Album Review: Yung Lean – Unknown Death 2002




    Yung Lean is about that life and he’s very sad about it. The 16-year-old Swedish rapper’s debut mixtape, Unknown Death 2002, dropped on the Bandcamp page of New York streetwear brand/hip-hop tastemakers Mishka, and spends much of its 40 minute runtime dwelling in the emotional basement of Yung Lean’s Arizona Iced Tea and Hennessy-infused brain. And what else would you expect from a kid more versed in drinking than driving? The entire tape feels like a #based “’90s Kids Would Love These Things!” Tumblr page that was dipped in codeine Kool Aid.

    Over production mostly from his Sad Boys cohorts Yung Sherman and Yung Gud, Yung Lean raps about Transformers, sadness, Blade Runner, sadness, Super Smash Bros., and sadness. His blasé approach to rapping fits all too well in the blunted-out productions, like on “Lemonade”, which features Stockholm-based producer Baba Stiltz. On that track, Lean raps about shooting a guy in the face, taking his Benz, and playing Beyblades (only one of which we can presume he knows anything about), and an oddly entrancing hook of “I can buy you lemonades, I can buy you drugs.” The spacey vibe of the song is infectious, something you’ll found yourself swaying your shoulders to as Lean spits his appealingly lazy flow.

    Multiple listens to the album and familiarity with the new material from similarly enigmatic rapper RiFF RaFF will reveal some striking similarities; they’re both divisive but wildly popular with a certain crowd, hyper-referential, and able to control Auto-tune without making listening to them a task. While Yung Lean is decidedly less interested in making rap game mad libs, he has the feel and look of what could be, and has occasionally been, misconstrued as comedy rap.

    Never really straying from the sleepy delivery and faded beats, the tape flows together after a certain point, likely an intentional choice. Perhaps at the vanguard of the sadwave movement, the young Swede is seemingly more concerned with his own emotions than those of his dissenters. Many of these songs serve no greater purpose than something to get depressed and/or high too, both for Yung Lean and his fans. The end result of his Sad Boy persona is a debut mixtape that showcases promising producers, a burgeoning microgenre, and a rapper confused about how good he might be.

    Essential Tracks: “Hurt”, “Nitevision”, “Lemonade”