff) and lord knows who’s going to be shoved out of Brockhampton.
And here we have Rae Sremmurd, the Mississippi duo that have used their youthful arrogance and the beats of mentor Mike WiLL Made-It to bust into the music industry in a mere four years. There is a formula to that success, and it’s the specific details that Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee bring to each song. Swae is the man with the hook using his squeaky and occasionally auto-tuned vocals for a chorus like on “No Type,” “No Flex Zone” and “Black Beatles.” Jxmmi uses his growling, scratchy voice and motormouth delivery to shoot off bars about being “flyer than that n***a on the hang glider.” There is a give-and-take between Rae Sremmurd that’s earned them millions of fans so of course, we’re trying to break them up. Swae Lee pulled a Quavo last year and started doing solo guest verses, to great success with French Montana’s “Unforgettable,” and thus the world starting speculating when the reverse Ear Drummers would split for solo careers. It’s a vicious cycle, and apparently one that Slim and Swae are trying to beat to the punch.
If 2016’s SremmLife 2 was high-stakes for Rae Sremmurd to prove that they weren’t trap-rap’s Kriss Kross, SR3MM is even more of a gamble for being three albums in one: a new Sremmurd album and the solo-album debuts for Slim (Jxmtro) and Swae (Swaecation). Each album is nine tracks a piece running a collective total of 101 minutes. That’s a WHOLE LOT of two wired twenty-somethings rapping about their money and mistresses and even in the age when rappers overload albums for better streaming numbers, it’s impossible not to immediately label the project as bloated.
SR3MM is once again under the sonic direction of Mike WiLL and has a tight list of guests on the mic (Juicy J, Future, Travis Scott, Young Thug) and behind the mixing board (Pharrell, Metro Boomin, TM 88). Despite the stack of producers, SR3MM is overflowing with Mike WiLL’s musical cliches: low keyboard riffs, trap drums, Autotune, and dark atmospherics. Though a lot of the songs on SR3MM sound like all parties involved are asleep at the wheel. Tracks like “Up In My Cocina,” “CLOSE,” “Bedtime Stories” and “Buckets” never really kick into their choruses with a big musical drop or breakdown. Mike WiLL just makes up a quick, creepy synth loop with the occasional hi-hats popping in and out, and the boys are just supposed to carry the energy since the music doesn’t want to. The epic bass and string loop of “Powerglide” and the reggae guitars of “Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame” break up the monotony, even Metro Boomin’s work on “T’d Up” is a more exciting version of Mike WiLL’s beats than Mike himself. But most of the album is missing the rebellious attitude of Rae’s previous record and seemingly more in common with the low-key dread of 21 Savage or Kodak Black.
Sadly, the duo’s cartoonish energy is also mostly absent from SR3MM either out of boredom from Mike’s beats or being overloaded by this massive undertaking. Or perhaps out of arrogance, especially when hearing the lines of “Up In My Cocina” roll off Swae Lee’s tongue like he’s the biggest brat in the world (“When I land in the sand, where’s my greeter?/Eating clams, rolling grams/The con man has other plans”). But most of the other songs on SR3MM are too low-key or don’t have enough energy to match the duo, leading to them being misplaced in many of these seemingly unfinished songs. The minor beat of “Buckets” doesn’t allow Slim to really wild out and distract listeners from lame lines like “Gotta get some money, I ain’t even got one cent/How the fuck the n***a finna go and get a lunch meal” or Swae’s “What’s in my cup, that’s wonderful stuff (juice)/Nah, these ain’t drugs (huh?), but even if they was/I’d be focused on the prize (focused).” “42” has hints of energy in Swae’s delivery of the chorus as he tries to get out a line and a half before the beat ends, but there’s still that nagging notion that he’s not the most clever lyricist (“Pickin’ these cars like fruit, pickin’ these girls like fruit/Super sweet for a spa day, and I wan’ f**k a masseuse”). Rap can certainly be dumb fun just as long as the music is fun enough to distract from the dumb.
The biggest attractions here, though, are the stark musical differences between SR3MM and the two solo records of Swae and Slim. With the formula of Rae Sremmurd split up and separated, this gives the boys to heighten and emphasize their skills without having the weight of needing to make room for one another. Swaecation wouldn’t sound out of place on Drake’s OVO Sound label with it’s moody, hazy R&B beats and lusting lyrics of being rich and single. Its sound is richer and has a bit more variety to it, clearly vying to be some form of a summertime vibe album. “Heartbreak In Encino Hills” emphasizes that best with its Prince guitar and boom-bap drums that play out like a mellow jazz beat, plus Swae Lee’s auto-tuned vocals more fitting for the relaxed atmosphere. Swae even proves he can balance the singing and rapping on his own with “Heat Of The Moment” and his slightly-accented delivery of lines (“Let me buy your time even though I wiped off your kiss/And I shouldn’t say too much because it’s what I do that really sinks in”). Though Swae can’t hide that he’s not the first (or most famous) person to make moody R&B, as “Red Wine” and “Hurt to Look” make him sound like a blatant Weeknd clone with Swae’s lower register he uses to rap not entirely meshing with the latter, while the former turns up the auto-tune almost to the point of a lost Depeche Mode song. And that’s without even mentioning “Guatemala,” which has nearly the exact same beat as “Unforgettable” and is probably the 100th attempt to make a sequel to Drake’s “One Dance.”
Slim Jxmmi seemed to have more to prove here, what with him being the out-and-out rapper of the Rae Sremmurd and less likely for crossover success (not to mention the fact that he has to close out the entire project). To his credit, Jxmmi shakes the listener up with the brief but punchy bangers on Jxmtro. No track goes past the four-and-a-half minute mark, the bass hits harder, and Slim’s gravely southern growl rides each beat impressively well. The Pharrell-featured “Chanel” has Slim sounded like a stone cold killer despite bragging about his latest girl while “Cap” has enough of a strong bass in the beat to let Jxmmi sound intimidating. “Anti-Social Smokers Club” is a much better use of Mike WiLL’s production with its electronic ticks popping in between start-stop drums and a surprisingly-bossy guest verse from Zoe Kravitz of all people. But where Jxmmi has the one-up on his partner in terms of rap skills, both he and Slim still meet in the middle in terms of lyrical dexterity and maturity. The best evidence is on the laughably childish “Juggling Biddies” which, despite a solid beat by Zaytoven, can’t hide laziness (“I’m getting to the bank, can’t fake that s**t (fake that s**t)/I don’t even keep a wallet ‘cause the cake don’t fit (woo)”). Jxmmi also doesn’t seem to have a lot of range with rap music as evidence on the slow buzzkiller “Keep God First” that tries to be humble but can’t avoid be stupid (“I’m so high right now, I look Japanese”).
Miraculously, SR3MM manages to give the people exactly what it wants: a reason for Rae Sremmurd to break up. The two solo efforts show that Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi could have solid careers apart from each other, while the group albums shows the duo getting lazy and bored with themselves. Maybe this is the reaction that the duo wanted, all the more reason for them to split and get their own spotlights. Rae Sremmurd still ooze personality as a duo in person so if they want to sustain their careers, they need to keep that on display as much as possible and not get drowned in their producer’s demos. So if Rae Sremmurd do break-up, at least it’s justified by somewhat-good music coming from it.