RAE SREM­MURD

Maxim - - CONTENTS - BY LEON NEY­FAKH

CLOSE CALLS AND CAN­NON­BALLS WITH THE “NO FLEX” BROTH­ERS

KICK­ING IT POOL­SIDE WITH RAE SREM­MURD, THE MIS­SIS­SIPPI-RAISED BROTH­ERS BE­HIND THE YEAR'S MOST IN­FEC­TIOUS PARTY RAP.

THEY USED TO PARTY at the Motel 6 in Tu­pelo, Mis­sis­sippi— rent out a room, in­vite ev­ery girl they could think of, and stay all week­end. The idea was that Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi would be the only guys, but of course other dudes al­ways showed up. Among them was a kid named Jay who went to a dif­fer­ent high school, who would grab the room next door when­ever he heard Swae and Jxmmi were hav­ing a party. Jay re­calls wan­der­ing over, see­ing the two broth­ers, and think­ing, Y’all are so cool.

Swae and Jxmmi, whose real names are Khalif Brown and Aaquil Brown, were cool. They were mem­bers of what was es­sen­tially a boy band, and one of their songs, “Party An­i­mal,” had be­come a lo­cal hit. That was how Jay be­came aware of them: He heard “Party An­i­mal” play­ing at the neigh­bor­hood skat­ing rink and thought, Oh, my God. Who­ever made this song is go­ing to be so fa­mous one day.

Jay is re­mem­ber­ing this while stand­ing next to a pool, look­ing out over the hills of Stu­dio City, Cal­i­for­nia, on what feels like one of the first sum­mer days of the year. Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi are here, too. This house—this man­sion—is where they live now, along with Mike WILL Made-it, the pro­ducer and la­bel owner who gave them their big break, and Jay, their of­fi­cial DJ.

Swae is 21 and Jxmmi is 23. As a duo, they call them­selves Rae Srem­murd. It is not a great name, and most peo­ple, when they see it for the first time, have no idea that it’s pro­nounced “Ray Shrim­mert” or that it’s an ana­gram of Mike WILL’S record la­bel, Ear Drum­mer Records.

It hasn’t mat­tered. De­spite the hand­i­cap, Rae Srem­murd has put out three of the most mem­o­rable and cre­ative sin­gles of the past year, in­clud­ing the party an­them “No Flex Zone” and the plain­tive “No Type.” When they re­leased their all-killer-no-filler de­but al­bum, Sremm­life, in Jan­uary, it went straight to No. 1 on Bill­board’s R&b/hip-hop chart.

As the band fought off com­par­isons to Kriss Kross that im­plied they’d be a one-hit won­der, Sremm­life ce­mented their rep­u­ta­tion as re­li­able pur­vey­ors of vi­ral-ready catch­phrases, sur­pris­ing melodies, and an ex­u­ber­ant, oc­ca­sion­ally squeaky style of rap­ping that makes them sound much younger than they are. In just un­der a year, they have be­come one of the most uni­ver­sally beloved young acts in pop.

And to­day, on a Satur­day af­ter­noon in mid-march, about two weeks af­ter mov­ing to this man­sion out­side L.A. from At­lanta, they are do­ing pretty much ex­actly what you’d want them to do: throw­ing a mas­sive pool party.

“Tonight is gonna be, like— man,” Swae says, shak­ing his head with pre­emp­tive dis­be­lief. He is around five and a half feet tall, skinny, and dressed in a white fit­ted tee and Adi­das track pants. His mop of nail-thin dreads is tied up in a Dr. Seuss–ish man-bun above his head.

It will be the “break-in party,” he says—the be­gin­ning not only of sum­mer but of a new era in the lives of Rae Srem­murd. In some ways, it will be sim­i­lar to the Motel 6 par­ties. But in other ways, it will be dif­fer­ent.

