Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr Any group that puts out singles as big as “No Flex Zone,” “No Type” and “This Could Be Us” is going to get a second album. But even at the height of its success, Rae Sremmurd seemed destined to be a pop snapshot frozen in time at the exact moment of trap-rap’s commercial popularity. For all its superficial joys, SremmLife was not world-building stuff, simply a vehicle for Khalif “Swae Lee” Brown and Aaquil “Slim Jxmmi” Brown to spazz out and rap about partying and protected sex. The brothers’ debut didn’t have much to say or a creative way to say it; but the follow-up album SremmLife 2 is another matter. This is thanks in part to Mike WILL Made-It, producer of mega-hits like Ciara’s “Body Party,” Rihanna’s “Pour it Up” and, most delightfully, Ace Hood’s “Bugatti.” His is the real creative vision both Rae Sremmurd albums–it’s worth remembering that the group’s name spelled backwards is Ear Drummers,” Mike Will’s label. SremmLife represented real commercial success in a time of drought, but even though it gave Will three platinum singles, it didn’t do much to extend his brand. So with a mastermind feeling the pressure to remain relevant and two front men armed with youth and diminishing returns, SremmLife 2 feels like a repeat of the debut. But despite feeling even more like it’s chasing a trend rather than setting one, the album features two of the most exciting, surprising and best rap songs of the year. “Do Yoga” and “Black Beatles” feel like shifts in what the listening public should come to expect from its pop-rap exercises. The former is a New Age meditation on a beat, the kind of light, cloudy sound that’s only found in Lil’ B or Lil’ Yacthy, in the fringes of weird rap. Hearing it in the context of a major pop record is exciting and represents a further colliding and consolidation of rap styles. Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi usually only have one delivery method to their raps: freak the fuck out like over-caffeinated Young Thug juniors. Here they find depth and wisdom (or at least the illusion of it) by subduing and sedating their delivery, which suits a song about the power of yoga. “Black Beatles,” though, is the real triumph. It’s lyrics alone make it a year-long earworm as Swae Lee raps about his John Lennon lenses and Slim Jxmmi says he’s related to Paul McCartney, unwilling to worry about broke haters. It’s a reminder that the duo is at its best when they confidently spout swag nonsense. The only reasonable thing to do is buy in. That all this is happening over what is more or less a New Order song makes it all the more wonderful. Mike Will has been able to push the envelope in his beats in the past, creating landscapes that sound impossible to rap over and getting the best out of performers, but “Black Beatles” is a new high. It’s as if he spent the 18 months since “March Madness” studying how to synthesize that song’s spooky, haunted jaggedness into a breezy mainstream rap track. The result is something that oozes nerviness and comfort at the same time. The rest of SremmLife 2 doesn’t get anywhere near those heights. But it does have its share of more common pleasures: DJ Mustard and Lil’ Jon show up on “Set the Roof Off” and do exactly what one would expect them to do. Juicy J runs through the last of his goodwill on “Shake it Fast” while Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi talk about the same three things they always talk about. The record’s lowest moments are repetitive: Start a Party” sounds like standard issue Mike Will, while on “Real Chill” Swae and Slim need to take the song’s title more to heart. There are experiments that don’t work and party songs that don’t make you feel like partying (fuck outta here, Juciy J). But these are minor faults when stacked up against the album’s highlights. SremmLife 2 should have been a washed-over retread of past success. Instead, it might be the album that pushes pop-rap forward.