For the first time their career, Rae Sremmurd is breaking away from their standard approach. Accompanying the third edition of their SremmLife trilogy are solo albums: Slim Jxmmi’s Jxmtro and Swae Lee’s Swaecation. As the duo's melodic angel, Lee has been melting hearts for years, but his recent solo work—appearances on French Montana’s “Unforgettable,” the Khalid-assisted “The Ways,” and Post Malone’s “Spoil My Night”—has only increased the demand to see the younger Sremm brother stand alone as a solo star.
Swaecation could very well turn out to be a careful-what-you-wish-for disaster. Without the balance of Jxmmi, or a fellow featured artist, Lee is at risk of being exposed as a dependent artist. Or, it could be the incredible album that people have long demanded. There’s only one Mike WiLL Made-It contribution behind the boards, and outside of his brother, Young Thug is oddly the only co-star to appear on the 9-track album.
These choices are eyebrow-raising, but to see him boldly strip away the comfort of Rae Sremmurd is commendable. The possibilities are exciting.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish. My ears are ready to be touched by an angel.
1. "Touchscreen Navigation"
Review number two! Quiet build up. Without Mike WiLL, I wonder what this album will sound like. Oh! This is cotton candy pop. I’m on a cloud. Swae Lee’s vocal pitch sounds like how ice cream sundaes taste. Without the cherry. This is a very mellow first song. You could play this at a blistering volume and it wouldn’t disturb any peace. I’m ready to move in and live inside this peace. Switching from singing to rapping. I really like the hook. I now want a Swae Lee cover of Khalid’s “Location.” As the song ends, I’m already ready to go back. Loving the summer tones. This is a beach house in Kauai music.
2. "Heartbreak In Encino Hills"
Guitar! With the spicy trap hi-hats. Nice little tempo. Rather groovy. There’s something about Swae’s vocals that feel unaffected by gravity. There’s no weight to these notes. It’s surprising to hear him sing over a song with such a slow tempo. I’m used to the belligerent Sremm energy, but this is Sunday morning lounging. There’s no urgency or eruption of spontaneity. Separating him from Jxm allows for consistent leisure. I’m not so focused on his songwriting, but I think he said something about Nyquil. I am very lost in this tranquil vibe. More heartbreak songs with tranquil vibes, please.
3. “Heat Of The Moment”
I wonder if the song is an homage to the ‘80s band Asia. Interesting production switch. I have no idea what kind of wind instrument that is. I swear, they will put trap drums over anything. From exotic flutes to a pulsing 808 pattern. Eh. This one isn’t grabbing me instantly. It’s a bit faster than previous records and has completely ruined the hammock lounging vibes the first two songs introduced. I like the hook more than the first two verses. I would like to shamelessly plug Drake’s “Heat Of The Moment.” The two share the same song title but nothing more. By far one of the more underrated Drake releases.
4. "Offshore" ft. Young Thug
EarDrummers tag! No drums dropped but Young Thug is singing his slimy heart out. This is SMOOTH. I feel like I’m Michael Knight driving down Melrose in KITT. That’s oddly specific and please don't’ ask me to explain it. Potential banger. Potential album favorite. Swae sounds good. Thug harmonies. Who foresaw the kid who put the crack in his crack being baby Wyclef with the vocals? I’m here to testify that Beautiful Thugger Girls was a highly underrated 2017 R&B album. Thug just hit a croaking high note that made my soul do a backflip. I’ll never be able to explain why Thug sounds good doing these weird vocal tricks, but he does. Did he say he’ll slap Trump? I need someone to translate the gargle flow because he’s not mumbling. Can we get a Mike WiLL and Thug album? He’s taking off like an Eagle seeking prey. He turned in like a 32-bar verse and I hope it doesn’t end. SAY WHAT YOU WILL ABOUT YOUNG THUG BUT HES GOING TO GIVE YOU 18 FLOWS IN THE POCKET. Yeah, that Young Thug verse is too much for this to be the crossover moment it deserves to be but I’m playing this on my yacht (read: in my Ford Focus).
