Reflecting on Yung Lean – A stranger of the new school
Words by Brinsley Chidavaenzi
“Reality is far away” – Yung Lean on ‘Gatorade’
This couldn’t be more truthful, for him and for any of us. Yung Lean’s career arc wasn’t interested in the Hip-Hop ideals of “realness” in the conventional sense, but rather what was real to him. 2013 feels like a lifetime ago in the speed of the hyper-accelerated internet. ‘Hurt’ was the first song I heard and the first video I saw from him.
Since then, Yung Lean’s metamorphosis has been rapid with each project out, his vocal delivery tightening up from the earlier relaxed and stretched to a more staccato and self-assured delivery, his experimentation with vocal techniques and auto-tune for melodic enhancement. You cannot leave the production when listening or discussing Yung Lean. Producers Yung Gud, Yung Sherman, Whitearmor also evolved with tightened, twisted and more subversion with their palettes, delving more focused into ambient psychedelia, hazy synthesisers, rusty basslines and supernatural textures that hang like apartment decorations.
Gatorade’s instrumental on Unknown Death 2002 sounds remarkable with the mix of boom-bap drums, blissful synth pads and merry-go-round arpeggiations. If something of this calibre is Lean’s canvas in his early days, then his hill of ascension would be greatly high. Kyoto is another star shade.
Kyoto transcends it’s 2013 cel-by-date with sonics that feel just as at home now as they did then; dark basslines with soul-moving vocal samples and flutes over pin-point trap drums are another badge of honour. Stranger is the culmination of every technique that Lean’s utilised to perfection marriaged with the production that’s willing to be his personal funhouse vehicle. All the forms of Lean are here, ballads with 1980’s avant pop sensibility with 10’s technology, melodic storytelling, bangers that are wide in space, slow-mo moments and more. 5 years later, it’s hard to think Lean’s influence is an invisible cloak over the contemporary landscape, not in the sense of an innovator but a to be soon populariser of several tons of ideas that would permeate through the next half-decade of online rap.
Try to look for a few artists at this current point of time who would state their influences are Yung Lean, they are few and far for some reason even though his cloak is held high over. You can hear his sparks click into the framework of mainstream rap.
Maybe Yung Lean isn’t a stranger after all.