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Rae Sremmurd is leading rap's new wave

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Rae Sremmurd
Roger Kisby/Getty Images

“These are late night/early morning goggles,” says Slim Jimmy, one-half of the young rap duo Rae Sremmurd, indicating the tinted ski goggles that he’s wearing. Considering that Slim, 23, is in the lobby of a boutique hotel, that it’s nearer to lunchtime than early morning, and that his partner Swae Lee, 21, has just asked him the name of the guy who quoted one of their songs on ESPN the other day, his announcement says a lot about his state of mind at the moment.

The Rae Sremmurd boys are living in heady times, though, and they’ve arguably earned the right to be fragrantly befuddled in the a.m. in a fancy hotel lobby. Over the summer their debut single “No Flex Zone” rocketed to viral popularity and a No. 36 spot on the Hot 100, boosted by Nicki Minaj (who gave her stamp of approval by dropping her own remix of it) and Solange Knowles (who danced along to it with her son at her sci-fi fashion spread of a wedding). Its follow-up, “No Type,” made it all the way to No. 16, with help from Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak, the guy who unexpectedly busted out a couple bars of it during an appearance on ESPN’s Highly Questionable.

Despite having two irrefutable hits, a number of year-end think pieces threw the pair in with a group of other alleged hip hop one-hit wonders, including iLoveMakonnen and Dej Loaf, none of which had even dropped official full-lengths yet. The tag makes less sense once you’ve heard SremmLife, their debut LP, out today, which nimbly threads a tricky line between radio-friendly pop and full-blown southern mixtape rap—and even less after you’ve caught one of their contagiously energetic live shows.

Predictably, Swae and Slim see the situation differently from how their critics do. “It’s a new generation,” Slim says of their class of young hip-hop artists, which has shown a punkish antagonism toward hip-hop’s established rulebook. “It’s a new wave.”

“People chose us to lead the new wave of music,” Swae adds. “It’s going to be crazy to see where everybody goes and what everybody transforms into. The ’80s, nothing against them, but most of their music was, like, structured. We don’t follow the rules. We don’t necessarily make traditional songs, and we’re not gonna talk about the same things. We’re gonna make it bigger and more fun and easier for people to latch onto. It’s not gonna be the same format.”

Maybe, it’s suggested, they can even collaborate with their super-fan Sajak. The smile on Swae’s face erupts into a grin. “Yeah for real! We’ll have him do an intro!”

“It would be so turnt up,” Slim adds from behind his goggles.