WARLORD by Yung Lean
Genre: Cloud Rap
Favorite Tracks: “Immortal,” “Highway Patrol,” “Fantasy,” “Hoover,” “More Stacks,” “Hocus Pocus,” “Miami Ultras”
Though the appeal of Yung Lean may be elusive to some, there is no doubt that Sad Boys Entertainment is here to stay. The trio, consisting of Lean and producers Yung Gud and Yung Sherman, have garnered a more substantial following in the United States than in their native Sweden. Crafting a special brand of sad rap (trap’s white cousin) with a hazy feel piggybacking on the vaporwave movement and a slew of forced memes by way of lyrics referencing various facets of nerd culture, Yung Lean and his crew had a recipe for success, at least in the minds of the post-internet generation. While the irony of a suburban-raised, privileged caucasian male making melancholic hip hop was either overlooked or seen as part of the joke, 2013’s UNKNOWN DEATH 2002 proclaimed that Sadboys were a force to be reckoned with despite being panned by critics. Soon after, Lean would have a year of promising singles further perpetuating his brand including “Kyoto” and “Yoshi City” plus the debut album UNKNOWN MEMORY which sent his music towards a darker, more serious tone, moving slightly away from pop culture goofiness but still retaining some meme savvy charm.
Yung Lean’s new album, entitled WARLORD, more or less goes in the same direction. Prior to this album’s release, the track “Hoover” teased a harder Lean boasting a more aggressive flow and a new green do. Many on the internet (including us here at Crossfader) laughed at what seemed to be Lean transitioning from sad boy to “mad” boy. The album, however, proves that only to be partly true. Most of WARLORD, especially the first half, is standard Lean fare. As always, the spotlight is on the production, once again mostly handled by Sherman and Gud. Their hauntingly synthetic beats still create an oppressive and drugged out mood, but this time the atmosphere is so prominent that Yung Lean is occasionally forced to venture outside his comfortable monotonic vocal delivery.
Lyrically, it’s no surprise that Lean is spitting about much of the same subject matter. Once again, we hear a reference to the main Smurfs villain on “Immortal” and various mentionings of drug-related activities abound throughout. There is some incorporation of trap influenced onomatopoeia and silly mouth noises sprinkled in, as on “Eye Contact” with “Pull up in that Veyron goin’ skrt-skrt/Everyday shit fuck what you heard-heard,” but this only adds a small shred of fun if not asininity. The true virtue in the vocals lies in the fact that every so often Lean’s voice trades stoned inebriation for feisty charisma and even screaming fury, sometimes reminiscent of fellow white rapper BONES. Combine this with a plethora of effects that Lean’s producers slap onto his voice and you have an album S A D B O Y S the world over have been dreaming of.
On “More Stacks,” a slightly vocoded layer of Lean’s voice creeps in until the launch of the very last hook where we get two Leans, the more emotional one overpowering the other. Right after Ecco2k’s bit on “Af1’s,” Lean gloats about his posse as if via threatening voicemail or radio message with “It’s weed and purple we up to/Just got a bunch of em’ Nike shoes/For I make big money, my own crew too/We the Sadboys and we’ll fuck you.” This conclusion not only showcases Lean crossing a new impassioned threshold, but has Yung Sherman and Yung Gud giving a style somewhat inspired by the electronic “2003 shit” that the Sadboys have been trying so long to grasp on “Hocus Pocus” and mixing a spooky vocal sample echoing “I’m not looking for you” with strangely emotional high-pitched tones on “Miami Ultras.”
Overall, WARLORD presents a sort of maturation for Yung Lean without betraying what first made him so entertaining. Many who found Lean unbearable before will see this release having little to no conversion potential. But to those of us who have shed an Arizona tear or two, WARLORD does not disappoint.