About a year ago, the Internet—at least, the not-insubstantial part of it where hip-hop, contemporary art, and online culture overlap—went suddenly, seriously crazy over a Swedish rapper named Yung Lean. He had just released a song and video called “Hurt,” and was about to release a mixtape in conjunction with the influential Brooklyn streetwear brand Mishka. It was crudely made, from its rudimentary beat to its garishly computerized video, and the ambiguity of whether it was serious was part of the appeal.
“Hurt” seemed like the sort of weirdly entertaining diversion the Internet likes to obsess over briefly, just until the next one shows up—but Yung Lean’s fan base has only grown and strengthened since then. A little less than a month ago, he released a new single, “Yoshi City,” that significantly ups the quality in all respects, from the catchiness of the hook to the professional production quality of the video.
Now Lean’s about to start his first American tour and is prepping for the release of a new album later this year. He’s also on the verge of making the leap from an Internet cult to a real-life one, a la Odd Future. Here’s a primer on the unexpected next big thing in rap (maybe):
Who is Yung Lean anyhow?
He’s a Swedish teenager who’s obsessed with Arizona Ice Tea, bucket hats, and video games from the turn of the millennium. He fronts a collective called the Sad Boys. He’s loosely affiliated with a movement called “cloud rap” that involves a lot of slow-motion beats and synths that sound like they came from New Age records.
He doesn’t seem very good at rapping, though. Right?
No—he doesn’t have a very impressive technique, at least by traditional standards. But there’s something compelling, and borderline hypnotic, about his somnambulant flow. You could argue that Lean’s next in a line of rappers who rap badly but interestingly. Others on the list include Gucci Mane and Chief Keef who have actual street cred.
Is this a joke?
Kinda? Maybe? With lyrics of almost Seinfeldian mundanity and the aggressive amateurism of his early stuff Lean, seems to tacitly acknowledge his lack of skill. But the amount of time, effort, and money he’s invested in the project suggest that even if it’s a joke on some level, he takes it very seriously. And if some of his initial success seemed to come at least partly from people appreciating it ironically, the hardcore fan base that he’s already developed points at something more serious.
Wait a minute. Is this something that my teenage child/cousin/etc. is going to get inexplicably obsessed with?
It depends. Do they spend a lot of time on Tumblr? Have they had an Odd Future phase? Are they inordinately drawn to the most vapid pop culture signifiers from the late ’90s and early ’00s? If so, it’s possible. And if they start rocking bucket hats, drinking Arizona around the clock, and talking about being sad in a way that you can’t tell is serious or some weird deadpan ironic joke, then they’re probably already hooked.