We’re only a week into 2014, but already it seems unlikely that we’ll hear a catch phrase this year stickier than “Unlock the swag / The swag, unlock.”
That’s what the brothers of Rae Sremmurd, the young Southern hip-hop duo, shout — and keep shouting — throughout “Unlock the Swag,” a cut from their boisterous debut album, “SremmLife,” which came out Tuesday and ascended quickly to the No. 2 spot on the iTunes chart, right behind Taylor Swift’s “1989.”
What does it mean to unlock the swag? To feel one’s oats, more or less.
Yet the appeal of this song, which rides a typically woozy beat by producer Mike Will Made It, has little to do with the way rappers Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy elaborate (or don’t) on that concept. Rather, it’s in their insistent delivery — a commitment to repetition so persuasive that even Kendrick Lamar, who knows from sticky catch phrases, tweeted the line this week.
“Unlock the Swag” is just one of the mantra-like delights on “SremmLife,” most of which Rae Sremmurd recorded with Will and his production crew, the Ear Drummers, after the brothers moved to Atlanta from their native Tupelo, Miss. (The duo’s unfortunate name is "Ear Drummers" spelled backward.)
There’s also “No Flex Zone,” a rowdy Top 40 hit in which Slim Jimmy and Swae Lee use that repeated chant to warn anyone within hearing distance that attempting to show off around these two simply won’t work.
“No Type,” coproduced by Will and Swae Lee, is slower and sludgier but just as hypnotic as the rappers describe their broad taste in women over a bass-heavy beat that doesn’t move so much as it vibrates. The result feels like a looping Vine video in musical form.
Rae Sremmurd’s dedication to working over a sound, sometimes at the expense of traditional meaning, puts them in the company of Atlanta’s other digital futurists, such as Future and Young Thug, the latter of whom appears (along with Nicki Minaj) on the strip-club anthem “Throw Sum Mo.”
But where those rappers emphasize the grain in their voices, often with the help of electronic processing, to get a decaying effect — a sort of post-Lil Wayne strategy for coming off wiser or freakier or more vulnerable than other MCs — Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy happily play up their eager-pipsqueak vibe.
Take “Up Like Trump,” in which Swae Lee lays out his plan for fattening his wallet: “Forbes list, Forbes list, Forbes list, Forbes,” he crows, gifting us with yet another unlikely slogan, “Read it like the Bible!”
The identifiably adolescent quality that distinguishes “SremmLife” leads to some unsettling moments, as in “My X” and “This Could Be Us,” where the brothers talk about women in callous language made all the more disturbing for how innocently they present it.
And the youthfulness hardens into caricature for “Safe Sex Pay Checks,” the dimwitted club jam that closes the album with hand-me-down party talk about cranking the volume and chugging Champagne.
Words in any quantity, it turns out, tend to trip up Rae Sremmurd. Equipped with only two or three, though, these guys say plenty.