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Rae Sremmurd’s home is far from the party headquarters their vibrant music videos and energetic live shows might suggest. Tucked into a quiet pocket of Encino, Los Angeles, it’s a place where the brotherly rap duo’s Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi can sometimes find a moment’s peace. Apart from the flashy jeeps parked in its driveway, the property isn’t immediately visible from the street, concealed behind lush greenery and a security gate. It’s not exactly the “Pablo Escobar house” the two occupied previously – which seems like the point.

Once inside, the space is endlessly horizontal. Even with 5 permanent housemates and often as many crashers, disappearing into the cavernous depths of the estate is an easy task. As a result, it’s difficult to track the brothers down, and their locations quickly become a guessing game among those situated in the living room.

I’m told today is one of 17 days the duo have spent in the house since moving in earlier this year. As some of rap’s most reliable hitmakers, keeping the party alive has become a full time job, so a day spent lounging at home is the closest it comes to a vacation. With a flight to Atlanta in under 12 hours and a sophomore album dropping in a few weeks time, this feels like the calm before the storm.

Swae, the younger of the two siblings, eventually slides into the kitchen, still in his bathing suit from the photoshoot that took place hours ago, though it barely registers in a space that seems to encourage shirtlessness. A simple, red jewel pendant is the only thing worn on the upper half of the 23-year old’s thin body, draped over the Superman logo emblazoned in ink on his chest. His hair is closely shaved at the sides, his dreads tied back in a loose knot, a style he later tells me is inspired by the pineapple he often carries with him on stage. His boy-ish, clean-shaven appearance and perfectly-white grin are reminders of his status as the duo’s heartthrob. This youthful charm has inspired the phrase “Swae Is Bae” to grow from a hashtag to a proudly worn t-shirt among fans, a movement the rapper has happily endorsed on his own Instagram profile.

Swae isn’t sure where his brother has escaped to either, speculating that he’s holed up in his room watching Game Of Thrones. When Jxmmi, now 24, does emerge from his reclusive quarters, he confirms Swae’s hunch by giving me a rundown of the show’s pilot in his own expletive-laden words, his diamond grill gleaming between giddy recollections of the violent and incestuous plot. His summary is incredibly economical and probably more entertaining than the episode itself (spoilers will follow).

“It’s this dude. He’s the queen’s brother. The queen is fucking her brother and the king don’t know. And then this little kid – who’s like this other nigga’s son, who’s like a big lord – see them fucking in this tower. So the nigga push the kid out the tower! Try to kill him on the first episode!” he says, still in disbelief of what he’s just witnessed. “It’s crazy, bruh. It’s so good!”

Jxmmi has recently adopted the title of Uncle Jxm, which he’s been using for DJ gigs, but everything from his white socks and Jesus sandals to his goofy jokes lend themselves to the persona; one that seems to be accentuated in his off-time. He has the carefree attitude of your most lovably eccentric relative, one that sees no problem wearing Gucci ski goggles and a pink fur coat in the dead heat of a California summer. Currently, he’s donning a bright orange t-shirt with the words, “I Wear Condoms,” pulled across his chest. It's a statement of the group’s clear promotion of safe sex, and a reminder that his laid-back demeanor should not be mistaken for carelessness. Along with the rest of America, he’s developed an infatuation with Pokemon GO, enjoying the therapeutic aspects of the game as he trudges around the wide layout of the house in search of his next catch. Throughout our conversation, his eyes wander to his phone, where he tends to his imaginatively-named stable of creatures. Among his star players is a Hypnos ascribed the title of Weed Man, which I’d like to think is due to the pendulum in its left hand’s resemblance to a dangling dime bag. “I’m strong – I’m a beast!” he says confidently of his team, before walking back his brag with a coy laugh, “I love it, I don’t care.”

The dynamic between the two brothers is apparent within moments of them sitting down together. Swae absent-mindedly slides his back up against the wall, almost levitating as he finds increasingly creative ways to sit in his chair – unfortunately none of which compliment my mic setup. Meanwhile, Jxmmi is much more grounded, still a free spirit but one with visible maturity on his brother, perhaps because he knows he'll be the one who has to grab Swae by the foot if he decides to float into outer space. Jxmmi generally takes a second to think before answering a question, while Swae will take off on a tangent instantly, meaning that he innocently steps on some of his brother’s answers.

The conversation is immediately similar to their on-record presence. Swae is often the voice that breaks through first, a unique melodic force with an upward momentum that waivers on the line of falsetto. His style would be traditionally sweet if the spontaneous, freestyle-like energy behind it weren’t so intriguingly strange. Jxmmi, on the other hand, is the technician of the group, displaying a range of flows that feel more studied and organized than his brother’s. He’s the Big Boi to Swae’s Andre 3000, an anchor that balances out his collaborator’s eccentricities. Like his previous Game Of Thrones rundown – he’s as economical as he is entertaining.

This partnership has made Rae Sremmurd a powerful songwriting team, releasing a series of hits over the last two years that has established them both a strong fanbase and a fair share of imitators. They exude a youthful, off-the-wall energy that – along with their squeaky vocals – means they are sometimes confused for teenagers. Their choruses stick in a way that the best pop music does, and as many of their peers continue towards bleak, industrial sounds, their music and outlook on life remain decidedly positive. They’ve deemed their movement ‘SremmLife,’ the title of their album, and a word that comes up constantly as they speak to me. Any sentence can end with a declaration of the phrase – like a hashtag, retroactively stamping ideas that support its purpose. It's about being the freshest, truest, most sauced up version of yourself, and suggests that loud, unified celebration might be just what the world needs.

