Summer 2014 played witness to the introduction of a duo called Rae Sremmurd and their shrill-voiced summer hit “No Flex Zone.” With an addictively joyous persona, Khalif “Swae Lee” Brown and Aaquil “Slim Jxmmi” Brown followed the release with a string of radio hits including “No Type,” “Throw Some Mo” and “Come Get Her.” These singles later appeared on their debut album, “Sremmlife,” in January 2015. The brothers released a sequel to their acclaimed debut album on Aug. 12. “Sremmlife 2” is an album troubled by a lack of grand hits but is also one that retains the vibe that drove so many to love Rae Sremmurd.
Rae Sremmurd did not make much of a discernable effort to create a cohesive album, aside from the thematic core of the album: descriptions of their experiences with parties and girls. For many albums, this would signify a lack of artistic vision. However, the intentionality behind the brothers’ distinctive song craft creates a product easily recognized as a talented undertaking. The Brown brothers take you beyond the parties they experience as celebrities, introducing an ominous tone to the singularly positive nightlife descriptions from “Sremmlife.”
The album is best exemplified by the lead single “By Chance,” which glorifies both the reckless spending and flaunting of money as per usual but also mentions the beginning of a Xanax addiction and its impact on their previous exploits. Accompanied by an 808 beat to create a darker sound, Rae Sremmurd evolves musically in conjunction with the rise of their career. Despite the similarities of subject matter and vocal technique to their prior release, the carefree attitude absent from the new album becomes a misstep that creates a heavier mood that is ultimately misplaced.
The defining characteristic of Rae Sremmurd has always been the sterling production behind their tracks. Although emanating a different vibe than “Sremmlife,” the strongest moments of “Sremmlife 2” remain in the underlying beats. The duo frequently uses beats crafted by MikeWillMadeIt, notable for songs like “Mercy” by Kanye West, “We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus and, recently, “Formation” by Beyoncé. On the album, MikeWillMadeIt holds production credits on six of the 11 songs, showing the strength of the relationship that started with the signing of the brothers to his label, “Ear Drummers.”
The songs on the album are characterized by a creative use of drums, often employing snares and hi-hats, to create an energized atmosphere that engages the listener. The artistic development of Rae Sremmurd is especially evident in this aspect, where many beats are calmer in nature. While the Brown brothers were ultimately successful in taking this risk, especially on songs like “Look Alive,” “Real Chill” and “Do Yoga,” they fall short of the explosive energy that permeates the original “Sremmlife” elsewhere. The vocals also feature more diversification, switching between a high, energetic voice to a chill, melodic one. This diversity further symbolizes the album as a whole. Despite the importance of the vocals in “Sremmlife 2” to loosely tie the album together, they do not contribute much to the relaxed or slow songs. Rather, they work best when contributing energy to the listening experience.
“Sremmlife 2” retains the base values — namely the consistent quality of their songs and the energetic productions — that attracted fans to Rae Sremmurd two years ago. However, the album is a case in point that the evolution of an artist does not introduce better music but rather results in a sophomore effort inferior to the debut. The album is still worth a listen, however, especially the singles “By Chance” and “Look Alive.”
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