XXL Links With Hip-Hop’s New Favorite Duo Rae Sremmurd
All Things Go
Two brothers from Tupelo, Miss. dominate as hip-hop’s most popular new duo.
Words kris ex
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of XXL Magazine. Don't miss our cover stories on Meek Mill and Rick Ross right here.
2014 was quite a year for brothers Aaquil and Khalif Brown. The two form the duo Rae Sremmurd, whose first two singles—the gleefully hedonistic “No Flex Zone” and the objectification as non-objectification ode “No Type,” both produced, in part, by their label head Mike WiLL Made-It—were both certified platinum. Their debut album, SremmLife, the first release from Mike WiLL’s Ear Drummer imprint, debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 charts, as well as taking the top slot on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and Top Rap Albums charts. They appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and recently moved into an L.A. mansion.
It’s a noteworthy breakthrough because—despite the co-sign of Mike WiLL who’s had a multi-year run as a top producer, building out hits as disparate as G.O.O.D. Music’s “Mercy,” Juicy J’s “Bandz A Make Her Dance” and Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop”—the Brothers Brown ascended into the musical stratosphere almost solely off of the strength of the two singles alone, without building the type of ground-level mixtape bases that have birthed acts like Migos, Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan. It’s also noteworthy, because just a year ago, they were homeless in Tupelo, Mississippi. Or not.
“We was in a bando,” says Khalif, who raps under the name Swae Lee.
“Nah, the apartment wasn’t it?” counters Aaquil, a.k.a. Slim Jxmmi. “We was in an apartment. About to leave.”
“Oh, yeah,” says Swae, agreeing, but only to a point. He quickly adds—defiantly, nonchalantly, off-handedly—“I was in a bando.”
It’s hard to take anything that the brothers say at face value. This is due partially to the fact that they’re perennial jokesters, often shooting out lies and misdirection with a deadpan delivery. During the course of this conversation, they give their ages as 24 and/or 27 (Jxmmi) and 18 (Swae), which is researchably incorrect. Swae also refers to himself as “the tall lighskint one” (true) and says that, “Slim is the one that got the baby voice” (not true; Jxmmi’s speaking voice today is deep and corse and airy—it almost sounds as if it’s coming from someone twice his size). And, due to Swae’s younger brother tendencies—he’ll interrupt, steal the show, make ridiculous statements, run off into tangents of melody—Jxmmi seems older and more mature than he really is. Jxmmi also seems to have a better knack at recalling the past. “We was in this little apartment, man,” says Jxmmi. “And we were about to get evicted.”
The brothers can agree—to a degree—as to what took place in that apartment. “Girls would always come to our crib and chill with us,” says Jxmmi. “We had a studio, so we’d record with fine-ass hoes right here. We’d be recording making music for these fine-ass hoes to listen to.”
Swae would make beats on a Dell computer, equipped with NuWindow and Fruity Loops software. At some point, they learned how to engineer their sessions and Jxmmi would DJ the numerous parties they would host. “That’s how we used to get ourselves popping in our city,” says Jxmmi. “We used have that little bando, or that little apartment, we used to go get a whole bunch of cases of beers, fill up the fridge with beers, go get some weed, and we’d be smoking, drinking, partying.”
Before they collaborated with Nicki Minaj, Pusha T and Big Sean; before they met Rihanna and Drake and Kanye West; before they became friends with Wiz Khalifa and Miley Cryus, they were a trio known as Dem Outta St8 Boyz, who made videos to songs like the 808s & Heartbreak-ish faux R&B number “Just Like You.” And while still in their real teen years, “Party Animal,” where they bust out choreographed dance moves while singing a hook that would not be out of place at a cake and ice cream-fueled Chuck E. Cheese birthday party. “We were just exploring,” says Jxmmi.
Their exploration and local reputation led them to an opportunity to audition for a talent contest in Memphis, which would result in an appearance on BET’s 106 & Park. To hear Jxmmi tell it, it was an orchestrated move to get from their parents’ home. “We didn’t want to be a burden on them so we really just, like, left,” he says. “We got kicked out. But, we planned to get kicked out. Like, we knew we were gonna get kicked out.”
“No we didn’t,” counters Swae. “We wanted to be on BET, so we was like, Man, our mom won’t let us go,” continues Jxmmi. “So we went on BET and we just started arguing [with them].” Swae disagrees with a drawn-out, “Nahhhh...”
“I promise you. Mom kicked us out. We went to Memphis. That’s what I did,” Jxmmi says finally. “That’s what happened behind the scenes to get us to Memphis to go be on BET this one time. We took the long way to get us kicked out.”
“They even got to arguing on some real stuff,” Swae adds.
“Yeah,” laughs Jxmmi. “I had to make it a real argument to get kicked out!”
Even if they can’t agree on where exactly they lived a year ago, or how exactly they got there, they’re basking in this moment of new fame and have similar hopes for the future. “I wanna know when the girls gonna come up to us and start being like, Yo, let’s go up there and fuck right now—and stop beating around the bush?” wonders Swae.
Has that happened yet? “Sometimes it does,” says Jxmmi. “Yeah. But I want it to happen every time. Like, Oh my God! Swae Lee!”
“Yeah, “ Jxmmi agrees. “Like, when a girl comes back, she’s train-to-go. To fuck.”
“Well, yeah, that has happened,” recalls Swae. “I want to do it every time, though.”
“Every time,” Jxmmi says with a grin.
And he’s not joking.