The brothers have just completed their sophomore album, SremmLife 2, a sequel in the classic sense. Like Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter 2 or Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II, it is an album designed in the form of its predecessor. Swae and Jxmmi’s manager, Migo The Plug, explains that the standard edition of the project was limited to 11 tracks for the simple purpose of maintaining the first LP’s thrillingly short run time. While packed with the same energy, the record is a tinge heavier and more hypnotic than its prototype. Swae describes the change as a move towards “wavy,” an adjective credited to Harlem rapper Max B, which while without proper definition, is most commonly associated with Max’s casual, but singularly stylish control of melody – one that dictates his music into a meditative haze. The sedated, otherworldly delicacy of Swae’s hook on pre-release single, “Look Alive,” is one of the better examples of the subtle, but evident transition. Another is “Now That I Know,” a textural R&B record that Swae says “comes in like a dream.” Rae Sremmurd’s formula hasn’t changed, but rather revealed further intricacies. The brothers voices are more distinct and their roles more defined – their comfort within the style they’ve created allowing them to explore its far reaches.

“The first SremmLife was like the first time you hit a blunt, and the second one is when you’re addicted to weed,” Jxmmi suggests. “We’re getting y’all addicted to pot.”

SremmLife was exactly the headrush Jxmmi describes. Released in January 2015, the album came only 8 months after “No Flex Zone” – the duo’s breakout single – introduced their fresh-faced, screechy-voiced mix of Southern pop-rap to the masses. Though their first full-length, its rapid pace and immense hooks make it play like a greatest hits. As of publication, 5 of the album’s singles have gone platinum, including the triple platinum “No Type;” the power ballad that may have already secured its place in the pop music canon. Its shout-along chorus, “I ain’t got no type / bad bitches is the only thing that I like” has been pointed out as a silly contradiction by some, but Swae and Jxmmi maintain it’s a celebration of women, enforcing a fluid, indefinable concept of beauty or “bad”-ness that reaches across race and body types. Despite its slow tempo, the song’s opening chords tend to inspire cheers and dancing in a party setting. It’s not hard to imagine it being played at weddings thirty years from now. Rather than placed within the album’s first half, as most hits tend to be, it’s buried deep within the sequencing as the second-to-last track, a confident move that speaks to SremmLife’s powerful punch.

The boys call SremmLife 2 a “buzzer beater,” as the album has been pushed back multiple times in order to include some last minute additions. After hearing the new LP, it’s hard to imagine it without its two newest songs. The first is “#DoYoga,” a track that came together so late in the game that it was almost saved for the third Rae Sremmurd project. Its simple hook, “All my girls do yoga, All my girls do yoga, hey!” is a testament to the duo’s ability to grab you with unique pronunciations, repetitions, and rhythms. Some of their best hooks, Jxmmi’s “UN-LOCK the swag, the swag, UNLOCK,” or his brother’s “NO FLEX – ZONE, they KNOOOW better,” find writing and performance conjured simultaneously, the sound of words often as important as their meaning.

“Being creative, you never know what you’ll come up with,” Swae says of “#DoYoga,” which came during a recent late night recording session. “When you get something that you know is different, you just run with it. I’m like, ‘I ain’t heard anyone say ‘Yoga,’ It’s just so hard, the way that it sounds,” he attested, repeating the word like a eureka moment, “YOGA!”

The song was made in Swae’s bedroom, his preferred writing space, where he is free to be himself, never worrying about how strange his vocal experiments might sound to an outside observer. “All the old songs, we recorded in our rooms,” reveals Swae, who likes to have a muted TV on in the background while he’s in his makeshift booth. “That’s how we’ve been rocking. It’s basically the same equipment in the studio. You might have a girl just sitting there, doing her makeup in the mirror while you’re recording a smash hit. She doesn’t even know she’s a part of history.”

"The first SremmLife was like the first time you hit a blunt, and the second one is when you’re addicted to weed."

The second of the album’s two hail marys is “Black Beatles,” a collaboration with Gucci Mane, a rapper who was released from a 3-year prison sentence a mere 2 months ago, which makes his appearance all the more special. He’s regarded as someone who recognizes talent early; a kingmaker in his city of Atlanta, and someone who will only endorse those he deems worthy. His presence here is mostly symbolic, but as one of rap’s flashiest personalities, he’s also a perfect fit for the concept.

“A ‘Black Beatle,’ you’re just a rockstar,” Swae says as he mimes smashing his guitar, suggesting Gucci would play “something heavy, like the drums.”

He agrees with Kanye West’s assertion that hip-hop has reached the point of ubiquity and rebellion once held by rock n’ roll. “Everybody from popstars to librarians are looking at hip-hop, tuned in,” he argues. “There are so many different ways hip-hop influences the world.”

The bridge between Gucci Mane and Rae Sremmurd is superproducer Mike WiLL Made-It, a beatmaker also hailing from Atlanta, who’s gone from cutting early mixtape material with Gucci to working with some of music’s biggest acts. Over the last few years, he’s made efforts to find hip-hop’s place within the pop landscape, executive-producing Future’s Honest and Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz, two crossover albums coming from opposing sides of the pop-rap spectrum that reach towards one another stylistically.

The balance of pop sensibility and rap performance has never felt more natural than his work with Rae Sremmurd, who he signed to his Ear Drummer Records imprint in 2014, ultimately inspiring their difficult-to-pronounce name (it’s Ear Drummers spelled backwards). He produced the majority of SremmLife, as well as its sequel, and has played an active role in A&Ring the group.

“Mike Will is so crazy,” says Swae. “He’s always working. He’s always in a different studio, in front of a different artist. It’s not no play-play artist. It might be an up-and-coming artist that the world don’t even know about to blow, or it might be the world’s biggest artist right now.”

