Yung Lean Is Back
I didn’t see this one coming.
Yung Lean dominated 2013 as an internet flash-in-the-pan superstar. If you were into the online underground scene, especially hip-hop, the awkward high school kid from Sweden was unavoidable. With a backpack full of ethereal, atmospheric beats from his friends and a notebook full of random non sequiturs ranging from Zooey Deschanel to Arizona Iced Tea, Yung Lean was getting by on pure sound and aesthetic, and it was great.
The success of Yung Lean was cool because it was so indicative of where music in 2013 was. Lean wasn’t a super talented musician, and you could rarely make out any of his lyrics, but he spread like wildfire because he had managed to bottle some coolness factor and he made music that got people excited. I’m sure plenty of more “talented” artists were left on the sidelines in 2013 just furious over this random kid who was rapping nonsense with his buddies and becoming one of the world’s hottest rappers from it.
He followed up 2013′s Unknown Death 2002 mixtape with his major label debut, Unknown Memory, in 2014. Something about it missed the mark for me, never seeming to get off the ground despite a few strong tracks. That fickle coolness factor had started to wear off, and I had accepted the fact that Yung Thug would forever live in the internet lexicon as that one Swedish kid who released some crazy songs back in 2013.
Today I can say, inexplicably, that Yung Lean is back.
His return with the release of “Hoover” feels like the scene of the movie where the hero dies in a fiery explosion, and just as everyone starts to cry, he comes bursting out of the flames riding a motorcycle. I thought Yung Lean was down for the count, but now he’s back riding muddy motorcycles with his friends, and some movie villain is about to pay.
He slams back onto the scene with a chaotic instrumental that bridges gaps between industrial, trip-hop, and electronic. Lyrics still don’t matter, and there’s not much that’s quickly recognizable on “Hoover,” outside of lines about “ridin’ on a horse with a dead man.” The instrumental and flow are very reminiscent of M.I.A., which is a really interesting development. This does not sound like a classic Yung Lean track, much less single.
This canvas was woven by friend and frequent collaborator Yung Gud, who — despite his elusiveness — is one of the best young producers in the world. Even his solo work is impeccable. The beat drop in “U Want Me” is enough to blow your brains out your nose. “Hello” is a more standard hip-hop fare, but still doesn’t pull any punches.
Young Lean’s old shtick was being sad. This new thing is wonderfully unhinged and apocalyptic. “Wake up and the world is ending,” blares Lean. It makes you want to strap on a helmet and fling mud everywhere with a dirt bike.
Singles for his last album got me excited before ultimately failing to lead to a good album. Only time will tell if “Hoover” is a one-off hit or a sign of things to come. I like the direction. I’m optimistic.