MIKE WILL, 26, is play­ing NBA2K against a friend in the TV room, talk­ing about all the fes­ti­vals his boys are per­form­ing at this sum­mer. Last year, he mar­vels, they were at Coachella, walk­ing around play­ing “No Flex Zone” on a por­ta­ble Blue­tooth boom box and giv­ing out sam­pler CDS. This year, they’ve got real hits.

Mari Davies, Rae Srem­murd’s agent, no­tices a cou­ple of $20 bills on the floor by Mike WILL’S feet. “So, what, in­stead of play­ing dice, guys play video games now?” she says. “OK.”

Out in the kitchen, Swae and Jxmmi have joined their first 15 or so guests around a coun­ter­top, which is cov­ered with trays of raw chicken wings, bags of ham­burger and hot dog buns, and a va­ri­ety of fam­ily-size condi­ments. When a guest pours out Pa­trón shots in lit­tle plas­tic shot glasses, there’s an awk­ward si­lence as we wait for some­one to vol­un­teer a toast. Fi­nally, Slim Jxmmi comes through. “To con­doms!” he pro­claims. “To pay­checks! To the ra­dios play­ing all across this great na­tion!”

Af­ter a mo­ment Jxmmi and Swae go out­side, where some­one has rolled a pre­pos­ter­ously large blunt and “No Flex Zone” is blast­ing as part of a mix that also in­cludes the new Drake mix­tape, a lot of Young Thug, and most of Sremm­life.

Jxmmi’s talk­ing to Swae about maybe jump­ing into the pool. It’s 5:30 p.m. and enough peo­ple are start­ing to show up that there’s a bouncer at the gate down be­low. You can see a line of guys al­ready start­ing to form while girls walk in two by two up the wind­ing and de­cep­tively steep drive­way. Some of them are wear­ing biki­nis; most sport cut­off jean shorts and long hair, and a good num­ber of them have the air of hot babysit­ters. Swae and Jxmmi don’t know where to look first.

What’s the most sur­pris­ing thing about liv­ing in L.A. so far? I ask, and Jxmmi has an an­swer right away. “All the bitches love us.” But wait, I say. Weren’t you kind of ex­pect­ing that? “Nah. Nah,” he says. “I thought they would like us. They love us.”

With that, he runs off to talk to some girls, while Swae sticks around and an­swers ques­tions. “This is ac­tu­ally cool: I’m do­ing an in­ter­view in front of all these girls!” he says. “They’re like, ‘Damn, he’s im­por­tant.’”

Swae tells me he and his brother just got back from South Africa, where they head­lined a Jo­han­nes­burg hip-hop fes­ti­val. Be­ing on the plane for more than 14 hours was tough, he says; he got through it by read­ing a book about how to con­trol an au­di­ence. He de­clined to fly first-class be­cause the tick­ets cost $15,000, “and I didn’t want to spend that on a seat. We wanted to be smart: save our money and sit in the back.” Did he learn any­thing from the book? “I mean, it’s stuff we al­ready knew,” he says. “I al­ways just like to see the words, ’cause… I feel like I’ve been out of high school for­ever. So I just read to keep my mind go­ing.”

He grad­u­ated only about three years ago, but it makes sense that it feels a lot longer to him, given that three years ago he was liv­ing his old life, work­ing at a fac­tory where he made pil­lows and beds. That life in­cluded a stretch of home­less­ness, af­ter Swae and Jxmmi’s mom kicked them out and they had to crash in an aban­doned house with

no heat or gas. They made the best of it and threw a lot of par­ties. But they were still home­less. Es­cap­ing to At­lanta, where they got to de­vote them­selves 100 per­cent to record­ing mu­sic for the first time in their lives, was phase one of their master plan. Set­ting up shop in L.A. is phase two.

“My last night in At­lanta, I was with some girls,” Swae says, when I ask him what he did to mark the oc­ca­sion of leav­ing the South. “I just told them, ‘I’m about to take this jour­ney. I’m about to go hard. I’m about to live my life.’ And then I just dipped.”