It’s Mike who linked Swae with Beyonce, bringing one of the rapper’s vocal ideas to Bey with the hopes of her using it on her own song. Yonce ran with Swae’s line, “okay ladies, now let’s get in formation,” building it into a powerful refrain on what would become her hit single, “Formation.” Along with the lyrics, she used Swae’s quivering vocal tone throughout the record, earning him an enviable songwriting credit. The song is a testament to the duo’s cross-genre writing abilities, something WiLL has made sure to emphasize in his work with them. Thanks to his connections, “Formation” is just the beginning of the brothers’ writing for other artists. “I’ve got some crazy shit coming all the way left field that they’d never expect me to do,” reveals Swae, careful not to let any details slip.

Mike’s house has been described as a gigantic and wondrous sanctuary by his collaborators, and Rae Sremmurd confirm the legend. “Mike WiLL’s house is the place to throw a party. The bottom part of his house is bigger than my house,” Swae insists, revealing that “Now That I Know” was recorded in the space. “I might spend the night at Mike WiLL’s place and just stay in the basement, because there’s like a whole damn apartment complex downstairs. I’ll be cooking up in the studio, Mike WiLL be up at the top, he might forget we down there.”

The lavish home is located in Atlanta, a place that Rae Sremmurd, despite growing up in Tupelo, Mississippi, have always looked to for inspiration. While at first glance, it’s easy to liken their sound to trap, the city’s most recent musical wave, their ATL influence can be traced much further back. Swae and Jxmmi’s first group was called Dem Outta St8 Boyz, a close resemblance to ATL snap group, Dem Franchize Boyz, whose hit, “White Tee / I Think They Like Me” was inescapable in the mid-00s. Early videos of the brothers’ first group, which they formed with third member Lil Pantz, are filled with choreographed dance moves and baggy, colorful t-shirts. It’s easy to draw the line of influence to similar ATL acts like Soulja Boy and D4L on this material, but it’s also something that has remained embedded in their DNA, informing the catchy, participatory appeal of their hooks.

“Set The Roof” on SremmLife 2 melds this lineage of party music quite naturally, as Mike WiLL and DJ Mustard join forces for a dancefloor burner that at once recalls snap and its close relative, crunk, enlisting Lil Jon, one of the genre’s pioneers, for the hook. “His voice alone. As soon as you hear his voice, you know – flip the table,” says Swae of Jon’s party-starting abilities, an observation a younger audience may one day make of his own vocals.

The dancing from this particular era of music has also remained part of Jxmmi and Swae’s performances. They’ve befriended a local Atlanta dancer named SheLovesMeechie, who has a large YouTube following based on his videos to popular and emerging rap songs. Both brothers have appeared in his videos, and he in theirs (“By Chance”). Much like their writing styles, Jxmmi displays an impressive technical approach to his moves, while Swae attests he simply goes with what feels right. “It’s the natural movement of the body, When you hear a slapper you just wanna move,” he explains.

When I saw Rae Sremmurd perform in a backyard at SXSW, it seemed like the perfect expression of their mission statement. The stage was at crowd level; their performance a mirror image of the lively audience. Friends, collaborators, and fans swarmed the rappers, but not in the stoic, mean-mugging posse formation you'll see at rap shows in New York. Instead, men and women of all colors, shapes, and sizes were dancing, shouting along, and climbing the skeleton of the stage, and in that moment, the party took over, Swae and Jxmmi’s performance becoming one element of a larger, unified experience. When the mics were eventually cut, the celebration continued uninterrupted.

In many ways, this is the atmosphere Jxmmi and Swae have been trying to create since their days growing up as Aaquil and Khalif Brown in Tupelo, Mississippi.

The Brown family moved around a bit as Aaquil and Khalif grew up, their mother’s military job bringing them from their birthplace of California to the small town of Tupelo, where outside of a short stint in Texas, they remained. Shortly after the break-up of their mother and stepfather, the brothers made the choice to leave their home, setting up in an abandoned building in the city, where they threw parties regularly, performing as Dem Outta St8 Boyz, paying only to keep the lights on. It was these parties that set the tone for the inclusive feel of their current live shows.

“When I was having parties, all the races showed up. We had mixed crowds,” recalls Swae. “In my city, what I was seeing more of is the change. White people and black people just getting along. The younger people in my city always got along – I fucked with all the white boys, the white boys fucked with me.”

Of course, those experiences have unfortunately not extended to the rest of America. At this time, it’s been less than two weeks since the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two innocent black men killed at the hand of police officers. Black Lives Matter protests have been held in Baton Rouge, and many other parts of America, and the fear that the officers will not be held accountable – as has been the history with these types of cases – is still very present.

“I was like, that’s so fucked up that a person would do that to another person,” Swae recalls of his reaction to the tragedy. “It just hurts to see that. If the reason that he did it was because of his skin color, I think that’s crazy. Race is a topic that divides us – one of the biggest divides besides religion. If we could just get over that hump, the world would run so much smoother, if we could get over the problem with color, get to know people,”

It’s this concept of getting to know one another that Rae Sremmurd enable in their performances, and something they’ve continued to encourage in their interactions with fans. “Going through the airport, you meet so many different people, and you’re like ‘damn, this motherfucker cool as hell,’ says Swae. “They might be Asian, they might be Latino. I never live hating someone for their skin color. I’ve had experiences where people hated me for my skin color, and I’m like ‘you don’t even know me. If you knew me you’d probably want to be my best fucking friend.’ It’s crazy to me.”

Any time Jxmmi and Swae touch back in Tupelo, they throw a party just like they used to, usually announcing their ragers only a few hours in advance on social media. Without fail, an overwhelming number of people show up. This allegiance to their hometown has also come out in the SremmFest concert they’ve thrown for the past two years, and will be doing again this coming December. The concert has brought out names like Yo Gotti, K Camp, and DeJ Loaf in the past, and it’s getting bigger every year. The event was inspired by a festival Tupelo used to host called Juneteenth, where the brothers had previously performed as Dem Outta St8 Boyz.

