Swedish rapper Yung Lean isn’t particularly well known for his traditionally structured rap songs, however his mixtapes and albums have proved time and time again his innovative nature when it comes to music, from 2013’s series of iconic singles (Ginseng Strip 2002, Kyoto, Hurt) that allowed him to drop out of school at 16, all the way to last years album Stranger, which showed fans a more mature and introverted side to Yung Lean. It was an album that showed us a side of the rapper that was completely detached from reality, covering topics like isolation, addiction and guilt, drawing inspiration from his time in a mental health institution in Florida in 2016.
After the release of Stranger Lean for a time focused heavily on his brand SBE, designing clothes with some independence after in 2016 teaming up with fashion label Visible and working with Swedish designer o’D Möngke. Along with this, Lean wrote, scored and starred in his own short film titled Stranger, portraying a clown, a man and a fugitive.
Lean’s clothing brand is titled “Sad Boys Gear”
Yung Lean is widely credited with creating the “vaporwave and cloud rap” hip-hop scene, and in many ways was the foundation that a lot of Soundcloud rappers and hip-hop artists based themselves on, and still do in a way, tracks such as Volt (2014), Hoover (2016) and Miami Ultras (2016) were clearly all ahead of their time.
Back in February Lean released King Cobra, a collaborative track featuring vocals from rapper Thaiboy Digital and production from Hurtboyag, Bluey and Foster. The song took Lean’s sound back to a time reminiscent of his older mixtapes, with sci-fi ambience and monotone vocals that brought him to limelight way back in 2013.
Lean’s new track Ghostface / shyguy comes in at a perfect balance for fans of the old Lean and fans of the new, the vocals are crisp and clear, with subjects similar to Stranger, but presented in a more traditional cloud rap manner much like his older mixtapes, especially with the continuous flows in and out of verse and chorus, the production by Woesum is a fast-paced mix of 2016 record Warlord’s bass and drum sequences and Stranger’s more avant-garde synths and effects. The track also maintains that same eerie ambience I mentioned earlier, showing us that the “old Yung Lean” never really left, he just grew up a bit.
Track number two, titled crash bandicoot, dropped on June 30th independently, and it could be argued that it’s one of Lean’s most experimental tracks when it comes to beat and flow, his rhymes and subject matter are just as cryptic and quazi as ever but delivered with more of a breathtaking traditional hip hop flow. With similar production to King Cobra, this track was also produced by Foster, with the addition of Holy Beats infusing the track with trap influences, giving Lean’s discography that extra bit of variety.
Could these tracks be leading up to a bigger project? It certainly has the high-end production level you’d expect from a Yung Lean record nowadays, and if he’s working with new producers like Foster more than once, perhaps they’ll will be teaming up with Lean’s usual beat architects Yung Sherman and Bladee for an EP, mixtape or even a fourth studio album.
Words by Sam Harris