Rae Sremmurd Never Broke Up, They Just Grew Up

After a four-year hiatus the duo has emerged with a new album, and are more united than ever.

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On Swae: Suit, vintage, by Balenciaga from Artifact New York. Sneakers, by Fendi Men’s.  On Jxmmi: Jacket, and pants, by Gucci. Tank top, his own. Shoes, by Fendi Men’s.
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In internet time, four years is a million lifetimes. Which is perhaps why some fans of Rae Sremmurd, the rap duo comprised of Slim Jxmmi and his younger brother Swae Lee, began to think the duo had broken up when the follow-up to 2018’s SR3MM didn’t materialize at their usual rapid pace. A few peeved tweets from Slim Jxmmi helped to fuel the flames, but in March of 2020, Swae Lee took to the app to clear things up for a final time: “I’m good , Slim Jimmy good 👌🏽 we two different individuals MORE SOLO songs on the way and SremmLife 4 on the way we two different types of artists and that’s gone be respected.” Less than two weeks later, the pandemic brought public life to a halt.

Swae, 29, kept running up his own high-profile features, including “Sunflower,” a song for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with Post Malone that earned him his first diamond certification. Meanwhile Jxmmi, 30, all but disappeared. But this past June, Rae Sremmurd, the group, finally reemerged. Their new single “Denial,” the first offering from their long-promised fourth album (now called Sremm4Life), is a heartsick ballad that features the pair waxing about the pain of trying to walk away from old relationships. It bears little resemblance to the giddy escapist party music that made them so beloved, but then again, few things about them today resemble the Sremm of old.

On Swae:  Jacket, shirt, and pants, by Alexander McQueen. Boots, by Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello. Jewelry (throughout), his own. On Jxmmi: Jacket, pants, and boots, by Ann Demuelemeester. Jewelry (throughout), his own.

Back in 2014, when their infectious single, “No Flex Zone,” introduced the world to the two brothers from Tupelo, Mississippi, they had a singular kind of charisma that seemed to bounce off each other. Both had locs and seemed to be perpetually shirtless, like a walking two-man party, a joint persona that translated in person and, most importantly, on wax. Their first album, SremmLife, quickly proved they could easily churn out earworm turn-up tracks with deceptively simple songwriting and space-age beats from their mentor Mike Will Made It. (To wit: Swae Lee has a writing credit on Beyoncé’s “Formation,” which Mike Will produced.) But before the recent BET Awards, when they show up at a swanky Beverly Hills hotel on a Saturday afternoon, they, like their new music, are different. Jxmmi is now bald, having decided to do away with his hair completely once it started to thin. (“I ain’t never cutting my hair. Even if it start falling out, I can’t cut it, I’m gonna look like an alien,” Swae chimes in at one point.) He’s also reserved and calmer than Swae, who’s still animated despite his desire to be finished with attending to business for the day. But it’s clear that their bond remains, solid and sealed by blood. They’ve grown into their own people and, with Sremm4Life ready for release—their best album since the first, Jxmmi says—it seems that making it was a rewarding, if not a bit arduous, process.

Many fans took the SR3MM triple album—a solo album from each along with a joint disc—as proof the brothers were creatively diverging, Swae towards genre-fluid melodicism and Jxmmi into rap-first trap. But for the duo, it was an opportunity to peer behind the curtain and see the math behind the magic of Rae Sremmurd. Apart, they seem like opposites, but together, that translates to balance. “I’m not going to lie, I learned a lot. I learned how it feel to just do some solo shit,” Jxmmi says of that project, noting that there will be similar efforts in the future. “We know what we bring to the table. We know our strong points,” Swae adds. “A solo song could turn into a group song with one verse, so we’re just staying true to what we know.”

Shirt, and pants, by Louis Vuitton Men’s. Shoes, by Manolo Blahnik.

When the pandemic began, Swae, ever the workaholic, stayed in the public eye, but Jxmmi retreated inward. “We weren’t together a lot [in the lockdowns], but I was spending a lot of time with myself,” reflects the older brother. “It was a time for me to just disappear and rebuild and just recreate myself, and I feel like that’s what I did.” He took up boxing and reaped its physical benefits, while its mental discipline doubled as another form of therapy in addition to the traditional kind. Already an introvert, he welcomed—and needed—the lockdown solitude. “It’s times to be seen, and it’s times not to be seen,” he says. “Plus I’m getting older. I’ve got two kids [Jxmmi had two children in 2019 and 2021] and I wanted to be an example for my kids, and I felt like where I was at that point not that.”

