There’s something to be said for hedonism, for unabashedly glorying in your own desires, for recklessly pursuing the present. In a moment when rap has turned its face toward the social justice issues that plague society, Rae Sremmurd are looking squarely in the mirror. And they like what they see. Slim Jimmy and Swae Lee jumped onto the Mohawk stage yesterday in the early evening, jumping and bouncing against each other like lottery balls on a lucky streak. Two huge cut-out heads bobbled behind them, contributing to the cartoonish, carefree atmosphere. “No Flex Zone” was the obvious opener, but it was the sea of X-marked hands on underage kids arching toward the stage that greeted their flexing. Above decks, on the balconies full of your standard SXSW badge holders, awkward silence hung thick. The occasional zealous fan who’d opted to watch above the fray could be heard, but most looked on in amusement or slight confusion: They have yet to be enlightened to the SremmLife.
The two brothers of Rae Sremmurd were homeless a few short years ago, so if they’re all-in on living in the moment, who can blame them? Technically, their debut album, SremmLife, came out early this year, but really, SremmLife is a lifestyle that began to take seed with last year’s darkly churning hits “No Type” and “No Flex Zone.” Hip-hop could and should be a vehicle for grappling with the demons that wrack our country’s core, but that in no way prohibits it from functioning as a youthful id too. SremmLife demands a moment-to-moment freedom that’s concerned with feeling really fucking good, right fucking now. Consequences, budget, and feelings be damned, the present is now and it demands we empty out the ATM. That euphoric, all-forgiving, and all-encompassing feeling was on full display as they sped through gothic strut “Illest N—a Walking” and the break-up swag of “My X.”
Deeper album cuts like “Come Get Her” and even “Up Like Trump” were still met with some resistance from the upper tiers of the crowd, who seemed mostly unfamiliar or straight-up uncomfortable with the mini hip-hop drama unfolding onstage. An entourage of Ear Drummers routinely fanned throughout the crowd, passing out mixtapes and helping hype up the set. Introduced as “the Big Homie,” Mike Will Made It ran out onstage to “Bugatti” and doused himself in water before leading the crowd in closing song “No Type” — a hit that’s become so recognizable that everyone chanted along. Some girls were even taking stage-oriented selfies, so you know this song resonates. Similarly, their Nicki-Minaj-and-Young-Thug buoyed strip-club anthem “Throw Sum More” sparked pockets of familiarity even in the resistant sections of the audience.
My complaints about the set were few and far between. For an early afternoon rap set Jimmy and Swae brought an incredible amount of energy to a crowd wracked with ennui. Sometimes the amount they rely on their backing track is frustrating, but they did so far less yesterday than when I saw them in January. I’d say they should trust more in their own brand of weird, wily wordplay and throw the flickering addictive “Lit Like Bic” and porticus-raising “Unlock The Swag” into regular rotation — neither made it into last night’s set. If it’s the progress that matters the most, then the brothers are on their way to entering the next echelon of rap. Those who dismiss Rae Sremmurd’s viscous mindfulness as mere antics are missing the point. Living each day with zero regard for the consequence is just as much an act of defiance as explicitly tackling the tough, lurking issues in lyric. When Rae Sremmurd prosper, we all prosper. Long live SremmLife.
[Photos by Paul Carter.]