To say that a large part of Rae Sremmurd’s success is indebted to their rambunctious live show would be a gross understatement. Given the rap duo’s explosive performance, alongside Atlanta-native Lil Yachty, this past Saturday at the Fillmore Silver Spring, we can be certain that if ever there was a concert lineup so singularly propelled by the recklessness and exuberance of youth, Rae Sremmurd and Lil Yachty is it.
For various reasons, the opener, the red-haired Lil Yachty (real name: Miles McCollum), is an anomaly in the hip-hop world. Although he was raised in Atlanta, and, together with his equally eccentric crew (the Sailing Team) sports the customary gold chains, fronts, and designer brands of newfound success, the nineteen-year-old’s music (affectionately christened “bubblegum trap”) is unique in that it directly reflects his personality. Unlike other artists, who might act one way and write another, Yachty’s music is a bona fide expression of a rare sort of goofy good-naturedness, a youthful optimism that is visible even from a distance.
On record he is whimsical, almost comical, playing with the lyrical tropes of 21st century hip-hop (money, fashion, the consequences of sudden fame) in a way that suggests he’s just having fun, barely taking it seriously, still in awe that the music he’s made could have warranted a nationwide tour, and yet embracing the wildness of the experience as part of his identity. On stage he reflects many of the same characteristics: the designer brands and gold jewelry clashing with sky blue sweatpants and worn Nike sneakers, the big, bashful, affable smile giving way to bursts of frenzied movement. At times Yachty tries to act tough, but what he’s clearly coming to realize is that his audience really loves him for how awkwardly his happy-go-lucky teenage self fits into the overall Atlanta trap-rapper model.
Not only that, but he’s so obviously having such a blast performing that it’s difficult even to critique the sheer vapidity, the emptiness of his music. Whipping his signature dyed/braided/beaded hair all over the place, Yachty’s live show still seems to be based off a kind of starry-eyed amazement, as if to say, “I’m really getting paid to do this? I’m really getting a check to go crazy on stage every night with my best friends?”
In contrast, the brothers that make up the rap duo Rae Sremmurd (Khalif “Swae Lee” Brown and Aaquil “Slim Jxmmi” Brown) are veterans of the spectacle, and fittingly, they arrive onstage with an attitude equal parts regal nonchalance, wild animation, and blatant intoxication. One immediately gets the impression the two have done this all before, grown up almost too fast in the two years since their club turn-up tracks became inescapable worldwide. Following years of hard work outside of the spotlight, theirs was a meteoric ascent, and now finally on the main stage, they don’t let a second of it go to waste. These are the self-described Black Beatles of the hip-hop world, and by God do they act like the rock stars they claim to be descended from.
After watching the brothers perform, however, there’s no doubt a crucial aspect of their success is the ever-creative, laser-like production of their tracks, born from and guided by Atlanta superproducer Mike WiLL Made-It and his crack team of visionary hitmakers at EarDrummers Entertainment. Complex’s Damien Scott may have said it best in December of 2015 when, in discussing the brothers’ debut album, he wrote that “when Mike WiLL Made-It is lacing you with the finest intergalactic trap money can buy, it’s not hard to understand how Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmy were able to cook up an 11-track joyride full of indelible hooks and exuberant verses . . . the project is intensely focused—focused on fun.” Think about that for a second: “the finest intergalactic trap money can buy.” That’s as volatile and intense to witness in real life as it is succinct and eloquent to see in writing.
Unsurprisingly, the aforementioned electrically charged instrumentals go over well any time they’re played loud, very loud. Thankfully, the Fillmore is equipped for this, delivering a several thousand-watt punch that essentially sends sonic tidal waves of bass careening into the audience. No doubt screaming along to the chorus of ‘Unlock The Swag’ as vibrations shake the floor, walls, and ceiling around you ranks among the Top 5 Possible Human Experiences. (Just ask Kendrick Lamar.)
For the most part, the Rae Sremmurd set list is an uninterrupted fusillade of club hits (‘Come Get Her’, ‘No Flex Zone’, ‘No Type’, etc.), though unfortunately, their surprisingly diverse audience tends to get lost whenever they stray from that most predictable path. For an act that dominated both radio airwaves and club sound-systems throughout most of late 2014 and all of 2015, it’s safe to say their sophomore effort (SremmLife 2, released this past August) didn’t land on its intended market with nearly the same force or accuracy as its predecessor.
Thankfully, the brothers have enough raucous energy to keep the show going no matter what. By the end of the third song the stage is coated in a layer of alcohol, soda, sweat, and the innards of one of the two pineapples Swae Lee has brought out of the wings with him. To the thundering bass drop of the Ty Dolla $ign cut ‘Blasé’, he smashes the second on the ground, sending yellow chunks flying, then hurls the rest of the fruit into the crowd, where it’s caught by a rabid fan. As the song finishes, his older brother makes a show of carefully selecting three girls from the front row throng to climb on stage, effectively beginning a twerk contest to the tune of the Juicy J-assisted ‘Shake That Fast’. Thereafter, his placated expression challenges the assembled mob of teens with one question: “Are you not entertained?!”
Towards the end of the set, both brothers are shirtless, beads of sweat glistening on lean, sinewy torsos from the sheer exertion of the performance. Both are also exhausted: Slim Jxmmi looks extraordinarily, uncomfortably high, the combined effects of several substances seemingly having hit him all at once, while his younger brother simply seems out of breath from having screamed the lyrics to their songs for an hour straight without rest. But they’re all smiles nevertheless. Through it all, Rae Sremmurd are the vets, pushing 100% youthful energy into a characteristically vigorous performance. They have the advantage of an endless turn-up on their side – let’s hope they don’t slow down anytime too soon.