For his part, Swae had been on tour with Post Malone when everything ground to a stop, and he found himself back home in Atlanta. Initially upset by the circumstances, he came to enjoy life without extra obligations, and indulged his cabin fever with antics like recording himself crowd-surfing amongst imaginary fans. “I’m doing shit I ain’t did in like 20 years. I’m really chillin’, like ‘damn, I never played the game for four hours.’ ‘Alright, I’m in the studio for sixteen hours and I still got time,’” he says. At first, all the extra hours were nice — “You can do pushups, you can mend old relationships, you can do whatever”—but he wasn’t at all interested in a long-term pause. Music is what feeds him spiritually and literally. “I’ve got a life to uphold, so it’s like I need all my checks. I’m trying to be stacked up for a hundred years.”

Both agree this period was necessary for the evolution they showcase on the new album. Jxmmi had been looking on with admiration as his brother continued to increase his output and profile, but his priority was to figure out his own issues before coming back into the spotlight. “Personally, I felt like I wasn’t carrying my weight, so that’s why I was glad to just sit down, because I’m a grown man, so I know what needs to be done, and I know if I’m not doing it,” he says. “I was like ‘I need to go do some things, and then I need to step back into these shoes,’ and that’s what I did.”

Sremm4Life is, perhaps, the most accurate reflection of the duo’s dynamism yet. It takes Swae’s more curious ear and Jxmmi’s moodier impulses and combines them, alongside their usual effervescence. Flo Milli matches their bubbly humor on one track, while a James Blake feature serves as one of the more unexpected moments—and a career highlight for Swae. “From a great to a great, because we respect James Blake. I be in my melody stuff, and I respect bro craft so much. He’s one of my favorite artists…[He’s] putting out some of the best vocals in this generation, in this decade, in this whole music industry,” Swae says, adding, “it’s a different style of music from Rae Sremmurd too.” Other songs venture into some of the duo’s darkest material yet, where thoughts of depression and grief threaten to envelop everything else: It’s their first foray into emo rap. On one such track, Jxmmi addresses their stepdad’s murder, for which his youngest brother is currently in jail. “It was crazy because I’ve never really talked about that,” he says. “That was another thing that made me like sit down and just change up real quick.”

News of the tragedy came out in January 2020, just weeks before lockdown. The timing made things especially rough. Swae addressed it on episodes of his Snapchat show, Swae Meets World, which premiered in April of last year; cameras rolled as he struggled to process it all, and ultimately traveled back home to pay his respects. “That shit fucked me up,” he says now, searching for and failing to find more words. “I wasn’t ready to hear that type of news at that time,” Jxmmi picks up. “But things happen for a reason, and I feel like you never know what’s going to happen—you’ve got to cherish people while they’re here.”

Suit, shirt, ties, and shoes, by  Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello. Sunglasses, by Thierry Lasry.

Jacket, by Alexander McQueen.


To that end, hearing both artists lean into the not-so-nice truths of their lives in their music is a revelation. Early on, they had been criticized as being unserious—as if their levity suggested a lack of skill or quality—and the more somber additions to Sremm4Life bring an interior level of balance: light and dark, Swae and Jxmmi. “We’ve got to give them something new, man. As an artist, it’s hard to be yourself, and I feel like with this album, it was like we’re not following a trend,” Jxmmi explains. “We want set the tone.”

This new release has been a long time coming for fans who have become spoiled by the every year, or every-other-year, release cycles, and Sremm4Life spans the group’s gap, even as it treads new ground. Swae had plenty of songs waiting when Jxmmi rejoined him, some new and some old that simply needed to be polished up. It became a matter of sorting through them all to see what spoke to them. “One thing, you’ve got to get organized,” Swae says. “You can have a hundred songs, but you’ve got to really sit down and master and mix them and put them together, get the producer, get all the details, do the ad-libs.” Swae knows he should carve time away from the industry for himself, like his brother did, which is perhaps why his birthday last month was a six-day turn up—but he can never stay away from the studio too long. It’s like he’s racing against the clock: “When I’m about 89, I ain’t going to be able to make these hooks…I’m trying to get my best years, my best vocals, get them all out,” he laughs. He doesn’t want to fall off but, more than that, he doesn’t want to miss the spark. “You never know when you going to make your biggest song.”

