How Rae Sremmurd Outgrew ‘Kiddie Music’ on ‘SremmLife 2′
"What's poppin!" shouts Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd. It's early afternoon, and he and his brother Slim Jxmmi are somewhere in Los Angeles' hills, prepping for the release of the new SremmLife 2, their darker, weirder and more grown-up sequel to 2015's platinum-certified SremmLife. But soon afterward, there's a flurry of phone static and garbled voices. At some point, Swae disappears from the conference call, leaving his older brother Jxmmi to finish talking with Rolling Stone.
The missed connection seems to echo early reactions to the Mississippi duo. Rae Sremmurd's debut not only launched iconic trap-pop sing-alongs like "No Flex Zone" and "No Type" but also engendered a modest backlash from industry critics like Hot 97 radio programmer Ebro Darden, who unfairly compared the group to Kris Kross. On SremmLife 2, the duo prove their ability to hang with Dirty South vets like Juicy J and Gucci Mane, and trade bars effortlessly with young gunners like Kodak Black. Meanwhile, mentor Mike Will Made It's Ear Drummers squad provides haunting synthesized beats that resemble an eerie Xanax hallucination. "SremmLife is the introduction, and SremmLife 2 is the growth," says Swae Lee. "People aren't going to be able to say, 'These guys just do kiddie music.'"
Rae Sremmurd may not elaborate much on how they created their startling sophomore effort. "It's more us. I don't know how to explain it," says Jxmmi. But as our conversation unfolds, Jxmmi has a lot to say about making it out of Mississippi, the forthcoming presidential election, the group's infamous party-rap track "Up Like Trump" and Swae Lee's work on Beyoncé's "Formation."
You've got your new album SremmLife 2 coming out.
Yeah, it's going to be a freakin' classic, man. We're trying to make history.
How was it working with Lil Jon on "Set the Roof"?
That song is a classic because his voice didn't change a bit. It's still that old school Lil Jon turn-up feel. So it's just crazy putting our turn-up energy with his, and feeling it.
You have songs like "Take It or Leave It," where you talk about relationships. It's very different from a crunk party rap like "Set the Roof." What inspires your songs about relationships as opposed to the party songs you're known for?
At this point, I don't really know what we're known for. I mean, we've all had relationships, we've all had breakups, and we've all had make-ups. We just talk about our lives, whatever we're going through at that time.
Is that the reason why your music resonates?
Yeah. We have times where we wanna have fun and go to the club, and we have times where we wanna chill with our friends and just turn up with our friends, and we have times where we wanna get girls. That's normal, everyday stuff that everybody likes to do. We all dream of doing this and that. It's why our songs be about what people dream about, or even what we would dream about.
But obviously, most of your fans aren't touring around the world and performing in front of thousands. What's the transition been like from being regular dudes to being rap stars?
We haven't changed that much. We just still do the same type of stuff, and now we get to record and get paid for it. We used to record all the time for fun, just to make music. So the transition wasn't hard, because even before [the fame] we was doing shows, having a lot of energy, and being real responsive with the crowd. It's good to reap a blessing from it, to get paid, and for people to acknowledge what you do.
You've said that people often dismiss you as "kiddie rap." Do you feel like your work is underrated?
They don't know us, so it doesn't matter. If you met us in person, you would think we was young, because we're, like, short, and we like to have fun. But that's what people gon' think. But the more they get to know us, and the more they see us, everything will change. It just takes time. Time reveals all. And we go hard, so we not worried about that. Every album they gon' be like, "Oh, my gosh, man, these guys, they just turnt up! They're just so fun! They're great! They make great music!"
Getting respect is always important. But I don't know. … We just handle our business. I feel like actions speak louder than words. I know people respect what we do 'cause everybody shows us love, and we show everybody love. So we don't really think about that. We just handle our business.
Last March, you debuted your SremmLife Crew with the Trail Mix mixtape.
We want to bring out Mississippi. We want to bring out people from our neighborhood and show [the world] that, like, we have talent, too. People have a bad connotation of our state. So we'd like to show them that we know what's going on and we have our own little scene, and I'd like to make that scene known. So we have Bobo Swae. He's going to be our first major artist from the SremmLife Crew. He's got a crazy project. He sings; he raps. We've got Impxct. He's a younger guy. People love him, man. He has a lot of energy and dancing around, like, all that. We've got Riff 3X. He'll be back soon. He's gone right now, but he'll be back soon. [Last May, Riff 3x was arrested for drug possession with intent to distribute.] Our whole crew is country. We just a bunch of country boys, and we make good music. People gonna love us, 'cause we fun to be around.
This started, like, way back. This is a dream we been workin' on for so many years. It's just good to have a chance to make it a reality. We still trying to make that something big, you know what I'm saying? We wanna be like Cash Money; we wanna be like Maybach Music. We wanna be where we can make all our people big. That's the goal, to put all your friends and your family on.
"We wanna be like Cash Money; we wanna be like Maybach Music. We wanna be where we can make all our people big."
I know you guys were based in Atlanta for a while.
We spend time in L.A. and the ATL. We love the A, man. It's like, everybody in the South wants to go to Miami or Atlanta or Memphis. They're, like, turn-up spots; they're so fun. There's a lot of things you can do there. We love that.
Did you used to listen to David Banner? He's from Mississippi.
Yeah, David Banner, Big K.R.I.T., Soulja Boy. Now you got Rae Sremmurd, and you gon' have Bobo Swae, Impxct, and you gon' have Riff 3X. And you gon' have more after that. You got SremmLife Crew.
