It’s a rare moment of unmasked relaxation for the pair who have been performing and recording almost nonstop since they burst onto the charts with two of 2014’s biggest songs, “No Flex Zone” and “No Type,” both of which went platinum. When we meet one late afternoon in March, Hip-Hop Cash Princes Jimmy and Swae have just returned from South Africa, where they performed a show and shot a video for “This Could Be Us,” a potential single from their 2015 debut album, Sremmlife.
“This is like our home studio, we all have studios in our rooms so we are recording all the time,” says Jimmy, real name Aaquil Brown, who uses Pro Tools 11 and Logic to dabble. “My brother makes beats and I DJ,” Jimmy gestures, mimicking rewinding a disc. “It’s like one of those colleges for kids who do music: Mike Will and Rae Sremmurd.”
We have just waved goodbye to super producer and fellow Cash Prince Mike Will Made It, who had stepped out to greet us with a large blunt in hand. Back within the white walled mansion, Mike and members of his Ear Drummer Records, an Interscope imprint, are blasting a pounding pop beat with female vocals that reverberates across the marble floors.
Full List: Hip-Hop Cash Princes 2015
Jimmy, 23, and Khalif “Swae Lee,” 21, never got the chance to study music but they are receiving prime tutelage from mentor Mike Will Made It, real name Michael Williams. The Atlanta-based producer is credited with plucking the duo from obscurity, signing them to Ear Drummers and providing the beats for the majority of their commercial output to date.
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“We would turn on the beat and [Swae] Lee would be jumping up and down rapping and his brother Jimmy is right behind him, ad-libbing,” recalls Mike Will Made It. “The energy I felt from that, I had to step back like I’ve never seen no shit like this before.”
“We’ve been doing it since we were kids – we would make the song and put together a cool little video and put it on YouTube and promote it,” says Jimmy in the gravelly voice of a smoker.
The duo met an acquaintance tangentially related to Ear Drummers and started trading beats, eventually receiving a call imploring them to move to Atlanta. The brothers left their jobs in Tupelo, MS – Swae had been working at an Olive Garden , Jimmy at a Toyota factory – and drove East in 2013. It was a brave move, considering they had already upped sticks to Atlanta once before but had to return to Tupelo when they weren’t successful.
“My first job was, like, McDonalds,” Swae remembers, peering through his twists. “Man, we had some shitty jobs.”
“We were either supposed to be in school or selling drugs,” continues Jimmy. The duo clarify that they never peddled narcotics, but “the path our family was on, it would have been so simple.”
Instead, under Mike Will, Rae Sremmurd (which spells Ear Drummers backwards), cooked up platinum hits that became dancefloor anthems—and viral successes. “No Flex Zone” boasts over 89 million YouTube views, which pales in comparison to “No Type”‘s 166 million.
In person, they are as energetic as their roving melodic verses, constantly completing each others’ sentences. Now they face the challenge of being more than their catchy hooks. To overcome it, they have a plan: “Drop the album. Drop another album-” starts Swae. “And just keep dropping them,” Jimmy finishes.
Their January release debuted at no. 1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart but has moved a modest 200,000 copies. Record sales doesn’t seem to be affecting their earning power: The duo are set to play stadiums this summer, supporting Cash King Nicki Minaj’s tour and are already grossing some $25,000 per solo show according to PollStar Pro.
They harbor lofty goals: Swae says he would have loved to work with Elvis or Bob Marley, but that Madonna is still on his wishlist. “I want to have a street named Swae Lee, it doesn’t need to be a busy street,” Swae grins.
“I want to disappear and be on an island somewhere where no one knows me and I’m rich as hell and I don’t have to do shit for the rest of my life,” Jimmy muses.
Poolside, the smell of marijuana floats across the water as the boys explain their philosophy.
“A ‘no flex zone’ is an area where a lot of people can be themselves, live their life, get their money,” explains Swae in his high-pitched clipped voice.
“[It’s] where they can just do their thing,” concludes Jimmy, who has since borrowed my Ray-Ban wayfarers for shade.
As for preferred partners, Swae insists he has “no type,” except a fiscally independent woman.
“They can be black, white, Latino, European, tall, short,” Swae lists.
“I think I like strippers,” Jimmy interjects.
Whether the brothers can translate their youthful enthusiasm into sustained success remains to be seen. They certainly have monetary aspirations – songs reference billionaire Donald Trump and state “safe sex and pay checks / that’s what it’s all about” – but they will need more than a handful of hits to go from good-natured goofballs to millionaire moguls. Still, their alliance with the more experienced Mike Will Made It could help both.
“Blue eyes, brown eyes, they can be goofy, they can be serious,” Swae continues. “But they definitely got to be employed,” he concludes. “That’s my type.”