From the moment Rae Sremmurd dropped their sophomore album SremmLife 2, “Black Beatles” was a standout. Fans instantly gravitated to the smooth, vibe-y, Mike Will Made It-produced song, but amplified its popularity by editing photos of the real Beatles with pictures of members Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi, Mike Will Made It and featured artist Gucci Mane.
But it’s the viral popularity of the Mannequin Challenge, an online meme that finds participants posing as still as possible while the camera constantly moves, that has catapulted the song to the next strata. After brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi happened upon Colony High School’s Mannequin Challenge video on Twitter (soundtracked by their burgeoning hit), the pair did their own take. The song began to go viral from there and eventually earned the duo their first Number One hit. Everyone from top athletes to presidential candidates to an actual Beatle have done their take, and their former tourmate NickI Minaj even released a remix to celebrate her “Throw Sum Mo” collaborators’ success.
In the midst of the rise of “Black Beatles,” Swae Lee spoke with Rolling Stone about the Mannequin Challenge, a chance meeting with Paul McCartney and how the song delayed their album’s release.
“Black Beatles” was one of the final songs recorded for SremmLife 2 and a reason why the album was delayed. How did the song come about?
Mike Will had made a bunch of beats — his latest batch — and then I heard that beat. I was like “Yo, that beat is so crazy.” And I just took it home that night to my studio where I record all our hits at. We do all our songs there. Our album was due in three days, and it was getting out in two days. So we laid the song down or whatever. [Singing] “That girl is a real…”
I had a couple different versions of it, actually. I sent that to Mike Will, then boom! Mike Will was in the studio with Gucci Mane — as soon as Gucci Mane was out [of jail], they was cookin’ up ’cause they go way back. So Mike Will said [to Gucci], “Lemme play this joint from Rae Sremmurd.” Gucci said, “Man, I rock with them young boys.” Boom — he laid his verse down. It’s like we had a complete band. “Black Beatles.” It barely made our album. We stayed so long trying to edit verses and edit the beat. We finally got everything finalized, and we finalized our album, then dropped our album and the song just took off.
Why the title? Did the concept and inspiration hit once Gucci joined?
I came up with that whole concept as I was just rhyming. I’m just thinking of dope, big concepts, just like different phrases I could say. The whole concept “Black Beatles” was about the way you dress, the way you perform at your shows. You have people who love your craft and your music. You’re traveling around and living the whole rock star lifestyle. I always loved John Lennon’s swag. I like his glasses. Saying “Black Beatles” is a lingo. I just thought it was a dope phrase and it went with the whole song that I was making. And then the intro — [Singing] “I sent flowers, but you said you didn’t receive them” — it’s like the heartbreak of the song. It’s got all the elements.
Were you and your brother fans of the Beatles’ music before?
We always liked their tunes; the whole movement, their style. But that’s just one reference that just came to mind. In a lot of [our] songs, we try to sound like heavy metal. Just loud. We have a lot of music with rock & roll references. And we live our lifestyles like rock stars.
Now with the Mannequin Challenge, this is now the second meme to come from the song following one where people photoshopped your faces on famous Beatles photos when it first came out.
Yeah, that was pretty funny! We even recreated their Abbey Road photo for our video, or like, we crossed Abbey Road, but we actually crossed a road in Atlanta. But we did our version of the whole walk across Abbey Road. Now everybody wants to be a black Beatle.
And now that Paul McCartney did the Mannequin Challenge, it feels full circle. What was your reaction when you saw that?
So I was on my tour bus, and I woke up and checked my Twitter, and everybody was hitting me up with “Paul McCartney did the Mannequin Challenge!” I’m like “What song did he play?” That was the first thing I was thinking! He played “Black Beatles” and it just blew our minds! ‘Cause when you’ve reached a real Beatle, it’s the ultimate co-sign. It’s like dang, respect. We reached a real Beatle and it’s crazy. And the fact that he said “Love those black Beatles,” it’s crazy.
The first time we went to Coachella with Mike Will, before we blew up, we met Paul McCartney, and he gave us some uplifting words of wisdom. We were humbled. It was a rock star moment to have this dude telling us that. He didn’t even know us, but he was just talking to us. I guess it was our aura or I don’t know what it was. He just took the time to speak with us before we even made the song. It was crazy.
— Paul McCartney (@PaulMcCartney) November 10, 2016
What have been your favorite interpretations of the Mannequin Challenge so far?
McCartney, of course. LeBron James, Steph Curry. This might sound crazy, but we saw this dog do it. The dog that did it was like frozen, sitting in chairs, sitting on his back. Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama did it. There’s just so many names. Like all kinds of big names have done it to our song. It’s mind-blowing. 80-year-olds, five-year-olds, black people, white people, Indian people. Every race is doing it.
— Ryan T (@Ryan_Thomas02) November 16, 2016
“Black Beatles” is far from the first hit you two have had, but what makes this song feel so special for you and your brother?
Our biggest hit prior to this song was “No Type.” It went platinum or two times platinum. I don’t even know. A lot of people were like “Man, how they gonna top this? How they gonna top that?” This is definitely the highest we’ve ever been on the charts. We broke into the pop world. We broke out of just the hip-hop world. And I think all those hits before this one just built our fans up for this bomb to drop, for “Black Beatles” to drop when it did. Everybody was ready for it.
Any collaborations with Paul McCartney in the future? It wouldn’t be his first foray into hip-hop.
Oh man, you never know. I’m definitely very down for that. That’s necessary for the culture. It’s only right. We can mellow down and make some crazy stuff. Make some platinum stuff. That would be like the real Beatles.