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The Hot 100 Success of ‘Sunflower’ Is Validation For Swae Lee’s Solo Stardom (And Potentially Bad News For Rae Sremmurd)

This week, a brand new pop solo star was unofficially minted, as Swae Lee -- one half of hitmaking hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd-- notched his first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, as a co-lead with Post Malone on "Sunflower (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse)." 

It feels a very long time coming, since Lee already appeared poised to develop into a breakout star on his personal over a 12 months in the past. After having fun with the largest crossover hit of his profession together with Rae companion (and actual life brother) Slim Jxmmi with the Gucci Mane-featuring, Billboard Hot 100-topping "Black Beatles" in late 2016-17, Lee stole the stage on his personal in 2017, because the hook singer on French Montana's unavoidable dancehall-flavored smash "Unforgettable," a No. three Hot 100 Hit in August 2017.

Then final May, Rae Sremmurd launched SR3MM, a three-disc set which included one-disc solo spotlights for each for each Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi. Though the set's lead single was "Powerglide" -- a comparatively conventional lure banger co-produced by longtime mentor Mike WiLL Made-It and that includes each rappers in lead roles, which peaked at No. 28 on the Hot 100 -- essentially the most attention-grabbing materials on SR3MM was largely discovered on Lee's Swaecation disc. The nine-track LP-within-an-LP continued adopted within the path of "Unforgettable" on widescreen, irresistible and infrequently internationally minded pop/hip-hop hybrids like "Hurt to Look," "Touchscreen Navigation" and "Guatemala." It appeared like all it might take was for one in all them to catch on with radio and streaming audiences to determine Lee as a pop star in his personal proper. 

But none of them did. "Guatemala" peaked at No. 84 on the Hot 100, however that was the one Swaecation monitor to even grace the chart -- and the general SR3MM set additionally posted underwhelming numbers, changing into the primary of the duo's three albums to overlook the highest 5 of the Billboard 200 albums chart (it debuted at No. 6), regardless of its 27 total tracks offering a seeming boon for its streaming totals. Swae Lee's true breakout as a solo star regarded prefer it must wait at the very least one other 12 months. 

Turns out, it wouldn't even fairly take that lengthy. In October, "Sunflower" notched a powerful No. 9 debut on the Hot 100, simply making it Lee's greatest hit (with or with out his brother) since "Unforgettable." While "Sunflower" receded on the chart from there, it caught a second life in December, aided by its rise on radio, and climbed to No. four earlier than the calendar turned over. This week, it hits No. 1 in its 12th week on the Hot 100, besting even the No. three peak of "Unforgettable."

And should you simply heard the music faraway from any context, you'd definitely be forgiven for pondering it was a Swaecation deep lower you'd forgotten about. The music has the identical mixture of sunny melodies and romantic drama ("Thinkin' in a nasty means, losin' your grip/ Screamin' at my face, child, don't journey") because the highlights from that set, with a gently knocking beat that implies Island vibes with its relaxed tempo and heat synth bass, though it largely stays away from any particular dancehall or reggae signifiers. Drop it in a set together with "Guatemala" and "Hurt to Look" and plenty of followers would by no means know the distinction. 

So what put "Sunflower" excessive the place Swaecation failed to interrupt by way of? Well, there are two pretty apparent solutions to that query. The first could be its affiliation with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which has not solely develop into a field workplace smash -- raking in over $300 million worldwide since its December launch -- however is now additionally rapidly changing into an awards season fixture, taking in finest animated function honors on the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, the Critics' Choice Movie Awards and the Golden Globes. The branding has additionally prolonged to its common lyric video, a clip primarily based on footage from the Spider-Man film, which has already racked up over 200 million views on YouTube. 

But doubtless much more essential to the expansion of "Sunflower" is the presence of Post Malone. The genre-splicing hip-hop star born has already notched two prior No. 1s as a lead artist (2017's "Rockstar," that includes 21 Savage, and 2018's "Psycho," that includes Ty Dolla $ign), and charted all 20 tracks off his Beerbongs & Bentleys album final 12 months. While the monitor feels extra in keeping with Lee's solo work than Malone's historically darker, woozier productions, the 2 artists are co-billed as leads on the monitor -- and in addition get roughly equal mic time, each delivering one verse and one refrain. Thus, it's hardly shocking to see the music observe alongside Malone's extra established chart trajectory.

It's not simply Post Malone that Lee seems with on the Hot 100 this week, both. Not solely does he have the No. 1 music within the nation this week, he additionally pops up on two different Hot 100 entries -- as a visitor on the No. 31-and-climbing "Close to Me," by Diplo and Ellie Goulding, and on the No. 55-stationed "Arms Around You," by XXXTENTACION and Lil Pump (additionally that includes Maluma), which peaked at No. 28 late final 12 months. He's additionally an uncredited visitor on Travis Scott's "Sicko Mode" -- a No. 1 hit in 2018, nonetheless hanging across the chart's high 5 -- and is constructing a reasonably robust case for being essentially the most dependable hook singer on radio. 

This is all undoubtedly nice information for Swae Lee, who's properly on his method to changing into a family identify amongst pop followers as a solo artist. It's maybe less-great information for followers of Rae Sremmurd as a duo, nevertheless. The break up units of SR3MM had lengthy sparked buzz that there was discord between the brothers Rae, and people rumors had been solely fed additional gas over the weekend, as Slim Jxmmi delivered a collection of (since-deleted) tweets that appeared to counsel he was feeling remoted from Rae Sremmurd as a gaggle, and overshadowed by Lee's success. Lee himself appeared to disclaim any break up with his own Twitter response, and reps for the group confirmed the duo had been staying collectively, however the timing of Swae's first solo No. 1 maybe comes at a non-optimal time for followers hoping the 2 stay equal companions in Rae Sremmurd. The echoes of one other iconic southern rap duo, who had been by no means the identical after releasing solo tasks within the same mutli-LP -- notably after one of many solo units spawned one of the biggest hits of the decade -- are onerous to disregard. 

In any occasion, whether or not Rae Sremmurd finally ends up additional splintering from right here or stays one of many nation's hottest hip-hop duos properly into the 2020s, it's clear at this level that Swae Lee's business potential is fairly formidable by itself. By the time of his subsequent Swaecation-type set -- which can be coming quickly, as he teased a solo venture for late January or February in a Billboard interview late final 12 months -- his solo stardom ought to formally be in full blossom. 

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