“I wanted to throw SremmFest so the town could have shit to do. Juneteenth used to be so turnt up, and that shit died,” said Jxmmi, who is particularly nostalgic for a time when the festival once united Tupelo. “I wanted to throw something for the city.”

“That's when we let people know, you can do whatever the eff you wanna do. You can be a doctor, you can be a rocket scientist. The majority of people know us from school,” adds Swae, pointing to himself as he repeats his birth name, “Khalif! you know what I’m saying?”

While Rae Sremmurd’s music and performances aim to promote positivity, they are not without their critics. Recently, a cover shoot for the FADER spawned a small, but vocal homophobic resistance on social media. The brothers, pictured shirtless, with Jxmmi leaning his back against Swae in what can only be described as a beautiful expression of comfortable, brotherly love, inspired backlash from more narrow-minded rap fans. Swae Lee caught wind of the criticism.

“Those are some fucking lames,” he says. ”I love that picture. That’s my brother. At the end of the day, it’s obviously a great picture. You’ve got those dudes that just think so small, it’s just funny. Especially when you travel the world and you go different places, you see different things, and you see the world for what it really is. And then you see people who think like that – like ‘that’s just gay, man, look at this cover, they’re gay!’ You see how small they think and you just laugh.”

From Prince to OutKast, a constant in music tends to be that when change is made, criticism will follow, and Rae Sremmurd have certainly caught heat from an older generation of rap fans, ones who might see their movement as less valuable than a more traditional, lyrically dense style. It culminated in Swae and Jxmmi butting heads with Hot 97 radio personality Ebro Darden, who dismissed their music as inferior to the work of Kendrick Lamar and acts he deemed to have more substance, particularly when it came to good old-fashioned “bars.” In retaliation, the duo debunked the idea they couldn’t rap their asses off with a lively 20-minute freestyle on Tim Westwood TV, opting to go entirely off the top of their heads. It was the ultimate testament to their authenticity, sticking to the most traditional definition of the freestyle where so-called “lyrical” rappers would generally come prepared with pre-written verses.

Swae sees the direction he and his brother have taken rap as a new frontier. “It’s a rollover in music. If you don’t like it, cool, you can listen to the old music, listen to instrumentals, listen to country, to each his own,” he offers. “People don’t even know. I could get on an old school beat and just wreck it, but I choose to go out of my way to present these words to you in a more creative way, a more melodic way, a more easy-to-listen-to way.”

While they may not resonate as strongly with the old heads, Rae Sremmurd has already made an impact on current radio rap. Tuning in to today’s hits, it’s not out of the ordinary to hear a floating Swae Lee-esque hook, whether it be from Beyonce or an artist who’s run with their style without giving proper credit – prompting Mike Will to suggest on Twitter; “Start putting (inspired by Swae Lee) in your song titles”.

“Two years ago, I had the dreads with the shaved sides – the short dreads on top. Now look at the world,” says Swae, citing those who have followed in his footsteps, both in fashion and music. “You definitely know you left your mark on the world, and it’s so cool, because you see other people recognizing it. So you’re like, damn, they really changed the game.”

It’s clear that the SremmLife movement has some staying power. Jxmmi has the word tattooed across his abs, inspired by Tupac’s iconic “Thug Life” ink, ensuring he embodies the philosophy for life. He flashes the branding on his torso proudly during our photoshoot, but he has bigger ideas in mind for Rae Sremmurd’s further output. “This is the final SremmLife,” Jxmmi reveals of the new project, “then we’re going to the moon!”

Things wind down following our conversation, and the brothers go back into relaxation mode as they dread their 5AM flight, but look forward to their time in Atlanta, where Jxmmi will film a music video, and the two will make a guest appearance at a special Mike WiLL-hosted concert. Within 24 hours they will surely be conducting yet another party, as Swae ponders how much money he should blow at the famous Magic City strip club in the city. He settles on a cool $1,000. “A band will look like a movie,” he says with a grin. Before I know it, Jxmmi has already vanished, re-entering only briefly to ask; “Are you guys talking about Pokemon?” No one is talking about Pokemon.

Swae goes to the kitchen to raid the leftovers, eating – in quick succession – some french toast, fried fish, and white rice. I notice a pineapple-shaped jar on the counter, which prompts me to ask whether he’s put his favorite stage prop on his tour rider. He’s excited by the idea, and while his manager is on board, his request for fifteen (he has a tendency to smash them) is deemed excessive. Swae continues this mischievous behavior as he causes a playful argument with those remaining in the living room, insisting that the word “lust” stands for “love and trust.” Before they can stop him, he’s running to his room, yelling, “I’mma tweet it!”

That’s the last I’ll see of him that night, and he never fulfills his promise of the tweet. Still, the next day he’s back in my Instagram feed, reposting girls in “Swae Is Bae” shirts. Later on, a video of Jxmmi dancing in his beloved pink fur coat appears as a meme, used to represent an indescribable sense of joy.

SremmLife.

 
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Rae Sremmurd’s home is far from the party headquarters their vibrant music videos and energetic live shows might suggest. Tucked into a quiet pocket of Encino, Los Angeles, it’s a place where the brotherly rap duo’s Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi can sometimes find a moment’s peace. Apart from the flashy jeeps parked in its driveway, the property isn’t immediately visible from the street, concealed behind lush greenery and a security gate. It’s not exactly the “Pablo Escobar house” the two occupied previously – which seems like the point.

Once inside, the space is endlessly horizontal. Even with 5 permanent housemates and often as many crashers, disappearing into the cavernous depths of the estate is an easy task. As a result, it’s difficult to track the brothers down, and their locations quickly become a guessing game among those situated in the living room.

