When I think of the duo behind Rae Sremmurd, I think of ridiculously overpriced jewellery, an entourage of pet monkeys, arrogant personalities, and a chestful of random tattoos that protect them from “all the lame shit.” I think of the image I see on social media. I picture the image displayed in magazines and TV. Imagine my surprise however, when I hop on the line to speak with these multi-platinum winning artists, and discover they’re some of the sweetest, most genuine human beings anyone could ever meet.
Making their way from Tupelo, Mississippi, the brothers that makeup Rae Sremmurd, Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi, speak to me with a sincerity that makes me feel foolish for ever believing they could act otherwise. Jxmmi seems calm and reserved while Swae gives off a much more eccentric, outgoing aura. Swae’s enthusiasm could easily be mistaken for flirtation, I think to myself as we talk over the phone. “I’m sure he’s just being nice. Either way, he’s so charming. I’m kind of into it.” The duo is best known for their Billboard Hot 100 charting single “Black Beatles,” the song that propelled the mannequin challenge into a viral phenomenon. But before they reached the superstar status they hold today, the two spent years together in their mother’s basement making beats, producing tracks, taking any job they could to support themselves and “make shit happen.” It wasn’t until they gained the attention of renowned record producer, Mike Will Made-it, that Rae Sremmurd’s career really took off.
Under Mike Will’s label, Ear Drummer (the inspiration behind the duos name), Swae and Jxmmi released a number of platinum-certified singles and three records, including their most recent triple chapter project, SR3MM. SR3MM featured cameos with the likes of legends like Pharrell Williams, Juicy J and a surprisingly impressive rapping Zoe Kravitz. I spoke the masterminds behind Rae Sremmurd about their excitement for their following project, Sremmlife 4, the challenges of working with family, the sacrifices nobody talks about, and the dedication it takes to pursue a dream that at times seem impossible to obtain.
Talk to me about your humble beginnings. I watched an interview where you discuss working at McDonald’s, Olive Garden, inside of factories, the list goes on. I’m wondering, did you have the same work ethic then that you do now?
Slim Jxmmi: Those were 9-5 type jobs. We have always had a strong work ethic but now what we’re doing doesn’t feel like work to us. We’d be making music whether it was making on us money or not.
Swae Lee: I used to work at Olive Garden as a busboy then I was a dishwasher. My brother and I got our hands on an apartment because we had just moved to Atlanta and tried to make it in the rap industry, but we failed, miserably. We just took any job we could get. We really just needed a gig to support ourselves and regroup so we could continue to chase our dreams and live mainly. Jxmmi and I would go 50/50 on everything. If he had $50 and I had $50 we had $100, you know what I’m saying? So we would buy our equipment together, make a track, take risks as a team.
During that time when you were basically busting your ass to get by, was there ever a time when achieving your dream seemed utterly unattainable? I feel like as an artist I’ll have these moments when I think “fuck, this is taking forever.” I know what I want to be and the steps that it takes to get there but sometimes the waiting can feel exhausting. What kept you going?
Slim Jxmmi: I mean there was definitely a lot of people who told us we were wasting our time. We’d hear things like “do you know what the odds are of you making it? Like making it making it? It’s one in a million. Maybe one in a billion.” I just remember thinking, “well then I guess I’m going to have to be that one in a billion!” I honestly don’t know what kept me going. It really came down to the fact that music is the only thing I knew how to do.
Swae Lee: It’s true, we just stayed optimistic. We’d come home from work and stay up all night makings beats and writings songs. I had to stay positive the whole time, even when I was broke. I knew something would change. I just felt like any day now, something will change. I would tell myself, “okay today wasn’t the day, but we’re just going to keep on pushing.” It really came down to having faith in myself and in what I was doing.
That’s the key, isn’t it? Having faith in yourself. I’m wondering, what is the most significant sacrifice you’ve made in your career thus far? I feel everyone always focuses on the rewards this artistic journey brings, but no one ever talks about the things we have to give up.
Slim Jxmmi: Time. Time is the biggest thing you sacrifice when pursuing a career as an artist. It takes a lot of time to get to where you wanna be, you gotta miss out on a lot of things, you might fall off on some people, and they might take it the wrong way, but that’s the reality of it. Swae Lee: Yea you sacrifice spending time with people that you love. Time you will never get back. You might feel like you’re missing out on something or someone. Like not being able to take your girl out on this date, or telling your friend, “I’ll catch you next time.” You just have to be honest and say “I’m going to have to miss out on this right now because I need to put time towards this thing to be able to take care of myself forever.”
