Yung Lean does not fit in. Despite being an established artist in the rap and music industry, with seven years having passed since his breakout cloud rap hit ‘Ginseng Strip 2002’, Yung Lean still remains one of rap’s biggest ‘outsiders’. Nothing about the eccentric artist quite seems to fit the hip-hop industry’s regular formula – stretching from his origins of suburban Stockholm, Sweden; his reserved and elusive public image; to his music itself, which is often classified as ‘cloud rap’ but is constantly genre-bending and norm breaking.
I will admit (and perhaps many others relate) that after my first listen to yung lean and the ‘Sadboy’ collective I was… thrown off to say the least. The bizarre visuals of his music videos paired with his thick foreign accent that swamped every rhyme and a worrying obsession with Arizona Iced Tea led me to dismiss Lean almost instantly – it seemed too outlandish to be genuine. This was a sentiment felt, and openly shared, by many but it never fazed the Swedish artist.
Fast forward a few years, the release of a handful of critically acclaimed projects and the establishment of a cult following, Lean now finds himself an ingrained figure in the hip hop and music industry. He has obtained respect from moguls such as Frank Ocean and Travis Scott all whilst maintaining his distinct, atmospheric sound. His latest full length project “Starz” is another extension of this persona with even more musical evolution. Throughout the LP we see strong themes of reflection, from the always self-aware Leandoer, over stellar production from longtime collaborator Whitearmor. One of the topics Lean reflects on is his come up in the music game and current position in the industry. He raps
Fought my way to the top of the club, Fought my way to the top of the industry
In this observation, he also acknowledges the success he’s obtained whilst staying independent and the influence he’s left on many. Not usually one to boast, despite definitely having every right to do so, we do see a more braggadocious side of Leandoer on the track “Violence” where he references Jack Nicholson classic film “The Departed”:
They say you’re a product of your environment, but my environment's a product of me
Simple, clear, and effective. No one can claim any responsibility for Lean’s craft yet its impact is felt in several pockets of the music game. His reflection throughout the album also stretches to love and past relationships, bouts with mental illness as well as more lighthearted accounts of past experiences. All in all Lean continues doing what he does best on this album: being himself. His introspective songwriting over Whitearmor’s ever-innovative chilling, atmospheric and ambient production result in yet another enjoyable listen.
Surrounded by the same group of artists and producers that were with him when he burst onto the music scene in 2013, it is clear that Yung Lean does not care to shift his movement to suit anyone’s standards. Even across the 16 tracks of Starz, we receive one sole feature from the obscure hypnagogic pop legend Ariel Pink and even then his contribution is restricted to background vocal and production assistance. This by no means limits Lean’s growth; with each album his sound continues to develop and evolve, incorporating more ideas from different genres and styles. Inspired by such a variety of artists, from Nas to the beach boys, it is impossible to believe expect his style to remain amongst any one genre which is what makes every listen to Yung Lean exciting and refreshing. And the best part of it all – he is only 24. Being such a staple name in the music industry now, it is easy to forget that he is still very much in the prime of his career and has a long, promising path ahead.
My favourite tracks off Starz: Pikachu, Violence, Starz, Hellraiser.