Yung Lean

(Copyright © 2019 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of Use )
Unknown Death 2002 (2013), 6/10
Unknown Memory (2014), 6/10
Frost God (2016), 6/10
Warlord (2016), 5/10
Stranger (2017), 5/10
Poison Ivy (2018), 6/10

Yung Lean (Swedish rapper Jonatan Hastad), a member of the collective Sad Boys with producers Yung Gud and Yung Sherman, went viral with the song Ginseng Strip 2002 (2013), in which his rap is juxtaposed to an exotic chant over a slight trap beat. The 12-song mixtape Unknown Death 2002 (2013) contained a certainly unique kind of emo-rap. The single Hurt injects mildly psychedelic, mildly exotic vaporwave into emo-rap. Solarflare unleashes a tense form of rapping over boiling electronics. Welcome 2 Unknown Death (produced by Yung Sherman) incorporates some dilated, warped, reverbed acid-jazz. All the producers add unusual arrangements to what is already an unusual style of rapping: Gud's lush orchestration of Gatorade, Yung Sherman's distorted drones in Lemonade, Whitearmor's nocturnal, jazzy atmosphere Emails. The actual rapping (both the lyrics and the flow) was actually less important than the dreamy atmospheres. Despite several tedious songs, it was an influential work for what came to be called "cloud rap".

Even more influential were the singles Plastic Boy (2013), a restive Caribbean hip-hop dance, Buildings (2013), with military drumming and a catchy refrain, a collaboration with fellow rappers Thaiboy Digital and Bladee, and Kyoto (2013), with the most mysterious and sinister atmosphere.

Cloud rap was infected more viciously with trap rap on Unknown Memory (2014), for example in Yoshi City and Monster. The main attraction is actually Volt, whose emphatic and brisk tone is almost rockabilly, and Blinded has echoes of synth-pop of the 1980s. The macabre atmosphere of Ghosttown and the drugged tone of Don't Go sound like worthy remnants from the first mixtape. Leanworld shows the first ballad temptation.

The eight-song mixtape Frost God (2016) contains the catchy Hennessy & Sailor Moon (with Bladee), his poppier number yet, where the rapping morphs into singing. The ominous and subliminal Hop Out and the funereal Kirby fare better than the melodramatic Crystal City and Head 2 Toe.

The album Warlord (2016) contains the robotic trap of Af1s, the industrial clangor of Hoover and another ominous litany, Stay Down.

Unfortunately Yung Lean's good songs were spread over multiple releases, with a lot of filler in between. Then, again, he was only 20 years old.

The amount of filler, instead, further increased on Stranger (2017). We have to go through nine mediocre songs before we get to the slim pop refrain of Hunting My Own Skin, over a slim beat that sounds like a cubistic deconstruction of reggae's rhythm. Too many songs are faceless. The ballad Red Bottom Sky and the clownish Yellowman are probably his attempts to go mainstream. The standout is the twisted piano elegy Agony (with a distant children's choir), the least "Yung Lean-ian" song on the album.

50SACINMYSOCIDGAF (2016), with a dramatic orchestral background, was perhaps the best of the collaborations between Bladee and Yung Lean.

The nine-song mixtape Poison Ivy (2018), produced entirely by White Armor, contains the twitching ballad Blue Plastic and the theatrical crescendo of Happy Feet over a tense pulsation. The evocative soundscape is the reason to listen to Happy Feet, Silicon Wings, and especially Bender++Girlfriend , but there's only so much that the producer can do to inject life into these depressed rap-songs. The good news is that this time the filler is minimal.

(Copyright © 2019 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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