I’m told today is one of 17 days the duo have spent in the house since moving in earlier this year. As some of rap’s most reliable hitmakers, keeping the party alive has become a full time job, so a day spent lounging at home is the closest it comes to a vacation. With a flight to Atlanta in under 12 hours and a sophomore album dropping in a few weeks time, this feels like the calm before the storm.

Swae, the younger of the two siblings, eventually slides into the kitchen, still in his bathing suit from the photoshoot that took place hours ago, though it barely registers in a space that seems to encourage shirtlessness. A simple, red jewel pendant is the only thing worn on the upper half of the 23-year old’s thin body, draped over the Superman logo emblazoned in ink on his chest. His hair is closely shaved at the sides, his dreads tied back in a loose knot, a style he later tells me is inspired by the pineapple he often carries with him on stage. His boy-ish, clean-shaven appearance and perfectly-white grin are reminders of his status as the duo’s heartthrob. This youthful charm has inspired the phrase “Swae Is Bae” to grow from a hashtag to a proudly worn t-shirt among fans, a movement the rapper has happily endorsed on his own Instagram profile.

Swae isn’t sure where his brother has escaped to either, speculating that he’s holed up in his room watching Game Of Thrones. When Jxmmi, now 24, does emerge from his reclusive quarters, he confirms Swae’s hunch by giving me a rundown of the show’s pilot in his own expletive-laden words, his diamond grill gleaming between giddy recollections of the violent and incestuous plot. His summary is incredibly economical and probably more entertaining than the episode itself (spoilers will follow).

“It’s this dude. He’s the queen’s brother. The queen is fucking her brother and the king don’t know. And then this little kid – who’s like this other nigga’s son, who’s like a big lord – see them fucking in this tower. So the nigga push the kid out the tower! Try to kill him on the first episode!” he says, still in disbelief of what he’s just witnessed. “It’s crazy, bruh. It’s so good!”

Jxmmi has recently adopted the title of Uncle Jxm, which he’s been using for DJ gigs, but everything from his white socks and Jesus sandals to his goofy jokes lend themselves to the persona; one that seems to be accentuated in his off-time. He has the carefree attitude of your most lovably eccentric relative, one that sees no problem wearing Gucci ski goggles and a pink fur coat in the dead heat of a California summer. Currently, he’s donning a bright orange t-shirt with the words, “I Wear Condoms,” pulled across his chest. It's a statement of the group’s clear promotion of safe sex, and a reminder that his laid-back demeanor should not be mistaken for carelessness. Along with the rest of America, he’s developed an infatuation with Pokemon GO, enjoying the therapeutic aspects of the game as he trudges around the wide layout of the house in search of his next catch. Throughout our conversation, his eyes wander to his phone, where he tends to his imaginatively-named stable of creatures. Among his star players is a Hypnos ascribed the title of Weed Man, which I’d like to think is due to the pendulum in its left hand’s resemblance to a dangling dime bag. “I’m strong – I’m a beast!” he says confidently of his team, before walking back his brag with a coy laugh, “I love it, I don’t care.”

The dynamic between the two brothers is apparent within moments of them sitting down together. Swae absent-mindedly slides his back up against the wall, almost levitating as he finds increasingly creative ways to sit in his chair – unfortunately none of which compliment my mic setup. Meanwhile, Jxmmi is much more grounded, still a free spirit but one with visible maturity on his brother, perhaps because he knows he'll be the one who has to grab Swae by the foot if he decides to float into outer space. Jxmmi generally takes a second to think before answering a question, while Swae will take off on a tangent instantly, meaning that he innocently steps on some of his brother’s answers.

The conversation is immediately similar to their on-record presence. Swae is often the voice that breaks through first, a unique melodic force with an upward momentum that waivers on the line of falsetto. His style would be traditionally sweet if the spontaneous, freestyle-like energy behind it weren’t so intriguingly strange. Jxmmi, on the other hand, is the technician of the group, displaying a range of flows that feel more studied and organized than his brother’s. He’s the Big Boi to Swae’s Andre 3000, an anchor that balances out his collaborator’s eccentricities. Like his previous Game Of Thrones rundown – he’s as economical as he is entertaining.

This partnership has made Rae Sremmurd a powerful songwriting team, releasing a series of hits over the last two years that has established them both a strong fanbase and a fair share of imitators. They exude a youthful, off-the-wall energy that – along with their squeaky vocals – means they are sometimes confused for teenagers. Their choruses stick in a way that the best pop music does, and as many of their peers continue towards bleak, industrial sounds, their music and outlook on life remain decidedly positive. They’ve deemed their movement ‘SremmLife,’ the title of their album, and a word that comes up constantly as they speak to me. Any sentence can end with a declaration of the phrase – like a hashtag, retroactively stamping ideas that support its purpose. It's about being the freshest, truest, most sauced up version of yourself, and suggests that loud, unified celebration might be just what the world needs.

The brothers have just completed their sophomore album, SremmLife 2, a sequel in the classic sense. Like Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter 2 or Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II, it is an album designed in the form of its predecessor. Swae and Jxmmi’s manager, Migo The Plug, explains that the standard edition of the project was limited to 11 tracks for the simple purpose of maintaining the first LP’s thrillingly short run time. While packed with the same energy, the record is a tinge heavier and more hypnotic than its prototype. Swae describes the change as a move towards “wavy,” an adjective credited to Harlem rapper Max B, which while without proper definition, is most commonly associated with Max’s casual, but singularly stylish control of melody – one that dictates his music into a meditative haze. The sedated, otherworldly delicacy of Swae’s hook on pre-release single, “Look Alive,” is one of the better examples of the subtle, but evident transition. Another is “Now That I Know,” a textural R&B record that Swae says “comes in like a dream.” Rae Sremmurd’s formula hasn’t changed, but rather revealed further intricacies. The brothers voices are more distinct and their roles more defined – their comfort within the style they’ve created allowing them to explore its far reaches.

