Rae Sremmurd Did A Lot of Shit to Live This Here Sremmlife
How two down-and-out Mississippi teens turned their lives around in the space of a year, scored massive hits straight out the gate, and got Nicki Minaj spitting bars for them.
You might be hearing a lot about a US rap act called a name you can't pronounce but is written 'Rae Sremmurd' - maybe you've seen someone caption an Instagram 'no flex zone'? Or you've wondered who the unruly dreadlocked kids wearing Coogi jumpers, spitting throaty rhymes and dancing with Nicki Minaj in her clip Throw Some More exactly are? It's time to get to know these young hitmakers, and if you're already familiar with ’90s child party-starters Kriss Kross, you've basically got Rae Sremmurd halfway nailed. If not, Pile-Raps are here to help.
The story starts in 1992. Atlanta teens Chris 'Mac Daddy' Kelly and Chris 'Daddy Mac' Smith, then 12 and 13 years old, scored a Billboard #1, and one of rap history’s biggest all time hits, with their single Jump, after having been discovered shopping for sneakers at an Atlanta mall by then 18 year-old rapper Jermaine Dupri, who co-wrote and produced the track (later workng with Xscape, Jagged Edge and finding another child rap protégé in L’il Bow Wow). Dupri’s vision for a kid rap group came to life thanks to his clever work executing Jump, and their album, Totally Krossed Out, where Dupri cleverly sampled funk standards - Ohio Players, Jackson 5, James Brown, George Clinton and more - to give Kriss Kross' tunes timeless appeal - despite some pretty innocuous rhymes: "Jump Jump / The Mac Dad will make you / Jump Jump / The Daddy Mac will make you / Jump Jump / Kris Kross will make you / Jump Jump". The Mac Daddies sold themselves more than four million copies of Totally Krossed Out, and Jump was one of the only tracks in all of rap and rock history to reign over the charts for a full eight weeks, turning the boys into stars, and landing them a tour with Michael Jackson as well as their own video game. The appeal of Kriss Kross lay not only in their talent (their flow was remarkable) but also their authenticity, and attitude – their crazy outgoing personalities didn’t feel fake because they genuinely just possessed the natural hyperactivity of youth, and their gimmick of wearing clothes backwards came across as adorable – rather than forced – swag. Millions of kids copied that swag, putting on their jumpers backwards and jumping around wildly like they were in the Kriss Kross video. The situation would have been something a l'il like this:
...and Kriss Kross looked like this:
23 years later in 2015, kids everywhere are once more going wild for two young and exuberant rappers from Atlanta: brothers Slim Jimmy, 20, and Swae Lee, 19, collectively known as Rae Sremmurd (pronounced ‘Shrimmer’). These two have also had huge success on the charts - with the rapid-fire succession of breakout hits No Flex Zone and No Type – and have experienced widespread fandom for their innocuous rhymes, whose lyrics reflect current youth culture (and have since been adopted as conversational turn of phrases and Instagram captions in net culture) and goofy, fun-loving energy.
Rae Sremmurd look like this:
Spot the difference, no? Note the presence of convertible cars in both pictures (also note Kriss Kross and Rae Sremmurd are standing in front of the cars, not driving them…because they’re all too young to have their drivers’ licences!). For the music nerds though, Sremmurd’s story parallels Kris Kross’ beyond these superficial comparisons – much like Kriss Kross, riding on the success of No Flex Zone and No Type, Sremmurd went being music nobodies in small-town Mississippi to having two gold singles within a year. This was followed by a smash debut album, Sremmlife, that debuted at #1 on the US rap and hip hop charts, and has been publicly praised by hip hop overlords Jay Z and Kanye West. It’s all happened under the keen guidance of their own Jermaine Dupri: 25 year old hitmaker Mike WiLL Made-It, whose been building his Ear Drummers label, and developing raw talent like Rae Sremmurd, from scratch (for the uninitiated, Mike’s the mastermind behind global smashes like Juicy J’s Bandz a Make Her Dance and the Miley Cyrus’ We Can’t Stop). There’s even a “backwards” Kriss Kross thing going on – it’s not the boys outfits, but rather their act name - Rae Sremmurd is Eardrummers, Mike WiLL Made-It’s label, spelt backwards.
Above: Mike WiLL Made-It with his proteges
Although in the case of Rae Sremmurd, their rise to fame had its genesis in the studio, not the shopping mall: Mike WiLL Made-It discovered the boys through producer P-Nasty, who was was jamming with Swae and Slim one night, and called Mike WiLL Made-It over to witness the boys in action. Not long ago, Mike WiLL Made-It shared the story of discovering the boys on US radio station Power 105.1’s Breakfast Club program: “I went over there and they’re freestyling over a bunch of beats, Lee’s jumping up and down and Jimmy’s ad libbing, then Lee comes in and starts tapping, and theyre jumping up and down, but they weren’t turning up for me especially or nothing. I thought, ‘these dudes are stars! They got it!’. I hadn’t heard anything like that, so fun, since Kid Employee. We started working together, and it was banger after banger. I really like that we introduced them to the world with No Flex Zone – it’s such a dope track, you can’t make that up. It sounds like it came out of a basement. I didn’t want it to be like, them standing in the shadow of a Mike WiLL Made-It Beat. It was all the way them.”
