When I stumbled across Rae Sremmurd’s debut single, “No Flex Zone,” long before they became a commodity in April 2014, it was a sprawling club number built off of the hypnotic mechanics of Mike Will Made It’s production. The vocals, spawned from brothers Slim Jimmy and Swae Lee, are an octave or two (or five) pitched up, giving the false initial description of the two being early teenagers. On the contrary, the Mississippi-born, Atlanta-transplanted duo are 21 and 19 respectively, and their insouciant behavior on concert stages evokes similarities to a pair of kids that were part of my childhood among many others. As their debut studio album, SremmLife, would suggest, their buoyant sound will shine for the children of tomorrow as Kris Kross’ Totally Krossed Out did for me.
The opening song, “Lit Like Bic,” is a crescendo of southern crunk meets punk perfectly fit for a Mortal Kombat Royal Rumble. The opening lines are a mush-mouth thesis on what to expect on the rest of the album: amped party tunes, extracurricular night activities, and an all-around notion of having a good time. “I came from that dirty town/look how I clean up!” provides the first of many chuckles along the way. Following up was the early minimal, yet overly elastic highlight in “Unlock the Swag”. It’s as insanely infectious as their proper first single, backed by a verse from Two-9 member and fellow label mate Retro Jace. There’s a glimpse of the simplistic nature of Sremm’s lyrics and their knack for one-two hooks that sweep you in, and there’s a ton on them here.
Which brings me back to the aforementioned off-kilter, “No Flex Zone,” bouncing around with ice cream truck synths and the super animated delivery of Swae and Slim as if they had one too many 5 Hour Energy drinks. It almost became just as coincidental that Young Chop (“Don’t Like,” “Love Sosa”) would assist a beat to the two for “My X,” a jaded ode to the women that could have had it all if you let the boys tell it. It works more in a yin/yang factor with its bone-shattering thump to the nimble Twitter meme segue of “This Could Be Us”; the latter working for the better in complementing their catchy hooks with cheery piano keys that bellows throughout.
The money-blowing triumvirate that follows – “Come Get Her”, “Up Like Trump”, and “Throw Sum Mo” – adds as the filler that works best during a late-night escapade with friends. “Come Get Her” sounds more like a paint-by-the-numbers girl-dancing-like-she’s-stripping anthem, though “Up” comes in the clutch amplified by the sinister production of Sonny Digital. It’s something about hearing “chain swang like nunchunks/She gon’ chew you up/twerk like she’s from Russia” that makes me want to venture into Moscow’s club scene. The third of these tracks have current female rap heavyweight Nicki Minaj and hit-making extraordinaire Young Thug coming in for guest duty, but both coming up short on what should have been a stellar party single. Nicki is only reserved for providing a lackluster hook, and Thugger shines enough to deliver a fascinating bird call adlib, but otherwise forgettable verse.
Fortunately, it picks up on the album’s backend; showing that the group is capable is breaking out to an even bigger pop platform. “YNO” have the brothers flex their lyrical muscles in what can be one of the deepest deep cuts going into 2015 rap. Big Sean arrives to continue his incredible momentum in wrecking feature verses, fancying himself for his love of Polo and Digiorno’s Pizza. “No Flex”’s twin sibling “No Type” is about as equivalent to its predecessor’s popularity on the radio, but ironically defeating the purpose of not having a type when there is a type the two really like (confusing, I know). The album’s closer, “Safe Sex Pay Checks,” may be the ultimate crossover record for them come spring break. Off the desk-bumping drums of Da Honorable C.N.O.T.E., it is as exuberant as it gets and for some reason I can’t stop pressing the replay button whenever it comes on.
As an overall package, Mike Will knows what he has in Rae Sremmurd, where their name derives from the reverse spelling of the independent words “Ear” and “Drummers.” Clarification aside, this album is a bunch of fun and glee, and when my nephews are eight and stumble across it, they will know that exact same feeling I got when I heard “Jump, Jump” for the first time.