Mo­ments later Jxmmi dives from the bal­cony into the pool and ev­ery­one cheers; back on the deck, he starts danc­ing—soak­ing wet—as if he’s on­stage. The of­fi­cial Rae Srem­murd Twit­ter ac­count, mean­while, has an­nounced that there’s a party on, and strange women are di­rect-mes­sag­ing Jay for the ad­dress while the crowd out­side the gate grows larger. There’s a ru­mor that Mi­ley Cyrus might be com­ing through later. The party has started, and the state of mind that Swae and Jxmmi call Sremm life—be who you are, live how you want, don’t let any­one judge you—is tak­ing hold.

THE KITCHEN COUNTER has been con­verted into a beer-pong ta­ble, ex­cept in­stead of beer, peo­ple are play­ing with shots of Jack Daniels. There are girls here that Swae Lee and Jxmmi have never seen be­fore, and oth­ers, like the one they met at a wings spot near the beach, with whom they have only a glanc­ing ac­quain­tance. “There’s beau­ti­ful girls ev­ery­where,” Swae Lee says, his eyes shin­ing. “I’m lov­ing these girls.”

No one’s danc­ing, re­ally, but I’m told that’s just L.A., a place where peo­ple pre­fer to have fun by stand­ing around and look­ing at each other. There are girls on their phones, dan­gling their feet in the pool, but no one’s full-on swim­ming, and the two free spir­its who asked Mike WILL if they could skinny-dip opted against it, de­spite his en­cour­age­ment. “Everybody’s still act­ing scared,” Swae says. “They don’t un­der­stand. They can do what­ever they want.”

Mike WILL says he’s look­ing for his se­cu­rity guard so that he can “or­der a rerack,” mean­ing kick some of the guys out to im­prove the male-to-fe­male ra­tio. Swae Lee wants to get rid of one dude in par­tic­u­lar, who is be­ing ag­gres­sive and “cuff­ing his girl­friend”—watch­ing her like a hawk and not let­ting her out of his sight even though, in Swae’s es­ti­ma­tion, she clearly wants to be with some­one else. Swae looks sin­cerely dis­gusted when he points the guy out to me, and see­ing the ex­pres­sion on his nor­mally smil­ing face makes me think of his verse on “This Could Be Us,” the fizzy cen­ter­piece of Sremm­life, which ends with him declar­ing that “killin’ some­one’s vibe should be a fuckin’ crime.”

Mike WILL, in his role as CEO of Ear Drum­mer Records, seems to see his job as pro­tect­ing and nur­tur­ing Rae Srem­murd’s vibe. When he met Swae and Jxmmi in At­lanta, he had re­cently gone from work­ing with street rap­pers like Fu­ture and Gucci Mane to be­ing a brand-name pro­ducer for the likes of Ri­hanna and Mi­ley Cyrus. (He is cred­ited with giv­ing Cyrus the sound she wanted for her al­bum Bangerz.) But when he met Rae Srem­murd, he real­ized what he re­ally wanted to do was build some­thing from the ground up.

Af­ter “No Flex Zone” started get­ting played on the ra­dio last spring, Mike WILL thought the move for Rae Srem­murd was to put out an EP. “I just wanted that

"I WAS WITH SOME GIRLS. I just told them, 'I'm about to take this jour­ney. I'm about to go hard. I'm about to live my life.'"

to be the hottest CD of the sum­mer­time—the thing ev­ery­one was talk­ing about,” he tells me.

But then “No Flex Zone” kept get­ting big­ger and big­ger, out­per­form­ing all rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tions. “Our ra­dio depart­ment was like, ‘Hold on, wait, don’t put out noth­ing else. Let’s just work this record,’” he says.