Above: Video - No Flex Zone
Indeed it’s been ‘all the way them’ - Mike has produced the majority of the tracks on their album, Sremmlife, including the duo’s biggest hit, No Type. But the rhymes, the narratives, and their remarkable execution, come from the two young talents, Slim and Swae. Pilerats were lucky enough to banter with the brothers not too long ago, who shared that, on that self-made tip, the brothers have been grinding for about eight years prior to their discovery: first dubbing themselves ‘Dem Outta St8 Boyz’, under which guise they freestyed raps, taught themselves audio engineering, DJed and hosted friends’ parties. They cite NAS, Biggie, Afrojack and The Beatles as music they listened to growing up. Says Jimmy: “Our mum used to play music real loud while she was cleaning up the house – old school, new school, we used to hear everything. Freestyle was really popular when we were growing up, so we were really into that, that’s what eventually got us into rap.”
Their second #1, No Type, came about as simply as one of those freestyles, according to Jimmy. “You see, Swae likes all the ladies and doesn’t want to break any hearts,” he says of the hit song’s origin, “So he said he likes ‘no type,’ he likes all the pretty girls. We made it a song and it was just like … BAM!” However, the boys do credit Mike WiLL Made-It as being “a great mentor. He tells us not to waver – to keep coming through with our best,” and, confirm Mike’s aforementioned intentions, with Swae Lee telling us that he’s not just “a suit sitting at a desk, but really involved with the whole process… He goes hard, he really challenges you. He made a lot of good music. We met him, and with him and P-Nasty we made these hard beats for us - they all work together and they were making music and playing it with Mike and then we all went up nationally, you know what I’m saying?!” describes Lee of the act’s genesis.
Above: Video - No Type
The feeling is mutual, and that Rae Sremmurd are ‘going up’ right now would maybe be an understatement, as Mike WiLL Made-It told Complex Mag earlier this year: “Rae Sremmurd isn’t just a rap group. These guys are superstars. They can do whatever the fuck they want to do. They can do pop music. Swae Lee is already writing for Fergie. He’s already been in the studio working on shit for Beyonce.” It would seem Mike WiLL Made-It's hands-on, no suits-behind-desks mentality aligns with the ‘keeping it real’ mentality the boys preach in their #1, No Flex Zone, which Jimmy describes to Pilerats as a song about “keeping it real, keeping it popping, not bringing any bullshit, being true to yourself. It doesn’t matter what race you are, or how fat you are.” while Swae Lee throws in: “Everybody want to flex. Even the people who don't really be flexin', think they be flexin'.”
‘Keeping it popping’ would seem to be a speciality of Rae Sremmurd, whose debut album Sremmlife, is 101% about – how do we put this - that ‘woo boy’ lifestyle. In conversation, the boys frequently randomly throw in the phrase 'Sremmlife' into their sentences, and we’re sure many fans are keen to know, as Pilerats are, exactly how much of what the Rae Sremmurd boys rap about on Sremmlife is actually their real life…Are they really blowing cash in stripclubs all the time like in their track Throw Some Mo, where they rap “Bout to empty out the ATM! She doin’ tricks that make a n&*ga wanna spend!”,or is that just part of the act? Lee assures Pilerats that yes, the brothers truly are ‘about that party life': "Our life really is that exciting! We really do go to the strip clubs and make it rain, and paint the walls green. We’re really in the club, splashing champagne everywhere. We’ll live Sremmlife ‘til we’re dead!”
The boys’ enthusiasm and positivity are definitely two defining characteristics propelling the success of Sremmlife; in a lyrical and contextual sense - that ability to find the silver lining in every cloud, to turn even the worst of situations into a party; is surely part of the album’s ‘feel-good’ appeal, and the boys’ key appeal as artists in the public eye: they’re widely known amongst music industry as always being the loudest people in the room, bringing energy tenfold to awards nights, music conferences, radio interviews, etc (do yourself a favour and watch their interview with Nardwuar, it's pure gold). Their upbeat, silly personalities, coupled with their playful aesthetic identity (colourful fashions, fun dance moves) make Rae Sremmurd a breath of fresh air in rap music - a genre whose public stars so often display as hardened gangstas, projecting tough personas.