“The first SremmLife was like the first time you hit a blunt, and the second one is when you’re addicted to weed,” Jxmmi suggests. “We’re getting y’all addicted to pot.”

SremmLife was exactly the headrush Jxmmi describes. Released in January 2015, the album came only 8 months after “No Flex Zone” – the duo’s breakout single – introduced their fresh-faced, screechy-voiced mix of Southern pop-rap to the masses. Though their first full-length, its rapid pace and immense hooks make it play like a greatest hits. As of publication, 5 of the album’s singles have gone platinum, including the triple platinum “No Type;” the power ballad that may have already secured its place in the pop music canon. Its shout-along chorus, “I ain’t got no type / bad bitches is the only thing that I like” has been pointed out as a silly contradiction by some, but Swae and Jxmmi maintain it’s a celebration of women, enforcing a fluid, indefinable concept of beauty or “bad”-ness that reaches across race and body types. Despite its slow tempo, the song’s opening chords tend to inspire cheers and dancing in a party setting. It’s not hard to imagine it being played at weddings thirty years from now. Rather than placed within the album’s first half, as most hits tend to be, it’s buried deep within the sequencing as the second-to-last track, a confident move that speaks to SremmLife’s powerful punch.

The boys call SremmLife 2 a “buzzer beater,” as the album has been pushed back multiple times in order to include some last minute additions. After hearing the new LP, it’s hard to imagine it without its two newest songs. The first is “#DoYoga,” a track that came together so late in the game that it was almost saved for the third Rae Sremmurd project. Its simple hook, “All my girls do yoga, All my girls do yoga, hey!” is a testament to the duo’s ability to grab you with unique pronunciations, repetitions, and rhythms. Some of their best hooks, Jxmmi’s “UN-LOCK the swag, the swag, UNLOCK,” or his brother’s “NO FLEX – ZONE, they KNOOOW better,” find writing and performance conjured simultaneously, the sound of words often as important as their meaning.

“Being creative, you never know what you’ll come up with,” Swae says of “#DoYoga,” which came during a recent late night recording session. “When you get something that you know is different, you just run with it. I’m like, ‘I ain’t heard anyone say ‘Yoga,’ It’s just so hard, the way that it sounds,” he attested, repeating the word like a eureka moment, “YOGA!”

The song was made in Swae’s bedroom, his preferred writing space, where he is free to be himself, never worrying about how strange his vocal experiments might sound to an outside observer. “All the old songs, we recorded in our rooms,” reveals Swae, who likes to have a muted TV on in the background while he’s in his makeshift booth. “That’s how we’ve been rocking. It’s basically the same equipment in the studio. You might have a girl just sitting there, doing her makeup in the mirror while you’re recording a smash hit. She doesn’t even know she’s a part of history.”

"The first SremmLife was like the first time you hit a blunt, and the second one is when you’re addicted to weed."

The second of the album’s two hail marys is “Black Beatles,” a collaboration with Gucci Mane, a rapper who was released from a 3-year prison sentence a mere 2 months ago, which makes his appearance all the more special. He’s regarded as someone who recognizes talent early; a kingmaker in his city of Atlanta, and someone who will only endorse those he deems worthy. His presence here is mostly symbolic, but as one of rap’s flashiest personalities, he’s also a perfect fit for the concept.

“A ‘Black Beatle,’ you’re just a rockstar,” Swae says as he mimes smashing his guitar, suggesting Gucci would play “something heavy, like the drums.”

He agrees with Kanye West’s assertion that hip-hop has reached the point of ubiquity and rebellion once held by rock n’ roll. “Everybody from popstars to librarians are looking at hip-hop, tuned in,” he argues. “There are so many different ways hip-hop influences the world.”

The bridge between Gucci Mane and Rae Sremmurd is superproducer Mike WiLL Made-It, a beatmaker also hailing from Atlanta, who’s gone from cutting early mixtape material with Gucci to working with some of music’s biggest acts. Over the last few years, he’s made efforts to find hip-hop’s place within the pop landscape, executive-producing Future’s Honest and Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz, two crossover albums coming from opposing sides of the pop-rap spectrum that reach towards one another stylistically.

The balance of pop sensibility and rap performance has never felt more natural than his work with Rae Sremmurd, who he signed to his Ear Drummer Records imprint in 2014, ultimately inspiring their difficult-to-pronounce name (it’s Ear Drummers spelled backwards). He produced the majority of SremmLife, as well as its sequel, and has played an active role in A&Ring the group.

“Mike Will is so crazy,” says Swae. “He’s always working. He’s always in a different studio, in front of a different artist. It’s not no play-play artist. It might be an up-and-coming artist that the world don’t even know about to blow, or it might be the world’s biggest artist right now.”

It’s Mike who linked Swae with Beyonce, bringing one of the rapper’s vocal ideas to Bey with the hopes of her using it on her own song. Yonce ran with Swae’s line, “okay ladies, now let’s get in formation,” building it into a powerful refrain on what would become her hit single, “Formation.” Along with the lyrics, she used Swae’s quivering vocal tone throughout the record, earning him an enviable songwriting credit. The song is a testament to the duo’s cross-genre writing abilities, something WiLL has made sure to emphasize in his work with them. Thanks to his connections, “Formation” is just the beginning of the brothers’ writing for other artists. “I’ve got some crazy shit coming all the way left field that they’d never expect me to do,” reveals Swae, careful not to let any details slip.

