“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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