On Swae: Jacket, and pants, by Fendi Men’s. On Jxmmi: Jacket, and pants, by Alexander McQueen.

This he says as a matter of work ethic—the reason he tries to hole up in the studio as much as possible—but it’s also a belief born of personal experience. After all, even “No Flex Zone,” the single that ultimately changed their lives, germinated on its own timeline. “We had finished the first album, and it seemed like we was at a standstill. We was living in somebody’s basement. I ain’t have no money. I couldn’t help pay no bills. I’m on my last $3,” he recalls. “I was literally calling, putting in applications for Waffle House in Atlanta.” To observers at the time, “No Flex Zone” seemed like an overnight sensation, a song so undeniable there’s no way it wasn’t always going to be a hit. Imagining SremmLife tucked away on a hard drive somewhere while Swae and Jxmmi sweat it out applying for jobs almost feels absurd.

“We got a call from Charlotte or some shit, like all these hood clubs saying, ‘We want you to come through, $5K, $3K.’ We’re like, ‘Nigga, $3K?!’” Swae says, sounding excited all over again. They start talking over each other as they think about how that money— hardly even a month’s worth of expenses these days—felt earth-shattering back then. “Three in one day? Wow,” Jxmmi adds. Then Swae: “I couldn’t even stack a rack. I couldn’t even stack $900 bro.” Then Jxmmi: “I’m literally looking at the money like, ‘Hey, shit I can live with this.’” Finally Swae settles on a serendipitous conclusion: “That’s the thing, when you think about the music first and you doing it because you love it, the money going to chase you. That shit crazy.”

There’s a touch of irony in the fact that it wasn’t the internet that first propped up a duo now known for its mastery of virality, but rather small radio stations and clubs in the South. With 2016’s chart-topping “Black Beatles,” and the ultra-viral #MannequinChallenge it spawned, Rae Sremmurd will never shake the misconception of them as a social-sparked band—not that they’re trying to. When people get nostalgic about how well the brothers would do now with TikTok’s popularity (“If Rae Sremmurd came out in today’s world they Ah own Tiktok,” rapper 42 Dugg tweeted in February; “If Rae Sremmurd came out during the TikTok era they’d be the most popular rap duo since Outkast. This is a dead serious tweet,” another user opined the next month, garnering nearly 140,000 likes), all they’re thinking about is letting people know they’re still creatively powerful now. “They be acting like we dead or something. Like bro, I’m right here. I just left the studio,” Swae says, his tone a mixture of amusement and exasperation.

They say their next single will have that familiar, Sremm summer soundtrack buoyant vibe. And, as if by popular demand, the Rae Sremmurd TikTok is in full swing and features a few clips of the guys up to their usual antics, including one of them driving go karts to the gas station due to gas prices, and another taking bets about who in their entourage will throw up first at Swaecation. The duo has made space for the fullness of their personalities and experiences, and social media, as ever, will serve as a document of their existence. “Our catalog right now, we could travel the world for 20 more years. It’s just like wow, coming from Mississippi, seeing where the music really reached, like this is history,” Swae says, thinking of his future kids with pride. “There’s all types of legendary stuff we’re going to be able to show them on YouTube.”

Though the internet often demands a front row seat to drama—even if it must create some where there is none—it’s refreshing to see the men of Rae Sremmurd carve out their own ways and show people that they’re still individuals. Their creative synergy is a function of their differences and unique personalities rather than a hivemind, and they plan to record, both together and solo, forever. Swae, the eternal rockstar on a quest for legacy, is defined by his hunger and aspires to prolificacy, planning for at least 38 albums in his future. “All my days is like 24 hours going to the studio. I want that shit to mean something, you feel me?” As for Jxmmi, he doesn’t consider himself a rapper so much as an adventurer, a “professional life-liver” as he calls it. “I just happen to make music with the greatest artist of all time, my brother Swae Lee.”

Grooming by Alexa Hernandez at The Wall Group
Styling by Mecca Cox at The Wall Group
Tailoring by Corine Fontaine Emery

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