We all live in a society where we’re fascinated by the bizarre. Generally, the weirder something is, the more interesting it is to most of us. Yung Lean, the internet’s favourite 17-year-old ‘sad’ rapper from Sweden, is astutely aware of this. His music thrives on peculiar non sequiturs, futuristic beats and quite possibly the most infectious hooks in hip-hop. He doesn’t confine his music to any particular direction – he borrows from Future as much as much as he does meme-rapper Lil B – but, his music feels entirely singular, quite unlike anything else. He’s not a great rapper, or singer, but he has an endearing appeal that’s hard to explain.
Him and his in-house producers, Yung Gud and Yung Sherman, identify themselves as ‘Sadboys’. It’s not entirely clear why they’re sad, but in a strangely amusing sense, it adds to their mystique. In his breakthrough song ‘Ginseng Strip 2002’, he ends his first verse by exclaiming one of the strangest rap lines of 2013: “I’mma peel banana skins whilst listening to R. Kelly’s Greatest Hits.” None of it all really makes much sense – that is, until you get it. It might be post-ironic enjoyment, or it might just be post-modernist brilliance, there’s really no telling what it really is. What we do know though, is that Lean goes against everything that’s deemed ‘right’ in hip-hop, at a time when it’s needed most.
When artists are struggling to release records due to sample clearance issues and general music label douchery, the mixtape seems like the most viable release option. Lil B has released thousands of songs through the internet, and amassed a huge cult following by doing so. His approach was refreshing; releasing everything he’s recorded and never doing a second take. Sometimes it results in lightning in a bottle, and other times it results in absolute garbage, but the results were and are always interesting. Yung Lean cuts all the fat off this approach, by polishing his songs and filtering his content, whilst still retaining the compelling internet-age approach.
Lean’s music and approach feels like the birth of a new era in hip-hop. When Kitty (formally Kitty Pryde) first arrived on the scene, it was but a hint of things to come, now we’ve truly arrived in an age where anyone can rap. He doesn’t take it seriously, but he does. There’s a deadpan commitment to his slur-rap, making it difficult to know whether to laugh with him, or laugh at him. But, when the price of entry for his music is so low, it’s not worth the effort to debate which to chose. If you’re having an internal conflict other whether to enjoy his music or not, then his music just isn’t for you. Yung Lean is the most important new artist of 2013 because he’s daring, exciting, and truly embodies the internet-age, arguably moreso than anyone else.
Words by Joe Price