They waited till the end of Au­gust. Then, just as peo­ple were start­ing to won­der whether the “No Flex” boys had been a mere flash in the pan, Mike WILL pressed the but­ton on sin­gle num­ber two. The dreamy “No Type” be­came even big­ger than its pre­de­ces­sor. A few days af­ter it was re­leased, Mike WILL was at the af­ter-party for the Drake and Lil Wayne show in At­lanta, and Wayne de­manded that the DJ play “No Type” three times back-to-back.

It’s hard to process the fact that Mike, who has a deep voice and weighs maybe 200 pounds, is ba­si­cally around the same age as the two young boys whom he has staked his ca­reer on. “They’re like my Kobe and Shaq,” he says. “They’re like Kobe and Shaq, and I’m Phil Jack­son.”

Mike looks up at the sky and sees a po­lice he­li­copter float­ing there with its spot­lights on. “Ghetto bird,” he says, know­ingly.

It doesn’t take long for ev­ery­one at the party to find out there are cops cir­cling the man­sion in a chop­per. But while the at­mos­phere def­i­nitely shifts when the mu­sic is turned off, there’s no panic or ex­o­dus, at least not right away. In­stead, a bunch of peo­ple on the bal­cony raise their mid­dle fin­gers as high as they can and yell “Sremm life!” Swae Lee, mean­while, laughs ev­ery time the spot­light hits him; he seems to think the sit­u­a­tion is hi­lar­i­ous, and he’s Snapchat­ting videos of it to peo­ple so they can see what they’re miss­ing. “We’re hav­ing a crazy party!” he says, gid­dily. “The cops came to our party! In a he­li­copter!”

The he­li­copter cir­cles for what feels like half an hour, and the longer it stays up there, the more it com­mits the ul­ti­mate Rae Srem­murd crime of killing ev­ery­one’s vibe. A sense of dis­may set­tles in—it’s only nine o’clock, af­ter all. “It’s not like this is ISIS,” some­one says bit­terly.

Just then word rings out that the cops have ar­rived at the front gate, and Swae and Jxmmi’s lit­tle brother, who was, un­til re­cently, en­listed in the Marines, thun­ders through the liv­ing room with an an­nounce­ment: “If you ain’t 21, you gotta leave!”

Still, it’s not till Rae Srem­murd’s man­ager, Migo, cups his hands around his mouth and alerts the room that cars are be­ing towed that things re­ally screech to a halt. “Come on,” one girl says as she grabs her friend’s wrist. “We’re leav­ing. Now.” Soon it’s just the in­ner cir­cle, and the video game is back on. I ask Jxmmi if he misses any­thing about Tu­pelo. “No. Not shit,” he says, shak­ing his head. “I don’t miss any­thing.”

THE PLAN FOR LATER is to go to club 1 OAK in West Hol­ly­wood, but that won’t be till mid­night. For now, as the house qui­ets down, Mike WILL is or­der­ing In­dian food while Jay leads a clean­ing mis­sion that will re­quire pick­ing up pa­per plates piled high with chicken bones and the re­mains of pat­ties, empty packs of cigar­il­los, and half-fin­ished cans of Lime-a-ri­tas. Swae Lee and Jxmmi are in the kitchen mak­ing them­selves peanut-but­ter-and-jelly sand­wiches. When he fin­ishes his, Swae puts tin foil on the jar of peanut but­ter, and af­ter mak­ing sure that Jxmmi doesn’t want any more, places it in a cup­board. He then pours him­self a Solo cup of milk.

Mike WILL tells me that hav­ing a party like that is not just a dis­trac­tion from or a re­ward for Rae Srem­murd’s hard work. It’s work, too, in the sense that the mem­o­ries they cre­ate as they be­gin their new L.A. lives are go­ing to be source ma­te­rial for what­ever mu­sic they make next. “They might have had a con­ver­sa­tion with a girl in there that they’ll never for­get,” he says. “And when the he­li­copters were go­ing over the house, spark­ing light on the house and shit? That’s a mo­ment, bro. You can put that in a song.” ■

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