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Yung Lean - Stranger (Album Review)

Monday, 13 November 2017 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

Swedish rapper Yung Lean’s career is symptomatic of the direction hip hop has taken during the last decade.

It’s not necessarily due to the emphasis he places on aesthetic – for all the talk of keeping it real, creating a distinctive persona has always been as much a part of hip hop as any other genre. Rather, it’s Yung Lean’s apathetic attitude and languid approach that appeals to his fanbase.

The desire to create conceptual tracks or impressive raps isn’t high on his list of concerns. Straight off the bat on ‘Stranger’, Muddy Sea showcases exactly what Lean cares more about: delivering vapid, monosyllabic rhymes about getting high over video game synths and icy sub-bass.

In fact, there’s little more you could say of note about the lyrics on this record. They’re achingly bland, with only his impertinent use of American colloquialisms like “bidness” and “shawty” likely to catch listeners off guard.  Yet it’s not the lack of authenticity that is grating – his allusions to drug-addled decadence are believable – but his lack of ambition.

The term “emo rap” has been thrown about to describe Yung Lean, but there’s very little he says on ‘Stranger’ to emotionally connect with. Just as mid-00s emo-poppers bore little relation to the genre’s ‘90s pioneers, Yung Lean’s indifference is hardly comparable to melancholic peers like Grieves or Sage Francis.

The obvious counter-argument in his favour is that his vocals, which are often loaded with reverb and other effects, fit the production style. The beats, mostly handled by his Sad Boys crew mate Yung Gud, are expansive and alluring, developing at a leisurely pace. On tracks like Silver Arrows, Lean’s echoed hooks merge hypnotically with the backing melodies.

These soundscapes are often impressive and immersive, if a tad one-note. Evoking cloud rap producers like Clams Casino, Gud and company have a good ear when it comes to highlighting snappy melodic phrases and decorating them with atmospheric synths. The obvious drawback is that most of these moments tend to blur into one, but it also mercifully means Lean’s rhymes are mostly left languishing in the background.

In one sense, this approach could be considered progressive. Lean has previously spoken about living in a “cultural wild west” and being able to “do what he wants” artistically. That makes sense when you consider the quiet revolution hip hop has undergone. Production is more adventurous than ever, and the genre has increasingly become a home for sonic innovators as well as poets.

The emphasis on songcraft has evolved concurrently alongside the acceptance of social and personal discussions as legitimate hip hop concepts. Whether it’s LGBT issues or feelings of isolation and loneliness, today’s crop of rap artists is less bothered about bravado and more focused on introspection.

In that sense, Yung Lean is the perfect embodiment of hip hop in our more socially liberal age. Although he’s a rapper, he offers the same thing moody rock stars once did: a liberating space to vent negative emotions. And that’s fine, but that doesn’t make his rapping any less monochromatic.

Yung Lean Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue December 12 2017 - LONDON Roundhouse
Wed December 13 2017 - MANCHESTER Albert Hall

Click here to compare & buy Yung Lean Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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