Review Summary: Mike WiLL Made-it’s triumphant return.
It probably says something about the transience of current pop culture and whatnot that Sremmlife
can be touted as Mike WiLL Made-it’s return to hip-hop’s pantheon. Despite basically owning 2013 (and arguably 2012 as well), making an especially large splash by providing the hip-hop underpinnings of ex-Disney starlet Miley Cyrus’ pop-charts-smashing Bangerz
, the young producer (Michael Williams, age 25) spent most of 2014 outside of the spotlight, quietly assembling an army of other young producers (EarDrummers Entertainment) before making a play for re-recognition via his protégés Rae Sremmurd. In that year-long lapse in output, of course, the Mike WiLL Made-it name on listeners’ lips was replaced by DJ Mustard and his frigidly minimalist hooks. Mustard was everywhere in hip-hop this year (the kinda-despicable “Main Chick" by Kid Ink featuring the ever-abhorrent Chris Brown, sadly, but also the sexy-as-hell “Don’t Tell ‘Em” by Jeremih and “2 On” by Tinashe, among others), and where he wasn’t, legions of rip-offs followed (many of which displayed the unfortunate tendency to chart higher than anything he produced – “Fancy,” anyone").
As such, Williams’ return almost comes as a surprise, the producer so far out of sight and mind so soon that we almost forgot he ever existed at all. However, it’s clear from the album’s lead single “No Flex Zone,” Mike WiLL Made-it hasn’t lost his stride in the slightest – obviously, months of meager output doesn’t necessarily mean that a producer isn’t still creating, creating, creating. The syrup-drenched, sluggish snares and xylophone lines couple wonderfully with the overpowering sub-bass and heavily Auto-Tuned hook, pinned down by the live-wire flow of Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi. The then-unknown X-factor of Rae Sremmurd (at the time of release, their output consisted entirely of the song “We,” buried in the middle of Mike-WiLL’s 2013 mixtape #MikeWiLLBeenTriLL) gave the song a great deal of life, fleshing out Williams’ gaudy synths in a way that even Miley couldn’t achieve.
This brings up an important point that should be made about Sremmlife
: at least superficially, this is a Rae Sremmurd album. The album features a good number of producers backing the promising young duo’s debut full-length, and as we can see from the album’s cover it seems as though Khalif and Aaquil Brown are the two focal points here. However, this is all untrue. Sremmlife
is, for all intents and purposes, a Mike WiLL Made-it album. Rae Sremmurd and the rest of the EarDrummers crew are used as tools to push the Mike-WiLL sound. Most (if not all) of the musicians here owe their continued cultural heft to Williams, which is clear as the album rolls on. It’s fair to say that Rae Sremmurd would not be this exciting without Williams. Their lyricism falls under the general topic of “flexing” at all times, and despite the different ways the duo goes about strutting their status (misogyny and big spending being the two expressions of choice) their crushing hedonism (especially hedonism of this ilk, minus any shred of self-awareness) feels tired and over-utilized. What’s more, in addition to the themes presented on Sremmlife
, the actual lyrical content here is boring at best and verging on atrocious at worst. Whereas rappers like album guests Big Sean and Young Thug can survive on their own through decent punchlines and somewhat original elocution, Rae Sremmurd are simply not good at writing an album’s worth of distinct verses and hooks. Terrible ideas abound here (basing an entire song about how you’re lit like, um, a lighter generally isn’t a good idea), and even when they’re not writing tragically cringe-worthy lines (“She gon’ chew you up / Twerk like she from Russia,” among many others) the lyrics still can’t really be classified as anything respectable.
is as good as it is because of how sonically pleasing it is. The one thing Rae Sremmurd does well (and they do it really, really well) is flow. As such, despite their subpar lyricism, the duo is a perfect match for Williams’ maximalist beats. When the Brown brothers’ voices are separated from what their voices are saying, the product is an immensely satisfying meld of loud, full-bodied trap and positively electric pitch and intensity variations. The humongous “Yno” is proof of the benefits of the marriage between the sounds of Rae Sremmurd and Mike WiLL Made-it, T-Pain-worthy Auto-Tune filling out a charged, bursting-at-the-seams chorus and aggressive, swaggering verses keeping perfect pace with the brassy bassline (until yet another milquetoast and lazy Big Sean verse almost derails the whole thing, as is unfortunately expected with a rapper of his caliber). “No Type” works in much the same way, chiptune flourishes and cavalcades of 808 kicks meshing with Rae Sremmurd’s almost-arrogant expressions of their utter dominance.
Unfortunately, at the moment, it doesn’t seem like Sremmlife
will rise to the same level of prominence of Mike-WiLL’s previous work. The album’s singles thus far, despite an impressive number of plays on streaming sites like YouTube and Spotify, haven’t charted very highly, probably due to their relatively family-unfriendly content, and a totally-neutered clean version (a la Big Sean’s “IDFWU” or Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot N****”) typically doesn’t sound very impressive. However, if nothing else, Sremmlife
proves that Mike WiLL Made-it hasn’t lost his penchant for torpid trap bangers. Largely thanks to the aid of Williams, Rae Sremmurd has entered the hip-hop world already established as something akin to royalty. Even if that nigh-overnight fame can’t sustain itself, at least Mike WiLL Made-it has shown that he has what it takes for continued cultural relevancy. In a hip-hop world filled to the brim with copycats and faceless producers, at least we have him for now.