is back on the charts again with new material, with the release of his new album, Stranger
, today. The third full-length released by the sadboy forefather that headed a generation of codeine-and-candy hip-hop bears the Yung Lean and co. trademark sound, but is a marked departure from some of his previous material.
Yung Lean has always been a bit of a polarizing character in the hip-hop community. In 2013, he took the rap world by storm with his Unknown Death 2002
mixtape, a blend of tongue-in-cheek, sardonic raps laid over a psychedelic, deep club production by crew members Yung Sherman and Yung Gud. Out of nowhere, a white teenager from Stockholm, Sweden who could hardly grow facial hair was grabbing attention while dual fisting Arizona iced teas and rapping about getting it on with a Zooey Deschanel look-alike. While some wrote Lean off as a novelty act, others, perhaps a bit disenfranchised by the hyper-aggressive masculinity that can dominate the rap scene, built Lean up as an icon on a coming change in the hip-hop scene.
A few years ago, it seemed that pressure was maybe getting to Lean. In 2015, he was committed to a psychiatric hospital following the death of his close friend and manager Barron Machat, and his own addiction to drugs such as Xanax and cocaine. A comeback ensued with 2016's Warlord
, but it received a lukewarm reception and you could hear there was less of the smart-alec, carefree Yung Lean personality that dominated his earlier material.
And it seems like that trend is continuing, at least to a degree in Stranger
. The album is solid all-around, but probably one of the first things that stands out immediately is its overall sonic cohesiveness. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's a noticeable difference from Unknown Death 2002
and Unknown Memory
. The production that once drew heavily from a variety of influences ambient, Asian house and one-hit wonders like Aneka's "Japanese Boy" seems to have more or less coalesced into a uniform sound, one that actually is pretty reminiscent of 6LACK's FREE 6LACK
The hyphy exoticism present in older tracks like "Kyoto" and "oreomilkshake" has been traded in for a more subdued, stoner club style on tracks like "Silver Arrows" and "Push/Lost Weekend". "Skimask" is an attempt at breaking the mold of the album, described by Lean as a "dark, evil club anthem", and it hits, but it hits more like a bop than a banger really.
These aren't criticisms meant to imply that the album isn't good, it's by far probably Lean's most well-rounded album, with a solid start-to-finish stylistic unity and high production value, but it is different from the Lean that most of us might associated circa 2013/2014. It might be that after all the criticisms for his goofy, devil-may-care attitude, Lean decided to put his nose to the grindstone and make something more respected. It also might be a part of growing up. After losing a close friend and nearly his own career and life to drugs, Lean has been vocal about progressing past the recklessness that was an ever present part of his early persona and work. Either way, Stranger
, like its predecessor Warlord
, plays a bit like growing pains. There's glimpses of the Yung Lean that was, and flashes of the potential artist he might become, but as for now, we have Lean finding his way through the muddled and transitory nature of young adulthood.