Mike’s house has been described as a gigantic and wondrous sanctuary by his collaborators, and Rae Sremmurd confirm the legend. “Mike WiLL’s house is the place to throw a party. The bottom part of his house is bigger than my house,” Swae insists, revealing that “Now That I Know” was recorded in the space. “I might spend the night at Mike WiLL’s place and just stay in the basement, because there’s like a whole damn apartment complex downstairs. I’ll be cooking up in the studio, Mike WiLL be up at the top, he might forget we down there.”

The lavish home is located in Atlanta, a place that Rae Sremmurd, despite growing up in Tupelo, Mississippi, have always looked to for inspiration. While at first glance, it’s easy to liken their sound to trap, the city’s most recent musical wave, their ATL influence can be traced much further back. Swae and Jxmmi’s first group was called Dem Outta St8 Boyz, a close resemblance to ATL snap group, Dem Franchize Boyz, whose hit, “White Tee / I Think They Like Me” was inescapable in the mid-00s. Early videos of the brothers’ first group, which they formed with third member Lil Pantz, are filled with choreographed dance moves and baggy, colorful t-shirts. It’s easy to draw the line of influence to similar ATL acts like Soulja Boy and D4L on this material, but it’s also something that has remained embedded in their DNA, informing the catchy, participatory appeal of their hooks.

“Set The Roof” on SremmLife 2 melds this lineage of party music quite naturally, as Mike WiLL and DJ Mustard join forces for a dancefloor burner that at once recalls snap and its close relative, crunk, enlisting Lil Jon, one of the genre’s pioneers, for the hook. “His voice alone. As soon as you hear his voice, you know – flip the table,” says Swae of Jon’s party-starting abilities, an observation a younger audience may one day make of his own vocals.

The dancing from this particular era of music has also remained part of Jxmmi and Swae’s performances. They’ve befriended a local Atlanta dancer named SheLovesMeechie, who has a large YouTube following based on his videos to popular and emerging rap songs. Both brothers have appeared in his videos, and he in theirs (“By Chance”). Much like their writing styles, Jxmmi displays an impressive technical approach to his moves, while Swae attests he simply goes with what feels right. “It’s the natural movement of the body, When you hear a slapper you just wanna move,” he explains.

When I saw Rae Sremmurd perform in a backyard at SXSW, it seemed like the perfect expression of their mission statement. The stage was at crowd level; their performance a mirror image of the lively audience. Friends, collaborators, and fans swarmed the rappers, but not in the stoic, mean-mugging posse formation you'll see at rap shows in New York. Instead, men and women of all colors, shapes, and sizes were dancing, shouting along, and climbing the skeleton of the stage, and in that moment, the party took over, Swae and Jxmmi’s performance becoming one element of a larger, unified experience. When the mics were eventually cut, the celebration continued uninterrupted.

In many ways, this is the atmosphere Jxmmi and Swae have been trying to create since their days growing up as Aaquil and Khalif Brown in Tupelo, Mississippi.

The Brown family moved around a bit as Aaquil and Khalif grew up, their mother’s military job bringing them from their birthplace of California to the small town of Tupelo, where outside of a short stint in Texas, they remained. Shortly after the break-up of their mother and stepfather, the brothers made the choice to leave their home, setting up in an abandoned building in the city, where they threw parties regularly, performing as Dem Outta St8 Boyz, paying only to keep the lights on. It was these parties that set the tone for the inclusive feel of their current live shows.

“When I was having parties, all the races showed up. We had mixed crowds,” recalls Swae. “In my city, what I was seeing more of is the change. White people and black people just getting along. The younger people in my city always got along – I fucked with all the white boys, the white boys fucked with me.”

Of course, those experiences have unfortunately not extended to the rest of America. At this time, it’s been less than two weeks since the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two innocent black men killed at the hand of police officers. Black Lives Matter protests have been held in Baton Rouge, and many other parts of America, and the fear that the officers will not be held accountable – as has been the history with these types of cases – is still very present.

“I was like, that’s so fucked up that a person would do that to another person,” Swae recalls of his reaction to the tragedy. “It just hurts to see that. If the reason that he did it was because of his skin color, I think that’s crazy. Race is a topic that divides us – one of the biggest divides besides religion. If we could just get over that hump, the world would run so much smoother, if we could get over the problem with color, get to know people,”

It’s this concept of getting to know one another that Rae Sremmurd enable in their performances, and something they’ve continued to encourage in their interactions with fans. “Going through the airport, you meet so many different people, and you’re like ‘damn, this motherfucker cool as hell,’ says Swae. “They might be Asian, they might be Latino. I never live hating someone for their skin color. I’ve had experiences where people hated me for my skin color, and I’m like ‘you don’t even know me. If you knew me you’d probably want to be my best fucking friend.’ It’s crazy to me.”

Any time Jxmmi and Swae touch back in Tupelo, they throw a party just like they used to, usually announcing their ragers only a few hours in advance on social media. Without fail, an overwhelming number of people show up. This allegiance to their hometown has also come out in the SremmFest concert they’ve thrown for the past two years, and will be doing again this coming December. The concert has brought out names like Yo Gotti, K Camp, and DeJ Loaf in the past, and it’s getting bigger every year. The event was inspired by a festival Tupelo used to host called Juneteenth, where the brothers had previously performed as Dem Outta St8 Boyz.

“I wanted to throw SremmFest so the town could have shit to do. Juneteenth used to be so turnt up, and that shit died,” said Jxmmi, who is particularly nostalgic for a time when the festival once united Tupelo. “I wanted to throw something for the city.”

“That's when we let people know, you can do whatever the eff you wanna do. You can be a doctor, you can be a rocket scientist. The majority of people know us from school,” adds Swae, pointing to himself as he repeats his birth name, “Khalif! you know what I’m saying?”

