Rap is, by its nature, ever changing and fluid. Since the early days of The Sugarhill Gang’s equally sugary beats, all the way up to Desiigner’s cool yet silly ‘Panda’, the genre has always had a way of puffing its chest up and declaring its unwavering ‘coolness’. It is undeniably reactionary and influential; moving with and against the times. With this in mind; enter sixteen-year-old Yung Lean in 2012. He was culturally ambiguous, monotone, and his videos looked like they were made by someone who had just discovered the effects option in Microsoft Movie Maker. Obviously, he was always destined to take the internet by storm. He was to act as a reaction to the viral ideologies that dominate global culture today. His debut EP ‘Unknown Death 2003’ (first shown on Youtube) is a tightrope-esque balancing act of brilliant bars and ridiculousness; which threatens to slip awkwardly into parody at any moment. Many comparisons can be drawn between Yung Lean and Rich Chigga, a newly discovered Indonesian rapper who also spits bars that don’t seem to fit his body properly. Lean in 2013, was a crucially non-American rapper, who shot to world-wide stardom with the help of the internet’s strange and divine grace. In short he became Sweden’s rap poster boy.
So now, in the final breaths of 2016, Yung Lean has surprised his fan base with ‘Frost God’, his second mixtape since ‘Unknown Death…’. One thing is certainly clear from the outset; the now twenty-year-old rapper works hard. Really hard. It was only in the spring that he released his second studio album ‘Warlord’, a record that relied little on features, and focused on Lean’s droning, almost disinterested vocal style. From the first track of ‘Frost God’, there are the distinctive tremolo that crop up repeatedly in Lean’s back catalogue; which introduce an almost chip-tune flavour from the very beginning. Much like Rich Chigga, Young Lean’s early music existed as a romanticised longing for a ‘gangsta’ lifestyle that he had experienced (Rich Chigga is still too young to travel to the USA unaccompanied). Now that Lean has found wide-appeal in the global market, his music is much more glossy sounding. ‘Crystal City’, particularly typifies this transition. It features all of the gleam that high-quality production brings, as well as A$AP Rocky starring as the high-profile feature de-jour. Lean has clearly come a long way from his early Youtube days.
Lean’s sound on ‘Frost God’ leans toward many of the conventions that that the trap genre has sucked up from Pop and R&B in recent years. For instance Lean’s (sometimes incomprehensible) delivery is often given colour with a healthy sprinkle of auto tuning. There are ad libs here a-plenty too; ad libs in rap always seem to function as an ode to Migos; the undeniable kings of the style. Overall, the EP is fun, and very much in tune with the rest of Lean’s work. If you’re a fan already, you probably already know what you’re going to find in this mixtape. Love him or loath him, Yung Lean is unrelentingly and undeniably loyal to himself and his image. Watching his old videos today, gives a sense that he and his Sad Boys collective are really just making music they liked for themselves. Maybe that’s where his appeal truly lies.
Stream the album here:
Watch Gingsen Strip 2002 from ‘Unknown Death 2003
Watch ‘Hennesy and Sailor Moon’ from ‘Frost God’