Yung Lean is the OG Sad Boy

(yunglean.com)

In the past couple of years, the music industry has seen the rise of the SoundCloud rap movement, a new subgenre of the rap scene that stems from the music streaming service and is known (sometimes incorrectly) for putting little emphasis on complex lyricism. SoundCloud rap is also closely associated with emo rap, an interesting mix between the mumble rap of SoundCloud and emo rock.

While rapperson the SoundCloud platform have physically been around for a fair amount of time, it was the release of Lil Pump’s platinum song “Gucci Gang” that drew mainstream attention to the SoundCloud rap movement as a whole, making Pump (and scores of other “Lil” rappers) the poster child for this new subgenre. Since its rise, many SoundCloud rappers have become household names along with Lil Pump.

However, when people talk about figures of SoundCloud and emo rap, they seem to either forget or be completely unaware of one artist who jump-started the movement back in 2013. Jonatan Leandoer Håstad, better known by his stage name Yung Lean, has been creating emo rap records since the beginning of his public career.

It was in Stockholm, Sweden, Håstad’s hometown, that he met Yung Sherman and Yung Gud, two other teenagers that shared the same taste in music. The trio created a collective entitled Sad Boys. Yung Sherman and Yung Gud produced and mixed music while Yung Lean wrote lyrics and recorded vocals.

Yung Lean got his first wave of mainstream success with the release of his first mixtape “Unknown Death 2002” in 2013. The music video for the track “Ginseng Strip 2002” which Lean released on a separate EP entitled “Lavender,” went viral on YouTube, leading many to discover Yung Lean. Visuals have always been an important part of Yung Lean’s style and his music videos continue to showcase his artistry.

Yung Lean’s early work share many characteristics of the current SoundCloud rap movement. Besides the fact that he uploaded his songs onto the platform itself, the tracks on “Unknown Death 2002” were not the most lyrically sophisticated. In his earlier songs such as “Kyoto” and “Ginseng Strip 2002” Yung Lean rapped about material American brands such as Arizona Iced Tea, Nike Air Force 1s and The North Face to just name a few. His lyrics were also crudely imaginative, with many references to drugs permeating his work.

When listening to “Ginseng Strip 2002” for the first time, the choppy flow, clear DIY sound and questionable lyrics can be off-putting: How did this track catapult Yung Lean to fame? In 2018, “Ginseng Strip 2002” sounds like a bad (but extremely catchy) SoundCloud song. However, in 2013, this emo rap genre was just emerging and Yung Lean was at the forefront, creating music that nobody had ever heard before. In this way, his early work is just as innovative (if not perhaps more so) as his more polished newer projects.

Yung Lean followed the release of his mixtape with his first full length album entitled “Unknown Memory” in 2014, which includes a track with a young Travis Scott feature. 2016 saw the release of his second studio album “Warlord” in which Yung Lean continued to nudge the boundaries dividing rap and emo rock, bringing the two worlds together. The release of these two albums saw an increase in the lyricism of Yung Lean’s work, although the majority of his songs still referenced drug use, emotional unavailability and pop culture phenomena.

His most recent release was his third studio album entitled “Stranger” which came out in 2017. Yung Lean accompanied this project with a short film uploaded to YouTube, keeping with the importance of visuals in his work.

There is no doubt that Yung Lean is a major influence in the worlds of SoundCloud and emo rap, although he often gets too little credit for his contributions. It could be his position as a European in an American-dominated genre. But in order to understand today’s SoundCloud rap music, it’s important to listen to both new and old Yung Lean. Believe me, it will be worth it.

Songs to listen to: “Kyoto,” “Hoover,” “AF1s,” “Miami Ultras,” and “Red Bottom Sky”


Lucie Turkel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at lucie.turkel@uconn.edu.