Wow. I love the way you put that. I’m going to miss out on this now to take care of myself forever. That really puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? Do you think there is a time and a place for everything? Time for love and a time to grind? Or do you think it’s possible to balance everything at once?
Swae Lee: That’s the hardest part of blowing up, shit really gets crazy. If you get anything too off balanced, it’s going to affect other areas of your life, so you have to create your own definition of balance. You have to know yourself. Know what you like. Know what makes you feel good and from there you can move forward. You can figure out what you need to cut out and figure out what you need to have more of.
I’m curious, how do you define success?
Swae Lee: I think success to me is really just stability. It could be a long scale, small scale. It really just depends on the person. Success for a painter could be seeing your painting being hung up in somebody else’s house. It could be a 4 inch by 4-inch painting, but to them that’s success. If it’s making you happy and you’re living off of it, I think that’s a form of success.
What is something you will never settle for or put up with?
Swae Lee: Being discredited or minimised. I don’t like putting my all into something for someone to merely reduce it or try to make it smaller than what it is. I give credit where credit is due, so I expect the same kind of respect in return.
What is the most challenging part of being in a group with your family member? What’s the most rewarding?
Slim Jxmmi: I really can’t say I see it as much of a challenge. We grew up together you know, so I know all his pet peeves, and he knows mine. I know what makes him go off and vice versa. To me, it’s really gratifying working with family because like I’ve said, it’s someone you’ve known your whole life. It’s not like when you join a group with someone you’ve just met, and you don’t know their heart, you don’t know their intentions.
Can you talk to me about the concept of Sremmlife?
Slim Jxmmi: Sremmlife Is the lifestyle we were already living. A lot of people like to think about it as a carefree lifestyle, but I like to think about it as just living as your most authentic self. Whatever you’re doing in this life, you’re doing to the best of your ability. Being free yes but being positive. Being productive.
I love that. I feel Rae Sremmurd is always sending a message of positivity and lightness that’s really needed right now more than ever. When people talk about your music, what do you hope they’re saying? What do you want to be known for as an artist?
Slim Jxmmi: I wanna be known for being a nice guy. I want to be known for always having a good time, never living in a dull moment. When people talk about me, I want them to discuss not my music, but I want them to talk about the good that I’ve done. The kindness I left behind. Earlier this year I donated $10,000 to 5 different college freshmen, and I want to continue doing things like this throughout my career. I want people to think “man, he’s out here making a difference. He’s not just using his money to party or buy lavish shit. He’s trying to leave a positive mark in this world.”
Swae Lee: I’m trying to put some light out there in these times of darkness. I just wanna light up the world a little bit. I want to be different and cut through the bullshit and inspire others to be themselves always. Nobody really understands me yet. I got a lot of followers, and I have a lot of fans and I love them all to death, but I’ve never shown them what I can really do because I don’t feel like everybody’s all the way tuned in. I have 16 platinum records already, but before I show them what I can really do, I want to make sure everybody’s tuned in, tapped on. You feel me?
I think so. Can you talk to me about the making of the latest album you created? What excites you the most when you’re building a new project?
Slim Jxmmi: I love the recording part. I always get really excited when I jump out of the studio and know I’m recording a really great song. I get so anxious to drop it, but I love having to wait to release it because you gotta wait to drop it at a particular time because that’s when it’s going to have the most effect. That’s when it’s going to do the most damage.
What about you Swae? What excites you in general?
Swae Lee: Going somewhere I’ve never been before excites me. A hundred girls at my party excite me. I just like action really, a lot of action because I think I have ADHD or something. My monkeys excite me when they come to say hi in the morning. Driving fast on an open road excites me. Shoot, when I’m hungry as shit, and I skipped my breakfast, and I see my food on the way… that really excites me.
That’s hilarious. Moving forward, what are you looking forward to the most? What projects or endeavours are you the most excited about?
Slim Jxmmi: We’re about to drop this new album, it’s going to be great. One thing I can’t wait for is the hype around each new project or album. There’s so much excitement in the air whenever a new album drops and that really fuels me you know?
Swae Lee: In the future, I’m looking forward to putting out more projects and shoot more visuals and just elevating my sound.