Rae Sremmurd, “SremmLife 2”

(Ear Drummer/Interscope)

Hip-hop wasn’t always so serious. Before hip-hop became filled with beefing, struggling and self-loathing, it also included a healthy dose of inventive party music, from the Sugarhill Gang through De La Soul. And Rae Sremmurd is born from that tradition.

Their debut album last year was filled with energetic, offbeat raps like the left-field hit “No Flex Zone.” With their follow-up “SremmLife 2,” Mississippi’s Brown brothers, also known as Jxmmi and Swae Lee, have opted to be even zanier, both with their rhymes and the beats from producer (and Miley Cyrus collaborator) Mike Will Made-It.

That boldness leads to couplets like “Chinchilla hella furry/Catch me on a yacht eating curry” in the middle of “Came a Long Way,” which is essentially a more serious song about taking stock of their new successful lives. It also leads to the wild opener “Start a Party,” where they attack rhymes with a variety of tempos and vocal ticks, their voices cracking with excitement and cool. On “Swang,” they move from sounding like they’re sucking helium to growling at each other about going to school to be a doctor.

Though “Black Beatles,” which features Gucci Mane, doesn’t immediately remind you of Lennon and McCartney, it does show how Jxmmi and Swae Lee tap into what today’s teens want. It also shows they are both pretty good singers when they want to be, a neat trick they repeat on the lovely “Just Like Us,” which could easily have improved the new Justin Bieber album.

Rae Sremmurd sometimes gets dissed in the hip-hop world as a novelty for daring to enjoy themselves as they rap, but “SremmLife 2” actually shows that there’s a whole lot of cleverness behind the seeming simplicity. Who else would turn “All my girls do yoga/ then get high at night” into a mantra in “Do Yoga”?



Nels Cline, “Lovers” (Blue Note)

Cline is alternative music’s jagged edge. Be it his position of power (chords) in Wilco or his cranky contributions to a diverse list of artists (Bob Dylan, Julius Hemphill, Lydia Lunch), the guitarist/composer skates among keening free jazz, irked post-punk and cinematic ambience. Most unusual is Cline’s frenetic but elegantly nuanced noise on his solo records, working alone or with his eponymous Trio or Singers. Nothing in his catalog, however, prepares you for the tender, Technicolor scope that is the double LP “Lovers.”

Arranged (by Michael Leonhart) like the shadowy, experimental big band albums of George Russell and Gil Evans (with a sweet touch of Henry Mancini), “Lovers” allows Cline and his 20-plus players to re-create the romantic mood music of the ’50s in the guitarist’s spiky image.

There are some covers — such as Rodgers and Hart’s sweetly flustered “Glad to Be Unhappy” — but “Lovers” is hardly a covers album. Cline’s compositional mix on tunes like “Hairpin & Hatbox” and “The Bond” is as conventionally romancing as it is downright creepy.

A.D. AMOROSI, Philadelphia Inquirer


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