Rae Sremmurd, Famous Dex, And The Art Of The Turn-Up

Don’t just listen — watch — for maximum fun

The proper barometer for a Rae Sremmurd song isn’t subject matter, lyrics, or even production; the best and only way to judge their success is on a turn-up scale. If one is not fully turnt within the first minute of the song, then Sremmdudes have failed in their mission. They instinctively know this fact, and begin their posse-establishing mixtape, Trail Mix, with a simple question: "Are you ready?" Barely a year since the release of their debut album, the answer is a resounding yes. 2015's SremmLife was a compact, 11-track set driven by the ecstatic highlights – "No Flex Zone," "No Type," "Throw Sum Mo," and "Up Like Trump" – that made it appear as though they were merely tossing off perfect singles. Trail Mix, while not an official follow-up to that album, nonetheless shows that the lightning they captured last year wasn’t a fluke, even if friends like BoBo Swae, Impxct, and Riff 3x inevitably take a up a bit too much microphone time.

Their pal Riff 3x handles the hook on "Doggin’," which traffics in a tiresome level of misogynistic cliché – but one will probably forget that once the minimal beat’s distorted buzz starts chiming. Something similar happens with "Ride," which interpolates Three Six Mafia’s coarse "Slob on My Knob" into the tape’s longest but most energetic track. The only party fouls on Trail Mix are on "Faith" and "One of a Kind," where the momentum is halted as the tape slows to a languid crawl.

Another young turn-up prodigy, Chicago's Famous Dex, avoids even those slight stumbles on his own recent mixtape, #OhhMannGoddDamm. Though he might look a bit like Young Thug, Dex's high-pitched voice places his nasally, frantic raps closer to Houston’s Sauce Twinz. Lyrically, he doesn’t reach that duo’s heights nor does he match other young Chicago peers like Lil Herb, but he makes up for it with sheer persona and force of will. Just listening to his songs doesn’t cut it – keep a YouTube tab open and watch him party, or you’ll miss half the fun. "Hit Em Wit It" is built around shots of the lanky rapper and his buds throwing around money in empty rooms (a low-budget Chicago specialty pioneered by GBE), combined with Microsoft Paint-style outlining that accentuates Dex’s gleeful expressions. Dex often release songs for free on SoundCloud and follows up with a video only days later, so he understands the worth of views in making a video stand out amongst others.

Where Rae Sremmurd are skilled at crafting irresistible party anthems, Famous Dex’s songs throw out typical verse-chorus-verse structure. The tight songwriting of Sremmurd and their primary collaborator Mike WiLL Made-It focuses on radio-ready tracks; Dex much less so. Mid-tape track "Ciabatta" starts with a hook from Houston rapper Dice Soho; Dex pops up for a verse, but the song quickly spirals into overexcited ad-libs (“Yeah yeah yeah!,” “Oh man goddamn!,” “Sauce!”), each one attempting to trump the volume of the last. Recording songs that barely last longer than three minutes, Dex’s lack of interest in strict lyricism or musical structure shows that these songs exist to amplify feelings of excitement rather than being overly studied headphones experiences.

The rest of #OhhMannGoddDamm follows, whether he is joined by Lil Yachty, Rich the Kid, Famous Irv, or appears on a solo track (“I Ain’t Talking Spaulding”). Dex’s generosity of spirit comes through in the video for “Ciabatta”, where both rappers and their friends joyously goof off. Metro Boomin’s oscillating beat adds to the feeling of madness, but the key ingredient is again the video – it's hard not to want to dance like Dex or Soho once you watch. Dex's music videos show the dynamism of being an up-and-coming rapper whose main goal is to stunt and make fans wish they shared the same lifestyle. Yet it’s the low-stakes, rushed quality of these videos that makes Dex relatable, in spite of the thousands of dollars in his hands.

Though Rae Sremmurd's command of the hit-making process is their greatest skill, the duo's videos are a keen extension of their beautifully warped vision. “By Chance” showed the brothers and friends at a stormy beach party; “Over Here” plopped them into a green screen-filled journey of dinosaurs and futuristic skate parks. These videos peel back the lid on the imaginations of artists, whereas Dex’s feel like Snapchat-like tours of an artist’s life — or more accurately, the life they want us to believe they are living. Famous Dex and Rae Sremmurd’s music is tightly woven into their public personas, and their videos illuminate tangible and abstract qualities, respectively. To take nothing away from 3-D dinosaurs, it is these rappers’ own dynamism that makes these videos worth watching.

Movie & TV Awards 2018