Mississippi's like everywhere else: a lot of bad things happen; a lot of good things happen. It's like any other place in the country, so you gon' get what you're looking for. It's a laid-back place. It can be a good place, it can be a bad place, but it's really up to you. I like Mississippi. I miss Mississippi.
On SremmLife 2, you guys produced some of the tracks.
My brother, he's been producing ever since we were Dem Outta St8 Boyz. … Swae Lee has been producing ever since then. I tell him all the time, "Man, you make great beats. You need to try to get 'em out there." And he's been doing that. So he's got one on Gucci Mane's album, "Pussy Print," with Kanye West on it. Shout out to Mike Will Made It. Shout out to Ear Drummers Records. The whole team, we winning.
"Pussy Print" is, like, the best song on Gucci's new Everybody Looking.
And [Swae] did "No Type," too. That's three times platinum.
Describe your relationship with Mike Will Made It. He's become one of the top producers in the music industry.
It's great working with Mike Will. You don't really notice he has accomplished so much. Me and my brother are new artists, and when you're dealing with a new artist, we have to make ourselves among many new artists. We new. So sometimes we might feel some type of way [about breaking into the music business]. When we started, he used to tell me, "Jxmmi, don't worry about it. You're good. You're great. You and your brother gon' do this. And they gon' love it." I know it's crazy, 'cause everybody would tell us, "How are you going to compete?" It's like, "Oh, someone from down the street is trying to be the biggest rapper in the world." That's, like, impossible, you know? So Mike Will, he believed in us, and he made us believe in ourselves.
I'm struck by how different SremmLife 2 sounds from your debut. Did you aim for a new musical direction?
Naw, what people don't understand is that we're not going into the studio, like, "We gotta make something different." We make music all of our life. So SremmLife, we didn't have nothin', so we was rapping, and we were just trying to go as hard as we could. And SremmLife 2 is all of our experiences after that, after making it, feeling success, feeling love from all the people and the women, buying things, getting money, spending and losing money. That's what SremmLife 2 is: our experiences. It sounds different because we've never been rich; we've never had this much money before. I got a chain, and it got big diamonds on it. I ain't never had a real diamond on anything. That's something I can talk about now, and I have it, so I can really tell you about it. That's what SremmLife 2 is. It's after having done things and experienced new things, and making new music.
Do you guys still do "Up Like Trump" in concert?
Everybody knows that Donald Trump is not a good person. When we do "Up Like Trump," it's really to inspire people to hate him. Trump just ruined his whole credibility in some of the things he said about whole groups, nationalities and cultures, you know what I'm saying? Trump is not a good person. So when we say, "Up Like Trump," it's "Get Trump the fuck outta here." [Laughs]
You supported Bernie Sanders in the past. Now that Sanders has left the presidential race, who do you plan to vote for?
We're going to vote for Hillary Clinton, man.
Are you happy about it? There are some former Sanders supporters that are very upset about him losing the Democratic primary.
I understand people's arguments that, like, he's an older person, and they don't really know him. And I understand when people talk about Hillary not being trustworthy, or this or that. But when you look at our choices that we have, truthfully, between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I feel like Hillary Clinton would do a good job when I'm comparing her to Donald Trump. Especially when Donald Trump is best friends with Putin in Russia, and he really don't know what the hell is going on, and he [cites] videos that don't exist. Donald Trump is losing his damn mind. I don't think he even understands some of the things he says because he's been rich for so long. I don't know if he came from a real struggle like we did.
We actually made a song about it [on SremmLife 2], "Came a Long Way." It's really just scratching on it. We don't try to go into too many details about that, because we're not trying to build no type of energy like that. Now we're just having a good time and enjoying life, and making the most out of it like we always have. We came from Mississippi, man. There's not much else to say. If you want to know anything else, just go to Mississippi.
It sounds like Swae dropped off the call…I wanted to ask him about his co-writing credit on Beyoncé's "Formation."
Yeah, man … Swae freestyled that. I was sitting in the studio – I told him that shit was amazing. Mike told him that shit was amazing. But he didn't freestyle like [the final version of "Formation"] you heard. It was a long freestyle, and he wrecked the whole freestyle. He didn't like it. He said it wasn't good, and everybody was telling him it was amazing. Then he left, and I think he forgot about it. Then Mike called us a couple of weeks later and said Beyoncé wanted it. And Swae was, like, "What?! She wanted that?" It was an amazing record he didn't understand. But when she re-did it, and re-cut it, she brought us to the studio, so we heard it in the studio before it dropped, and she let us hear a lot of her songs. It's like, yeah, her shit is amazing. She made that song sound incredible. Then she named her tour Formation, so it was a blessing.
But yep, everything you heard is true. Swae freestyled that shit. Never picked up a pencil. I was there. He didn't even smoke a blunt. He just went in the booth and started talking.
Did you know that Mike Will Made It was going to play that for Beyoncé?
Nah, he didn't, I promise you. [Swae] said, "Delete it." He told Mike to delete it. And then Mike cut on another beat, and we didn't know if he deleted it or not because he didn't say nothing. But it was an amazing song where Mike was just, like, "I'm not going to delete this. Fuck what Swae's talking about. This is incredible." [Laughs] And then he let Beyoncé hear it, and she liked it. So, shout out to Beyoncé. Shout out to Mike Will, man. He's got a great ear. Like, he's got records that nobody has heard, and he's not going to let nobody hear them because they're not ready. We're, like, from the future and shit.