Above: Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy perform at House Party NYC at Webster Hall on January 15, 2015 (Image via NickyDigital.com)
Although the ‘being accompanied by throngs of beautiful women’ aspect of a stereotypical rap star life is in full effect, according to Slim Jimmy, who tells Pilerats: “We’ve always been successful with the ladies, now it’s like, next level! Top-notch girls, not regular girls,” He continues: “There’s more girls that love us now! Haha nah, they always loved us. Seriously though, we’ll go to the club and pop some champagne and light some sparklers and the girls will just come up to us, start rubbing up on us, kissing us. First you go to the airport, and you get all these girls wanting pictures with you, then you go to the club and all the girls dancing with you, then you go to the beach and swim with girls.” Perhaps Rae Sremmurd’s success with the ladies is due to the open door policy they espouse in their track No Type? “I don’t got no type… bad bitches is the only thing that I like,” Swae Lee raps on the track, the second single from their debut. The cover art for No Type even riffs on the lyrics: it features an image of a woman made up of composite images of other womens’ bodies that the boys deem ‘iconic women’ – there’s Beyonce’s hair, Keysha Cole’s arm, Miley’s tongue and eyes and Nicki Minaj’s legs. Whilst they might still think of these girls in terms of pin-up status, the Sremmurd boys have now been brought closer than ever to plenty of them: their latest smash, the strip-club anthem Throw Some Mo, features Nicki Minaj on the hook; Minaj also takes centre stage in the video clip, playing a madame-like role in a rollerskating rink-turned-strip club.
Above: A still from the Throw Some Mo video clip
For Slim Jimmy, meeting Nicki translated to having ‘made it’, as he excitedly shares: “When I met her I froze up, I couldn’t even think of anything to say. Usually I am super cool and chill around girls, but Nicki I just couldn’t speak. You’re in the game when you’re eye-to-eye with Nicki Minaj, you know what I’m saying. We’re meeting all the people we used to look up to.” That also includes Miley Cyrus – not long ago, the Bangerz singer made a surprise appearance, coming out onto the FADER Fort stage at SxSW during Mike WiLL Made-It’s set, joiningSremmurd and Future to rap Nicki Minaj’s verse on Throw Some Mo. “We didn’t even know she was coming out, it was crazy!,” shares Jimmy of the experience, “Sremmlife was just doing our thing, then there she was, rapping with us. I was in shock for at least ten seconds after she came out. That shit was amazing.”
For the Sremmurd boys, the success of Sremmlife, and the way their careers (and the parties) have escalated, has resulted in their personal lives having taken a real 360. Lee explains: “We’re basically living entirely different lives to what we were before.” And they don’t just mean meeting the odd celebrity - living hasn’t always been so rosy for the Sremmurd boys. Growing up in Mississipi, they resided in the notorious Ida Street housing projects, some of the worst, most crime-ridden housing in the state. Their mother was in the army, and they often moved around from place to place: “we soaked up a lot of new experiences” reflect the boys positively, before sharing that with two other sons, their mother often struggled to support them: as soon as they were old enough, the older brothers began working factory jobs to support themselves, and at one stage found themselves without a roof over their head: “Once we were old enough we decided to look after ourselves,” says Swae Lee, “we decided to leave home and go and find ourselves somewhere to live. We were kind of homeless for a while - we were living in this abandoned house, there was no heat or gas, just electricity. But we just kept our heads up – we knew where we wanted to be, so we just made music and had parties in the building. We had good parties. Lowkey, our neighbours wanted to come and hang out at our parties.” There’s that Sremmlife silver lining again!
Eventually, the boys got better jobs, moved to Tupelo to a nicer place, before mega-producer Mike Will Made-It took them on and they moved closer to Eardrummers HQ in Atlanta - which brings us up to speed with our story. Now we’ve got the insider, while we won’t deny they’re not truly about that Sremmlife, we now know there’s more driving Rae Sremmurd’s daily celebration of life than meets the eye. What Pilerats have learnt about Sremmlife through getting to know Rae Sremmurd a little better, is that it’s not just showing off the trappings of a shallow rap star, but is rather a celebration of triumph over adversity, of years of hard work, of talent nurtured and of the energy of youth. In his guest verse on Bauuer's track One Touch, Swae Lee raps to a girl: ‘Woah, how you wear your hair / Make a nigga want to buy you this / Take you down to Paris and ice out your wrist,”. We ask Swae about this call, quizzing him on the most baller thing he’s ever done for a girl, and his reply is not one you’d expect of a superstar, but that of a suburban American teenager: “The craziest thing I’ve ever done is take a girl to the beach, and watch the sun come up together, then we got breakfast, and went back to the hotel and chilled and smoked pot.” Then, in true 'Sremmlife-'til-dead' style, comes the coda:
" …Well. That’s the nice version. It was really a lot more turnt up than that!"