Words About Music
Yung Lean “Unknown Memory”
Early last year, I was enchanted and enthralled by one rapper in particular. Chance, Kanye, Earl, and Death Grips weren’t the only hip-hop artists that put out great albums in 2013. A mysterious 16-year-old MC from Sweden named Yung Lean took the internet by storm with his heady, cloudy, sad brand of hip-hop that blended Clams Casino cloud rap, 808s-&-Heartbreakian autotune, and vaporwave aesthetics. Songs like “Ginseng Strip 2002,” “Kyoto,” and tracks from his debut mixtape “Unknown Death 2002” totally caught me off guard. I initially dismissed Yung Lean as a joke-rapper with no substance, but the more I let myself get enveloped by the sounds and textures, the more I grew to love Yung Lean and his Sadboys. “Unknown Death 2002” remains one of my favorite releases of last year, which made “Unknown Memory” one of my more highly anticipated releases of this year. While this proper debut isn’t quite as impressive as “Unknown Death 2002,” I’ve grown to really enjoy it with repeat listens.
I think Yung Lean’s music requires time and patience in general, if you’re not familiar with the style. Sure, it can lean towards “meme-worthy” at times with its repeated references to seemingly random cultural icons like Pokemon and Arizona Iced Tea, but that just adds to the fun of being a sadboy. Beyond that, though, the music is incredibly appealing to me. While Yung Lean’s producers (Yung Sherman, Yung Gud, Bladee, among others) are incredibly gifted and make up about 65% of what makes the music worthwhile, Lean’s voice and presence makes the music thoroughly awesome. His voice can be tough to get used to and his verses aren’t anything special, but Yung Lean’s songs have a very distinct and recognizable musical quality that a lot of rappers don’t always capture.
I’ll admit that “Unknown Memory” felt incredibly underwhelming to me at first. But, much like with “Unknown Death 2002,” the album rewarded with repeat listens. I found certain phrases and moments that I developed an inexplicable love for. For example, when Lean’s vocals come in on “Blinded” or the pre-chorus to “Monster.” These moments eventually just synced up and made the album a (mostly) enjoyable listening experience to me. Not every song is a hit in the way that I feel like a lot of the songs on “Unknown Death 2002” are, and they probably won’t all stick with me, but I feel like “Memory” is at least on par with “Death.”
In the future, I’d like for Lean’s albums to be a bit more focused. There are moments on this album that feel sort of disjointed and unconnected to any other part of the album. I’d also like to hear a little more experimentation in the production and for Lean to try to push himself as a rapper. One day the novelty will wear off for me (though I certainly hope not), and when that day comes I’d like to hear the Sadboys doing new things. I hope they push boundaries, because though I’ve found myself enjoying “Unknown Memory” more than I initially thought, the day will surely come where I’ll get sick of the same thing.
SCORE – 8.1
FAVORITE TRACKS – Blinded, Sunrise Angel, Yoshi City, Don’t Go, Ghosttown (feat. Travi$ Scott), Monster, Leanworld, Sandman