When Jonatan “Yung Lean” Håstad first came on to the music scene back in 2013, it was hard — if not impossible — to take him seriously. His music was absurd and his raps were outlandish, not to mention that many mistook his stage name for the popular Actavis and Sprite concoction (his name is rather an homage to his middle name “Leandoer”): he seemed like a huge meme created to achieve internet fame. At the time, its only redeeming quality was the insane production that littered his tapes. Then things started to change.
His more serious forays into music popped up — projects that made me think Yung Lean might have something more to offer. His latest album Stranger is proof that he is an artist who has something greater to bring to the table.
On this project, Yung Lean strays away from the careless, nonsensical raps of his early days and instead focuses on gorgeous, soothing melodies. In fact, Lean has several songs that are primarily — if not entirely — sung. When he does sing, the decisions pay off. “Red Bottom Sky” is a clear stand out early in the track listing. Yung Lean sings, “Ice dropping, red bottom sky/ Intrigued by the moment, look like she know why/ Ice dropping, red bottom sky/ Ice on my feet, I keep slipping” in one of the catchiest hooks you’ll hear all year. “Agony” and “Yellowman” also showcase his ear for melodies that pair brilliantly with the cold, drum-heavy, synth-driven production.
Almost entirely produced by associates Yung Sherman, GUD and White Armor, Stranger is as fresh as a new snowfall. The layers of each track are detailed beyond belief. Matching perfectly with Yung Lean’s slightly auto-tuned delivery, the production gives his vocals room to act on their own.
Not only does Lean avoid stagnation that is seen on his earliest projects, he takes the redeeming qualities of those projects and extracts the most compelling aspects. Production aside, Lean still discusses his affinity for Louis Vuitton, drugs, diamonds and his overall lavish lifestyle in Stockholm, Sweden. Building on those topics however, Lean begins to lament about how some of those things have started to disrupt his life. He sounds heartbroken — longing for a connection that doesn’t include his superfluous habits.
Even though Lean has his melancholic moments on tracks like “Agony,” there isn’t a shortage of hits — some of which take Lean’s pain and weave it in with braggadocios raps. “Skimask” is an immediate stand out, as Lean raps, “I got lots of swag and I be feeling hurt/ Walk up in the bank like John Dillinger/ Rainbows I’m willing to splurge/ After you’ve gone I’m still on the earth.”
This isn’t all to say that Stranger is a perfect album. It is, undoubtedly, a fun project, but it does suffer from repetition. As long as Yung Lean can find a way to cover new topics while expanding on the sound he’s developed so far, he’ll be much better off. Yung Lean still has ways to go before he reaches his full potential. Nevertheless, Stranger is a strong sign that he’s on the right path. In four short years he’s transformed himself from an internet sensation to an artist worthy of your attention and respect.