"Beaucoup bitches in the lobby," Slim Jxmmi rasps in the opening moments of SremmLife 2. The line peaks and cracks like the rallying cry of a teenager who has just discovered the existence of women and wants to share his joy. Here, 30 seconds into Rae Sremmurd’s second full-length album, one could be forgiven for thinking that Slim Jxmmi and his brother Swae Lee haven’t moved much from where they started. The Mississippi rap duo forced their way into public consciousness with 2014’s modestly crunk anthem "No Flex Zone" and the delightfully unpicky "No Type" — two songs that were equal parts exhilarating and amateurish.
Two years later, they're back
For many critics and listeners, Rae Sremmurd’s boyish voices and apparent eagerness to please felt like permission to not take them seriously. Nothing was more tangible proof of this than their name — "ear drummers" spelled backwards — which felt not only juvenile, but like a joke. Now Rae Sremmurd has returned almost two years later to prove they’re not just here to make goofy club anthems. On one hand, that’s believable: SremmLife 2 feels more considered and more complex than anything the pair has released before. On the other hand, the album’s first track is called "Start A Party."
Rae Sremmurd’s debut album, SremmLife, leaned hard on Swae and Jxmmi’s youthful vocal elasticity. They seemed to possess the uncanny ability to smash a verse into any beat, whether or not it really fit there. SremmLife 2 has a little more finesse to it. Frequent collaborator Mike Will Made It produced a majority of the album, and the brothers seem comfortable maturing into his cooler beats. "Look Alive" is a chilly after-hours track whose sparse percussion complements Swae’s softer rhymes and Jxmmi’s gristly baritone. "By Chance" pairs vampirish keys with a trap beat, which lets Swae and Jxmmi trade their manic flows for a blasé conversational cadence. It’s almost as if they’re answering to critics here: Is our enunciation proper enough for you?
For the people who don’t take Rae Sremmurd seriously — who shrug them off as some churlish combination of Kriss Kross and the Partridge Family — SremmLife 2 might not be terribly convincing. Swae’s crowded rapping style still sometimes results in some tangled, unnatural-sounding bars. On "Real Chill," the line "They can’t wait until / we turn this bitch upside down" has at least four too many syllables. And even though Swae gets more total air time on the album, Jxmmi’s gnat-in-ear flow tends to stick with you — and not in a good way. "Take It or Leave It" would’ve been a great 2-minute song, but it feels stuffy by the time Jxmmi barks a verse in edgewise. In their more pandering moments, it can feel like the duo resort to memes when they can’t think of anything better. On "Shake It Fast" there’s a throwaway "new phone, who dis"; on "Black Beatles": "Get you somebody that can do both."
Rae Sremmurd's most irritating qualities are also their most appealing
The most interesting thing about Rae Sremmurd is that their most irritating qualities (a lack of focus and a gleeful disregard for pretty sounds) are also their most appealing. SremmLife 2 feels like an attempt to subvert preconceived notions about Rae Sremmurd while also making it very clear that Swae and Jxmmi don’t actually give a fuck what you think about them. In 2014, it was easy to dismiss Rae Sremmurd as a fly-by-night phenomenon whose appeal was more of a novelty than anything else. But with SremmLife 2, Swae and Jxmmi have proven they’re not going anywhere, and if you’re still laughing at them, you’re missing the point.