Yung Lean has had a storied history,  releasing eight projects over the past 10 years. (Photo illustration created by Michael Birdsell in Canva using royalty-free images via Wikimedia Commons)
Yung Lean has had a storied history, releasing eight projects over the past 10 years. (Photo illustration created by Michael Birdsell in Canva using royalty-free images via Wikimedia Commons)

Celebrating 10 years of Yung Lean: The outsider who gained entry

Though Lean has been heard by many, few have taken the time to dive into his discography.

The year 2023 marks ten years of Sweden’s most innovative hip-hop artist’s storied time in the limelight.

Yung Lean, also known as Jonatan Leandoer Håstad is an artist many have definitely heard, may it be on the Travis Scott tracks “Parasail” and “Dubai S**t”, even having a TikTok trend in 2022, to his song “Ginseng Strip 2002”, which waned down after a while, continuing this cycle of people not really recognizing lean for his talents. Nonetheless, the multitalented Swede has flourished throughout his brief – yet lengthy – career. 

So much has been accomplished during this quiet career, that it is quite impressive that Lean prevailed through all the hardships he faced in his youth. In 2013, Lean released his debut mixtape “Unknown Death 2002”, and was propelled into his career at the very young age of 18. While beneficial to him, entering the music industry so young also caused a myriad of problems, especially when it came to substance abuse.

Nonetheless, an early start helped Lean innovate and see hip-hop or the genre that he took a hold on, cloud rap, in a different light.

Cloud rap was the perfect niche for Lean with its ethereal almost dreamlike instrumentation, mixed with distorted sampling and traditional hip-hop instrumentation. Cloud rap also came with this sort of “DIY” aesthetic that Lean carried on his sleeve proudly. 

Yung Lean

Though Lean was a member of the genre, he arrived somewhat late, making up for this fact by holding a unique musical perspective hailing from Sweden. He was an outsider to the culture, and his outsider nature made his sound unique, he had this hazy electronic sound that no one was really experimenting with at the time, with the help from producers Gud and Sherman, who also hail from Sweden. The three of them formed “Sad Boys”, a group that Lean continues to claim in the present day. 

A timeline of Yung Lean albums throughout the past 10 years. (Infographic created by Michael Birdsell via Canva)

“I think a lot of American fans or people that read about us—they think that we’re trying to be a part of the American culture, like all these Swedish kids that love America. We rap in English, so I guess there’s something, but we’re very Swedish, actually,” said Lean in a 2014 article with The Fader.

Lean managed to use his outsider status to his advantage in 2014 with his sophomore effort and debut album, “Unknown Memory“, which showcased a more cleaned-up sound compared to the amateurish concept of his first project.

Lean was even able to obtain a feature from a young Travis Scott, the two holding a close bond even to this day, with Travis rarely allowing Lean to leave the conversation, may it be featuring on an album or even just hyping him up on social media.

Lean would continue to tour throughout 2014, settling in Miami after the fact to work on his third album “Warlord“, which would have been Lean’s debut into the broader mainstream. The creation of the project was quite messy though, with Lean picking up a bad drug habit and being surrounded by yes-men who continued to enable this habit, culminating when Lean’s close collaborator and then manager Barron Machat died when he drunkenly crashed his car on a highway.

At the exact same moment, Lean was experiencing a bout of psychosis, and after the incident was taken back to Sweden by close friend Benjamin “Bladee” Reichwald, being admitted into a mental hospital and not knowing about his friend’s death for a whole six months after, an event detailed in the 2020 documentary “Yung Lean: In My Head“.

Nonetheless, Lean prevailed and released “Warlord” in 2016. The project holds this theme of aggression, and was unlike any other track he had out at the time. “Warlord” was and still is Lean’s most cohesive project to date, due to the fact of the underlying theme. Lean managed to create a masterpiece, born out of the ashes of tragedy, and began his most extensive tour to date, being the longest and most successful of his career.

Lean’s career and influence would continue to flourish and similar acclaim was shown for Lean’s next few projects up after the point. A highlight being 2017’s “Stranger“, which was a further foray into the emotional aspect of his career, also being his most popular, with tracks such as “Red Bottom Sky” and “Agony” being among some of his most streamed songs.

The career of Yung Lean would continue and has continued to flourish throughout the years, with Lean cementing himself as a legend of hip-hop’s underground. Even though Lean is more reclusive than previously in his 27 years of life, his emotional influence can be seen everywhere, with artists like Playboi Carti, Trippie Redd, XXXTentacion, and Travis Scott, all citing Lean as a major influence on their sound. Though Lean’s work may not be the most popular or recognizable, there is no doubt the artists of today wouldn’t be the same without him.

“I think if I would have been famous in any other way — you know you see these kids and they get signed and all of the sudden they’re with like twenty people who they don’t know. You see all these stories and it’s like, I never wanted that. I never wanted fame in that way. I’m glad it happened when I was 16 or 17 rather than later, because I’ve learned so much about humanity and people,” Lean said in an interview with PAPER magazine.

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  • Antonietta BirdsellApr 15, 2024 at 11:35 pm

    Love the quote. ” He was an outsider to the culture and his outsider nature made his sound unique.” So eloquently written, Michael . You have a gift.