Yung Lean – Stranger
Yung Lean's latest record feels like a creative regression packed with listless rhymes
Love it or hate it, the current alternative fashion in hip-hop is bizarrely fascinating. In its lyrical content, its lack of restraint in regards to color and fashion, and the juvenile personalities directing the scene, it all bears striking resemblance to the mall-approved 'emo' pop of the early 2000s. It is hard not to consider Yung Lean outside of this sphere.
He takes influences from many places – trap producers like Suicideyear, groups like The Knife, the ascetic modernism of his native Sweden; his troupe is even called SadBoys. Perhaps because of his massive influence on the platform, he could be considered the quintessential 'SoundCloud rapper': melody-heavy music with lo-fi production for fans of ostentatious streetwear brands. Yung Lean’s aesthetic is as important as his music, since this ensures his brand’s survival. Early music videos for classics like Yoshi City were hallucinatory and captivating, without relying on a white guy performing the tropes of African American music, and his live shows are reported to be intense affairs.
An article with Dazed refers to Stranger as Lean's "Italian Renaissance". Sure, why not? He has developed his own sound and following outside of the mainstream, so an album can have any absurd categorisation in Lean's universe. We get it. Yung Lean has done what many teens aspire too: cultivate their own microculture. He has his own following, regardless of what anyone writes about this latest album.
Stranger reflects his previous work but is almost medieval in its lack of humanity, so in that sense seems more like a creative regression rather than renaissance. It feels trite to mention how strong the production is – Yung Lean has spent years cultivating a unique sound that merges video game melodies and trap bass, best understood on Iceman and Silver Arrows. Nevertheless, the beats are the only thing going anywhere on Stranger, while the vocals seem as drunk and rambling as ever, devoid of memorable similes or even coherent subject matter.
Yung Lean sees himself as more of a songwriter now, but his bars have become listlessly delivered, half-baked radio freestyles. Hunting My Own Skin carries little weight, nor does the lead single Red Bottom Sky. His stream of consciousness flow – an never-ending, threadbare series of one liners, akin to one of Trump's most flustered speeches – is an uncomfortably perfect distillation of hip-hop as mass cultural consumption. It has no message, and no emotions, despite all the "sadness". Just a refreshing mist of familiar phrases repeating like some sort of monotonous, dystopian sermon.
We may hope that Yung Lean’s singular vision drives him to make many more albums for his loyal fanbase; we just hope they are not nearly this boring.
Listen to: Silver Arrows