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OPINION: Swae Lee: The King Midas of features



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Rae Sremmurd's Swae Lee performs on the Sahara stage April 15, 2016, at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California. Tribune News Service Buy Photos

Swae Lee has an interesting portfolio, lending his autotuned voice to multiple different artists. He was a part of two of the biggest songs last year: Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode” and Post Malone’s “Sunflower.” 

The interesting thing is that I can’t imagine these songs without Swae Lee. Oftentimes I’ll hear a feature on a pop or rap track and immediately spitball names of others that could have done it just as well or better.

I don’t do that with Swae Lee.

He managed to make saying “Someone said” over and over on "Sicko Mode" more compelling than Drake’s verse about falling asleep on a plane or whatever. I could listen to a sprawling, four-minute track of Swae Lee just saying those two words. He ate that.

I can’t even begin to imagine “Sunflower” without him. He takes that chorus for a ride, letting the “oohs” fly, making the song entirely his own. Half the time I forget it’s a Post Malone song until Post shows up midway through.

So, how come Swae Lee can’t replicate these types of hits on his own? His own group, Rae Sremmurd, with Slim Jxmmi, doesn’t have near the popularity that Swae Lee does on his own.

I can’t think of anyone I know that actually listens to Rae Sremmurd. The last time I heard the band was when its 2016 song “Black Beatles” soundtracked all those god-awful mannequin challenge videos.

“That girl is a real crowd pleaser,” Swae Lee sang as my religion teacher stood frozen at the front of the room. 

Why was that a thing? And what made that song a part of it? Why did writing this column unlock the cellar of my brain, allowing my teenaged demons to rise to the surface? Why are all of my demons singing Rae Sremmurd?

These are all valid questions.

Honestly, Swae Lee performing better on features probably has a logical explanation. He’s collaborating with strong, established artists with weathered teams of creatives. The production is sleek and polished. The songs are treated with care. “Sicko Mode” has surgical beat changes. “Sunflower” has perfectly programmed percussion. Metro Boomin’s “Dreamcatcher” features haunting synths.

Rae Sremmurd has songs. But Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi are just saying things over generic beats. Rae Sremmurd doesn’t have anything unique or interesting to draw people in. 

Listening to Rae Sremmurd is like eating a bread sandwich. Listening to Swae Lee on another artist’s song is like eating Gordon Ramsay’s beef wellington.

Swae Lee should end Rae Sremmurd and just go solo. In August he released “Won’t Be Late” with Drake. It’s not as exciting as other songs he’s worked on, but it’s a step in the right direction.

But I’m not sure if there really is a logical explanation to Swae Lee. It could just be magic.

I think he could make anything a hit as long as his name isn’t the first one on it.

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