The Rae Sremmurd artist is increasingly branching out into solo territory, proving to be a versatile and valuable player.
If you were to Google “Swae Lee hooks,” a bevy of online forums and articles discussing the Rae Sremmurd alum’s tremendous skill as a featured artist would crop up. His smooth vocals and songwriting abilities cast him as an invaluable addition to any project, and have made him increasingly marketable as a solo act. This past summer he was recruited by Nicki Minaj, Post Malone, Wiz Khalifa, among other power players, and his appearances show no signs of letting up.
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On Metro Boomin’s latest album, NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES, Swae helms two tracks - “Dreamcatcher” and “Borrowed Love” - driving the melodies while playing off of fellow features Travis Scott and Wizkid. Even in a crowded field, like XXXTentacion’s “Arms Around You” with Lil Pump and Maluma, Swae makes his presence distinguishable from that of his peers. In earlier solo efforts, despite his best intentions, Swae fielded comparisons to The Weeknd and Travis Scott, particularly on French Montana’s top three hit “Unforgettable.” Recent collaborations, however, have seen the artist carving his own lane. The likelihood that his crooning will fall victim to claims of conformity is now few and far between, his artistry effectively different from others in the game. Condensed, Swae is building a substantial solo career, one that lends itself to longevity. A bonafide solo studio album that goes beyond SR3MM’s Swaecation disc is really the next step.
Swae Lee’s early experimentation outside of Rae Sremmurd led to tracks like Mike Will Made-It’s “Drinks on Us,” an echoey, strip club vibe that was a diamond in the rough. Mike Will once called him the “most talented” artist he’s ever worked with, a hefty compliment from one of hip-hop’s central players behind the board (if not slightly biased, given that he is signed with Will). Part of Swae’s talent is his proven ability to pen catchy songs with impactful lyrics, for everyone from Katy Perry to Beyoncé. In the case of the latter, Swae played an early role in the creation of Yoncé’s massive record “Formation.” As has been well-documented, Swae came up with concept for the 2016 hit on the way to Coachella. The line, “O.K. ladies, now let’s get into formation,” which became the single’s calling card, came into his head while freestyling. Both he and Mike-Will would go on to conceptualize that the song was to be a female empowerment anthem. The track’s eventual pick up by Beyoncé made it clear that Swae’s success could have no ceiling, if he chose to pursue it forthright-- which, he now seems to be doing. He can clearly develop lyrics that hit with the masses, regardless of whether or not it’s “his” demographic. This, and his distinct ability with melodies make it apparent that he could be as huge as those pop stars for whom he’s penned tracks.
Perhaps recognizing his game, Swae’s solo features have significantly increased, more than doubling from seven to fifteen between 2017 and 2018 alone. Future spots are likely to follow before year’s end, including the two tracks he has on the just-released soundtrack to Creed II. Swae’s continued prevalence outside of Rae Sremmurd is owed, at least in part, to a stronger comfortability with singing. His co-conspirator, Slim Jxmmi, is not as well suited to a world outside of hip-hop records, given that his trademark is shouted barbs over a thunderous bassline. While this is not to say one is more talented than the other, Swae has an artistry more applicable to other genres. While rapping plays well into features it’s also creatively limiting. Swae’s ability to swing between singing and spitting his lyrics places him with Nicki Minaj, arguably one of the most unpredictable artists in the game, and a clear crossover star. In a genre dominated by signature cadences and ad-libs, being deemed ‘unpredictable’ is a sure-fire way to keep fans coming back.
Perhaps Swae’s biggest vice in the past has been his tendency to hide behind the beat. Our review of “SR3MM” held that on Swaecation, the artist’s first solo release, Swae “oftentimes [just] mimics the melody of the instrumental backing him.” The artist clearly has a unique, high-pitched timbre, and is at his best when his vocals are potted up. Songs like Post Malone’s “Sunflower,” Cabello’s “Real Friends,” and Metro’s “Dreamcatcher,” are the artist at his best. His words are clear, distinct, and expertly tailored to fit over the beat. “Sunflower” finds him carrying roughly half of the song’s runtime, and his high-ranging pitch perfectly juxtaposes Post’s warbly tenor. “Real Friends” has uncharacteristically carefree attitude and Swae easily bounces off the energy of Camilia’s Latin pop. Even on “Dreamcatcher,” the type of song Swae made a career on, the artist still explores new avenues. He leaves lines hanging as if there is more he wants to say, but fades out instead. It’s a melancholic, moody effort but gives Swae his own distinctive approach to the mic.
The inevitable future album is sure to be a continued development of the sound Swae’s been establishing in 2018. While the usual suspects will most likely play a role in production, one can’t help but wonder if other industry players might take his potential solo stardom even further. Frank Dukes would seem like a natural choice to get the ball rolling, given his work on Cabello’s smash “Havana” and Drake’s “Madiba Riddim.” Dukes understands the necessity of space in a track, treating production as a foil to whatever an artist brings to the table. While Swae has nabbed coveted spots on albums from Nicki Minaj and Post Malone, there’s still a wealth of features the artist would do well to secure. His energy could pair nicely with one of Drake’s Caribbean endeavors, or maybe even a track from recent Billboard #1 inductee Ariana Grande.
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What bodes well for Swae’s longevity is that you can conceptually see him feature with anyone. His voice is a chameleon, capable of blending seamlessly into any instrumental that gets thrown his way. A growing catalogue of hits, with seven Billboard entries in 2018 alone, leads to a singular conclusion: Swae Lee isn’t going anywhere but up.