While Rae Sremmurd’s music and performances aim to promote positivity, they are not without their critics. Recently, a cover shoot for the FADER spawned a small, but vocal homophobic resistance on social media. The brothers, pictured shirtless, with Jxmmi leaning his back against Swae in what can only be described as a beautiful expression of comfortable, brotherly love, inspired backlash from more narrow-minded rap fans. Swae Lee caught wind of the criticism.

“Those are some fucking lames,” he says. ”I love that picture. That’s my brother. At the end of the day, it’s obviously a great picture. You’ve got those dudes that just think so small, it’s just funny. Especially when you travel the world and you go different places, you see different things, and you see the world for what it really is. And then you see people who think like that – like ‘that’s just gay, man, look at this cover, they’re gay!’ You see how small they think and you just laugh.”

From Prince to OutKast, a constant in music tends to be that when change is made, criticism will follow, and Rae Sremmurd have certainly caught heat from an older generation of rap fans, ones who might see their movement as less valuable than a more traditional, lyrically dense style. It culminated in Swae and Jxmmi butting heads with Hot 97 radio personality Ebro Darden, who dismissed their music as inferior to the work of Kendrick Lamar and acts he deemed to have more substance, particularly when it came to good old-fashioned “bars.” In retaliation, the duo debunked the idea they couldn’t rap their asses off with a lively 20-minute freestyle on Tim Westwood TV, opting to go entirely off the top of their heads. It was the ultimate testament to their authenticity, sticking to the most traditional definition of the freestyle where so-called “lyrical” rappers would generally come prepared with pre-written verses.

Swae sees the direction he and his brother have taken rap as a new frontier. “It’s a rollover in music. If you don’t like it, cool, you can listen to the old music, listen to instrumentals, listen to country, to each his own,” he offers. “People don’t even know. I could get on an old school beat and just wreck it, but I choose to go out of my way to present these words to you in a more creative way, a more melodic way, a more easy-to-listen-to way.”

While they may not resonate as strongly with the old heads, Rae Sremmurd has already made an impact on current radio rap. Tuning in to today’s hits, it’s not out of the ordinary to hear a floating Swae Lee-esque hook, whether it be from Beyonce or an artist who’s run with their style without giving proper credit – prompting Mike Will to suggest on Twitter; “Start putting (inspired by Swae Lee) in your song titles”.

“Two years ago, I had the dreads with the shaved sides – the short dreads on top. Now look at the world,” says Swae, citing those who have followed in his footsteps, both in fashion and music. “You definitely know you left your mark on the world, and it’s so cool, because you see other people recognizing it. So you’re like, damn, they really changed the game.”

It’s clear that the SremmLife movement has some staying power. Jxmmi has the word tattooed across his abs, inspired by Tupac’s iconic “Thug Life” ink, ensuring he embodies the philosophy for life. He flashes the branding on his torso proudly during our photoshoot, but he has bigger ideas in mind for Rae Sremmurd’s further output. “This is the final SremmLife,” Jxmmi reveals of the new project, “then we’re going to the moon!”

Things wind down following our conversation, and the brothers go back into relaxation mode as they dread their 5AM flight, but look forward to their time in Atlanta, where Jxmmi will film a music video, and the two will make a guest appearance at a special Mike WiLL-hosted concert. Within 24 hours they will surely be conducting yet another party, as Swae ponders how much money he should blow at the famous Magic City strip club in the city. He settles on a cool $1,000. “A band will look like a movie,” he says with a grin. Before I know it, Jxmmi has already vanished, re-entering only briefly to ask; “Are you guys talking about Pokemon?” No one is talking about Pokemon.

Swae goes to the kitchen to raid the leftovers, eating – in quick succession – some french toast, fried fish, and white rice. I notice a pineapple-shaped jar on the counter, which prompts me to ask whether he’s put his favorite stage prop on his tour rider. He’s excited by the idea, and while his manager is on board, his request for fifteen (he has a tendency to smash them) is deemed excessive. Swae continues this mischievous behavior as he causes a playful argument with those remaining in the living room, insisting that the word “lust” stands for “love and trust.” Before they can stop him, he’s running to his room, yelling, “I’mma tweet it!”

That’s the last I’ll see of him that night, and he never fulfills his promise of the tweet. Still, the next day he’s back in my Instagram feed, reposting girls in “Swae Is Bae” shirts. Later on, a video of Jxmmi dancing in his beloved pink fur coat appears as a meme, used to represent an indescribable sense of joy.

SremmLife.

 
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God Trilla
top comment
God Trilla
Aug 12, 2016

This is dope

 
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Apple Music
Apple Music
Aug 13, 2016

Garbo

 
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Tyrion Lannister is drinking

These dudes is garbage, won't hate on them getting money though.

 
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Bryson Tiller's Hat

Great article, lovin the new digital cover art. #SHREMLIFE

 
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pu$$y destroyer
pu$$y destroyer
Aug 12, 2016

Came a Long Way the best song on the tape

 
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Fabolous's Teeth
Fabolous's Teeth
Aug 12, 2016

Ugly ass niggas bruh😂

 
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⚡️Yung Goku⚡️

This is beautiful! Great Great Job HNHH! Keep up the good work!🔥💯

 
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JUNIOR
JUNIOR
Aug 12, 2016

beautiful...

 
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DJ_DELEON
DJ_DELEON
Aug 12, 2016

VERY DOPE!

 
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Gary the Snail
Gary the Snail
Aug 12, 2016

goblin looking ass

 
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God Trilla
God Trilla
Aug 12, 2016

This is dope

 
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Rose Lilah
ADMIN
Rose Lilah
Aug 12, 2016

🍍💖🍍💖🍍💖🍍💖🍍

 
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Flexxx
Flexxx
Aug 12, 2016

pineapple gang

 
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J●3k0oL☆G

Wannabe

 
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