5. "Guatemala" ft. Slim Jxmmi
That Thug record was LONG. I may have spent too much time in the microwave but songs that run for four minutes are exhausting. WOOOO!!! These drums. Swae is tapping into that “Unforgettable” influence. Very tropical. He’s showing out with this melody-driven flow. I just realized he doesn’t use Auto-Tune. I think that’s why his voice is able to maintain such warmth. Swae Lee makes music for people who don’t have kids and can afford 14 days on island vacations. This could be the one. It’s incredibly infectious. Jxmmi! He’s on his calm melodic flow. He’s out of character and I love it. Yep. You will hear this one all summer. Mike WiLL has to push the global button and send it up. Favorite. [Editor's Note: "Guatemala" has been selected as a single.]
6. "Lost Angels"
Slow build up. Not haunting, but mysterious. The snare just snapped. Sorta sounds like something The Weeknd might have recorded during the Kissland era. It’s very cloudy. Far more experiment on the vocal structure. I like the contrast between his falsetto pitch and his natural tone. I’m not sure if “Lost Angels” is intoxicating or if it was made while intoxicated. By far the most experimental record of the album. It’s... interesting. I don’t love it on first listen, but I can see this being something. My ears desire Travis Scott doing background vocals, and that’s a strange thing to desire. Could be a grower.
7. "Hurt to Look"
Sounds like waves. Very retro-synth pop vibes. Groovy. Very infectious. He’s skating. There’s a lot more weight on his vocals when he’s being more expressive. Can we get a SZA remix? Or get Swae Lee to appear on “Prom.” Who hurt Swae Lee? I’m not a big fan of gun metaphors or singers illustrating catching cases due to a broken heart; I find it to be rather lazy songwriting. We have to promote healthier ways of dealing with broken hearts. But I like the vibe a lot. Sadboy heartbreak music will always have a place on my iPod. I can see this being a favorite deep cut years from now.
8. "Red Wine"
Neenyo has production credits on this one. He has some great records with PND so I'm excited about this. OH, THAT NOTE! Let's go Swae! We went from T-Pain's "Bartender" to Swae Lee giving us drunk red wine anthems. This is a strong vocal performance. He’s letting his passion bleed. Very minimal production. Lee is sounding like the trap offspring of Stevie Wonder. I wish Stevie Wonder would sing a song with “good gas” as a lyric. Nah. This is too short. He really showed up in the fourth quarter with the last minute vocal flex.
9. "What's In Your Heart?"
Knocking! There’s a nice diversity in the production. A very broad palette of sounds and styles. Lee doesn’t have much range but he makes each atmosphere work for his style. The drums are kicking! I feel like it’s overly aggressive for his eloquence. It doesn't quite fit for his soft falsetto. I would happily accept a duet with Future. I think all unconventional singers should get together and make an album of trap ballads. Rock stars are dead, bring back the super boy bands. I could’ve happily concluded my listening experience at “Red Wine” but “What’s In Your Heart?” isn’t terrible. It’s just one of the rare moments where Swae sounds outside of his element. But I like it.
Swaecation (first listen) closing thoughts:
There’s an undeniable pleasantness about Swae Lee’s voice. His natural texture is a cross between the sugary flavor of Fruity Pebbles cereal and the soft weightlessness of marshmallows. He doesn’t have the strongest vocal range, but he does have more than one trick, and he does an excellent job showcasing this across Swaecation.
The chosen production plays in conjunction with the warmth of his vocals; it’s an album largely rooted in heartbreak that’s made for lounging in the sun with a broken heart and Hennessy on your breath.
I applaud Swaecation for sonically separating the album from the lineage of Rae Sremmurd projects. These aren’t Sremmurd songs with Slim Jxmmi cut off, but material specifically curated to showcase the kind of artist Swae has the promise to be. It’s pretty ironic that “Guatemala,” the guaranteed hit on Swaecation, features his brother. Still, it’s a record that would feel out of place on a Sremmurd album.
Swaecation isn’t an attempt to showcase Swae as some burgeoning star destined to leave his brother in the dust as he climbs Billboard charts. No, Swaecation is a tender passion project that allowed one of rap’s most melodically gifted stars to explore outside the familiar template that has brought him success.
Swaecation is an enjoyable debut, one that feeds the clamoring demand for solo work and leaves room for further growth. On first listen, it’s a nice post-hangover Sunday album, a perfect companion to the Saturday party that is SR3MM.
Early Favorites: "Guatemala," "Touchscreen Navigation," "Red Wine"
Early Not-So-Favorites: "What's In Your Heart"
By Yoh, aka Yoh Lee, aka @Yoh31