It’s unclear if the boys of Rae Sremmurd have grown up much since their debut album dropped in early 2015; they’re still rapping about stealing your girl, doing drugs, constant partying, and not a whole lot else.
But clearly the duo, aided by producer/mentor Mike Will Made It, have grown more confident and adventurous, as SremmLife 2 is woozier and more willfully weird than its predecessor, adding up to a party record whose surreal sound should appeal even to those who don’t share the group’s stamina for debauchery.
Where SremmLife was energetic and frequently felt over stimulated, the best moments of SremmLife 2 are both more subdued and blurrier. Their debut captured the feeling of having an entire night of indulgence ahead of you, but this record catches the MCs as the night is winding down, a bit fatigued and drained but also more unhinged and willing to try anything.
As with many rap duos, one member is clearly being groomed for potential solo stardom. Older brother Swae Lee has been more visible in the time between SremmLife and SremmLife 2 than Slim Jxmmi, including collaborating with Travis Scott and reportedly Katy Perry, as well as earning a writing credit on Beyoncé’s “Formation”. He handles the brunt of the hooks and puts more effort into expanding his accounts of the duo’s wild lifestyle beyond southern rap platitudes.
Sometimes this works well, like on the roisterous “Start a Party”. The track is wide-eyed and wild, it isn’t just music you’d play at a club, it actually simulates the experience of being bombarded by bright lights and blaring music while guzzling liquor on the dance floor. Here, Swae details a hilarious encounter with a girl, “She said, ‘Let me guess, you a drug dealer’ / Said, ‘Nah, I just brought a lot of money / And a whole lot of drugs with me’”, he raps.
He struggles a bit on the pickup anthem, “Take It Or Leave It”, one of the record’s more dulcet tracks, which is built on burbling digital horns from Mike Will and HighDefRazjah. “I got the booze, we can rendezvous / Jump inside, baby, we can cruise / Don't be led by the goddamn fools / Yeah, right beside me, you cannot lose”, he half-sings, clearly showing that the brothers are still learning how to break out of the 24-hour party mindset.
Jxmmi’s role is a bit more static and grounded, but he makes the most of it with a fiery delivery that makes his more generic lyrics still worthwhile and his inspired bars an absolute riot. His verse on album highlight “Black Beatles” is tremendous, starting off warbling before gradually upping the intensity and spitting 2 Chainz-type boasts with such snarling conviction it’s hard to tell if he’s in on the joke. “I had hoes when I was broke, I'm rich, I'm still a player / I wear leather Gucci jackets like it’s still the 80’s”, he spits in one particularly memorable couplet.
The majority of the 14 tracks are party rap, which means some redundancy is inevitable, and the duo waste an award worthy verse from strip club laureate Juicy J (“Shawty do it all, it should be against the law / Lockjaw, she can suck a bowling ball through a straw”) on the otherwise underwhelming “Shake It Fast”. A lazy hook on “Real Chill” winds up being a poor use of another quality Mike Will production and a cameo from rising star Kodak Black.
Still, there are real signs of musical development on Sremmurd 2 that point to longevity for the duo. The bizarrely formal “By Chance” rides gothic, piano-powered production and creates an icy sense of detachment. “Now That I Know” is hardly romantic (“Of course I want to lie and say I don't miss you / My bitch on the side just told me to forget you”), but the brothers show some real vulnerability and prove that if they can’t completely avoid the lifestyle talk for one song they can at least apply it in a different context.
In all likelihood a third record (What are the odds it isn’t titled SremmLife 3?) will be another collection of supercharged club tunes, but hopefully Rae Sremmurd continue to embrace their eccentricities. Hearing Swae Lee spout off lines like, “I don't do drugs, naw, I don't do drugs / I'm the motherfuckin' drugs, do me”, is a blast, even if they may not make too much sense.