Yung Lean Warlord Year0001
Since his inception as a viral sensation in 2013, Yung Lean has cut a divisive figure in music. In almost equal measure the Swedish rapper has been hailed as a youth culture trailblazer, and derided as an unworthy appropriator; most notably in a searing Pitchfork review of his 2014 studio debut Unknown Memory, which argued that he “removes the humanity of the rappers he’s imitating, creating unwitting caricatures of those art- ists and not much more.”
Fast forward to 2016 and his follow up record, Warlord, provides ample evidence to support both of these points of view. On opener Immortal, the down-tempo swagger of the instrumental jarringly exacerbates the weaknesses in Lean’s wooden rapping, and lyrically he often falls back on tedious irony: “I just do as I please / sipping lean as I sleep / counting money like it’s sheep / badass bitch on the side of me.” As with much of Lean’s output, tracks like Fantasy, Highway Patrol and Afghanistan feature crystalline instrumentals, but are let down by uninspired lyricism and stilted delivery.
It’s not until the fifth track in, Hoover, that things begin to fall into place. Production-wise the track is a stark departure from previous work, ditching cloud-rap instrumentals for clattering percussion, heavy bass and raucous synth stabs; shrouding Lean’s vocals in satisfying chaos. Fire is another unlikely highlight that sees Lean singing over subdued, ethereal instrumentation. Somehow, his lightly-autotuned (yet still fairly tuneless) drawl feels satisfying here.
While Yung Lean’s rapping leaves much to be desired, his strength lies in his nuanced understanding of aesthetics, and his willingness to take creative risks. And despite its obvious flaws on these fronts, Warlord occasionally delivers.