Rae Sremmurd: Sremm 4 Life

The repeat reveler learns that partygoing is as much a skill as an activity. At some mundane but critical point—having a kid, dropping a phone into a bar toilet, turning 30, falling asleep in a work meeting, having a second kid—life demands a game plan. To party without incident, substances have to be diluted or avoided; comfortable shoes must supplant cute ones; rides home need to be pre-arranged. On their fourth album, veteran socialites Rae Sremmurd reach this humbling stage of partying without sacrificing their irreverence or glee, finding new delights, sounds, and topics in the crucible of adulthood.

Brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi are both dads now, a detail not explicitly mentioned on Sremm 4 Life, but one that contextualizes the album’s frequent acknowledgement that consequences exist. Almost a decade ago, Rae Sremmurd were youthful insurgents storming rap radio. Though they rhymed over the same druggy trap beats as Future and iLoveMakonnen, they ducked the numbed recoil that pulsed through that era’s music, turning up without ever coming down. Their giddy squeals and impish barks ricocheted across their mentor Mike WiLL Made-It’s eccentric beats like billiard balls. After an extended childhood, age has caught up with them. “It’s time to show people we’re more than just some party boys,” Jxmmi told i-D last year.

“Shots, shots, shots, yeah we’ll feel them in the morning,” Jxmmi shouts on weary opener “Origami (Hotties),” a world away from a similar and much more enthused chant on “Safe Sex Pay Checks” from their 2015 debut. “Everything unfolding like the chapter in the children’s book/From the window of the plane, I can tell that the city crooked,” exhales Swae Lee on the pensive “Something I’m Not.” On different songs, each of them mentions the killing of their stepdad in 2021, for which their younger brother was charged and sentenced to prison. The tragedy comes up only twice, but the gravity of the experience seems to snake through the songwriting, which can be as anguished as it is exuberant.

If Rae Sremmurd growing up and partying responsibly sounds depressing, don’t worry; Jxmmi still takes the shot. They continue to be a bacchanalian group prone to cartoonish flexes and rakish debauchery, as seen on “Sexy” and “Royal Flush.” Here, they match their boasts with confessions and doubts, a development that complicates their jubilant party tunes. “ADHD Anthem (2 Many Emotions)” is full-blown emo rap, Rae Sremmurd wailing over squiggly video game synths and seismic bass kicks.

“Not So Bad (Leans Gone Cold),” a sample drill track that trades the tea of Dido’s “Thank You” for a cup of lean, is melancholy but swaggering, the pair’s strained voices springing off of gliding bass and weepy keys. Historically, most of the darkness in Rae Sremmurd songs has stemmed from the spacey melodies and eerie drum programming of Ear Drummers’ nocturnal production style; here, the rappers are the ones who cast the shadows.

Compared to the careful sprawl of triple-LP Sr3mm, which artfully unwound the brothers’ divergent styles and production tastes while avoiding lulls, this outing can feel formulaic and less adventurous at times. The duo (or sometimes a featured guest) typically plays off a Swae Lee chorus, a structure that anchors most of the songs here. When the hook bricks, as on the uninspired “Activate,” the song collapses. The brothers’ middling showings just barely best yet another phoned-in Future verse. “Got empty bottles and models, my heart empty,” he sings flatly. Single “Torpedo” is just as inert, with Swae Lee not even committing to the tepid chorus: “Takin’ off for that cash, like torpedo/And ya pockets too tight, just like a speedo.”

When Swae Lee’s hooks connect, things fall into place. He floats through the misty bounce of the Zaytoven- and Mike WiLL-produced “Mississippi Slide,” while Jxmmi tumbles across it like a bowling ball. For the squeaky twerk joint “Bend Ya Knees,” Swae Lee dispenses cool playboy flexes while Jxmmi gushes Auto-Tuned punchlines. “I’m a bald-head nigga, just like Mr. Clean/And they know it’s me, hit the dro and shoulder lean,” Jxmmi raps, one of his many standout lines. He needs his brother’s cool melodies as much as Swae Lee needs his spry rapping, but interesting things tend to happen when he takes the lead, a potential first teased on his solo debut Jxmtro.

“Flaunt It/Cheap,” the album’s highlight, consciously discards the batting order of most Rae Sremmurd songs—Swae Lee on the hook and first verse, with Jxmmi on cleanup. The result is delightful. It begins with a drum’n’bass beat that slows into a minimal drum track, then flows into woozy Miami bass. Jxmmi struts across the shifting ground like a drum major, his swagger carrying the song even after Swae Lee takes the wheel. If Rae Sremmurd is truly a lifelong commitment, as this album’s title suggests, this kind of shuffling will be key to the group’s longevity. As their widened outlook and refreshed palette show, they’ve got plenty more parties planned.

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