By Eric Renner Brown
Updated August 18, 2016 at 11:47 AM EDT
  • Music

When Rae Sremmurd crashed the hip-hop scene with their 2015 debut SremmLife, they did so with an arsenal of high-energy anthems (“No Flex”), infectious love tunes for the Snapchat age (“This Could Be Us”), and a deep well of charisma. The Atlanta duo, comprised of Swae Lee, 21, and Slim Jxmmi, 22, have now returned with SremmLife 2, an ambitious collection brimming with beats from mentor Mike Will Made-It and plenty of pie-in-the-sky boasting: Jxmmi closes his verse on the standout, “Black Beatles,” by boldly proclaiming, “Black Beatle, bitch, me and Paul McCartney related.”

Over the last five decades of pop music, musicians have often compared themselves to the Fab Four — Kanye West even deployed the same metaphor on his 2010 track “Gorgeous” — but in Sremmurd’s case the likening feels closer to wishful thinking. As much as they might’ve endeared themselves to fans with their bubbly personalities, SremmLife 2 falls short musically.

“Black Beatles” is, in many ways, peak Rae Sremmurd. It’s one of the eight songs out of SremmLife 2‘s 11 tracks that was helmed by Mike Will Made-It, the production pro behind smashes including Miley’s “We Can’t Stop” and Beyoncé’s “Formation.” Will’s nocturnal haze defines their sound; the duo’s name derives from Will’s label, EarDrummers, spelled backward. Like the SremmLife highlight “Throw Sum Mo,” which featured Nicki Minaj and Young Thug, a more seasoned rapper stops by to contribute a show-stealing verse — this time it’s the recently freed Gucci Mane. But, as with too many of Sremmurd’s verses, Jxmmi’s McCartney line tumbles out awkwardly, like he hadn’t practiced his cadence.

Lee and Jxmmi’s rhyming ineptitude crops up repeatedly on SremmLife 2. It’s not just that densely lyrical MCs like Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q have released poetic masterworks in 2016; on SremmLife 2, Rae Sremmurd are overshadowed by their own guests. On “Shake It Fast,” for instance, Lee’s uninspired lines — “I get to ballin’ like Kobe in the fourth quarter” — seem particularly mediocre next to Juicy J’s requests for a squeeze to shake it “like a wet puppy” and “like some pancake mix in the morning.”

Slick rhymes may not be as central to hip-hop these days — just look at a star like Drake, who has instead prioritized humor and meme-ready phrasing to great effect. But whether they’re reminiscing about ex-lovers (Now That I Know”) or bragging about wooing new ones (“By Chance”), Lee and Jxmmi don’t do so in memorable or insightful ways. Even a battery of Mike Will’s topshelf beats can’t save SremmLife 2 from feeling emotionally hollow at times.

Rae Sremmurd

  • Music