For over a year, Atlanta-based duo Rae Sremmurd have dealt with baseless speculation about a fracture in their relationship based on crooner Swae Lee’s ascension into music stardom via collaborations with Beyonce and French Montana on the ubiquitous “Unforgettable.” Many hip-hop devotees assumed Swae’s rise would eventually lead to a solo career that left his brother Slim Jxmmi to fend for himself as a recording artist.
We saw the same speculation with Quavo of Migos, whose features had outshone Offset and Takeoff throughout 2017. The thing is, like Migos, Rae Sremmurd are real family, not industry “brothers” or homies. They’ve got that connection that’s kept the Lox together and keeps Dipset coming back together even though they fall out every two years. Rae Sremmurd peeped the solo record talk and did what brothers do: They placated their fans with solo albums — but packaged them along with their latest group album, resulting in the triple-album extravaganza known as SR3MM. “We going three-sided. [OutKast] didn’t come together. We got to come together — we’re brothers,” Swae told Billboard a couple of months ago.
Indeed, for all of The Love Below/Speakerboxxx‘s critical acclaim, it couldn’t be more clear that they were two separate albums that were likely recorded in disparate environments. The double album, attached by name only, felt like a compromise to capitalize on their superstardom one last time before they parted ways. That’s not the case with SR3MM. It’s fitting that the group has been involved in NBA promotion this spring because the album shows they can be one of the best pick-and-rolls in rap — and it should probably stay that way.
Swae’s delicate melodies are perhaps Rae Sremmurd’s most popular quality. They can be arresting, such as on “Close,” where he harmonizes about a relationship over a balmy Travis Scott production. The Weeknd-assisted “Bedtime Stories” is the likely Billboard hit of SR3MM, but “Close” is the record that most exemplifies Rae Sremmurd at their best. Swae explores a range of vocal tones while crooning about some of the group’s favorite topics: Girls and drugs. His melodies are offset by a rapid-fire verse from Slim Jxmmi, who shows his double-time MC skills and makes it known from the door that he’s not just along for the ride with Rae Sremmurd. He drops a little shade at those who think he is, nothing, “haters still watch from the sideline.” If that yin-yang persisted on similar soundscapes throughout SR3MM, it’d be a stronger offering.
Instead, SR3MM‘s short tracklist works against it. Projects with nine tracks have a small margin for error. While Rae Sremmurd doesn’t falter with any outright clunkers, there are one too many songs that don’t shine. Their collaborations — Future on “Buckets” and “Powerglide” with Juicy J — are bangers, and not just because of the impressive guest features. But songs like “T’d Up,” the previously-released “Perplexing Pegasus,” and “42” leave a bit to be desired. The keys on “Perplexing Pegasus” and synths on “T’d Up” don’t radiate the luminosity of a “Bad N Boujee,” a gold standard for trap production, and instead sound drearily mixed with its thumping 808s. Their vocal performances hold up for the most part, but the tracks feel like the kind that exemplify the going-through-the-motions fatigue that comes from over-reliance on the trap format. These middle-of-the-road offerings occupying such a heavy portion of the tracklist is a bad look.
Swae has undeniable melodic gifts, but instead sounds relatively uninspired around Jxmmi’s invigorated verses on “42.” His lithe voice sounds a bit overwhelmed on the beat, which would have been a perfect time for him to cut the rhyming short and pull out the chops he showed on “Close,” the sultry “Bedtime Stories” and portions of his solo offering, Swaecation. Overall, SR3MM is a solid effort with highs that show the group’s party-starting appeal, but it’s disappointingly topheavy.
The same can be said for Swaecation, a project that perhaps says more about the efficacy of their group dynamic than anything else. The project shows Swae Lee taking an unabashed dive into sensual R&B with middling results. There are pockets of the album that exhibit why he’s an in-demand contributor, but the entire body of work spells it out: For now, he’s at his best as just a contributor. “Heartbreak In Encino Hills” is a prime example of how much he has to learn as a solo artist. The record starts off briskly enough with a romantic narrative –- but he rides the same melody for the entire track, which, by the end, finishes mercifully instead of with satisfaction. He didn’t do much to exactly convey his heartbreak, especially as the song ends tritely with “one-night” backseat sex.
Swae seemed to have tunnel-vision as a melody-man that hamstrings the dynamism of Swaecation. He showed promise on “Offshore,” as his Autotuned-drenched harmonies were matched by a dazzling, guttural appearance from Young Thug. Swae excels in doses — but left to his own devices, he drifts along with nonsequiturs of his love life and intriguing melodies that falter under the weight of him leaning on them so redundantly.
It’s not all bad, though. “Guatemala” and “Touchscreen Navigation” are standouts, as he sounds at home over the breezy, top-40-ready soundscapes. Songs like “Lost Angels” and “Red Wine” are set up to be strong records in their own right, but Swae Lee doesn’t yet have the songwriting chops and vision to create full records as exhilarating as the smash singles he’s contributed to. Perhaps that will come with more forays into R&B and pop, but for now, it’s clear that he’s at best working with Jxmmi’s energetic verses anchoring his melodies.
Perhaps the same can be said vice-versa for Swae’s brother Slim Jxmmi -– but Jxmtro is a pretty good project in its own right. In fact, it’s the strongest project on SR3MM. There’s something to be said for knowing what you’re good at and executing, and Slim Jxmmi does just that. Swae may provide the group’s most memorable viral moments (musically), but the consistent quality of the appropriately named intro album shows that Jxmmi is the engine of the group.
From “Brxnks Truck,” we’re smacked in the face with Jxmmi’s hit-making ability. Mike Will expertly oversees the production on the project, which varies from the haunting keys on “Player’s Club” to the zany “Anti-Social Smokers Club,” where Zoe Kravitz of all people rides shotgun and spits a fiery, braggadocious verse over raucous 808s.
Jxmmi doesn’t stray far from rhyming about the trappings of his lifestyle, but he approaches each beat with a different energy and flows that keep the project refreshing. He also gets introspective on “Changed Up” and “Keep God First,” which are vast sonic departures from the synth-heavy trap sound Rae Sremmurd has become known for. On “Changed Up,” Jxmmi pauses on the debauchery to ride a bluesy bass rhythm and call out fake friends. On “Keep God First,” he takes stock of those who are important in his life, and declares, “f*ck a trend, I’ma start a movement.”
He still relies on trite similes and tropes for the bulk of the project, but he’s in firm control of the proceedings with his engaging delivery and multiple flows. Jxmtro is the highlight of SR3MM, and should be the source of a couple summer playlist mainstays. After this one, Swae Lee may not be the only person being called for big-name features -– which will only bring the brothers closer together at the top.
SR3MM is available now via EarDrummers Entertainment and Interscope Records. Get it here.