Whatever else you can say about Jonatan Leandoer Håstad, you can't really argue that the Swedish singer-rapper, who dabbles in sad, punk-leaning rap, isn't a walking contradiction. Since his breakthrough with mixtapes in the early 2010s, he has carved out his own place in a hip-hop landscape that is pretty unforgiving to artists not from the culture's established hubs.
On 'Stranger', Yung Lean seems to embrace his outsider status even more so than on previous projects, with the Scandinavian expanding on his reputation as a reclusive 'sad rap' artist and creating a project that feels isolated and reflective. On opener 'Muddy Sea’, Lean sets the thematic tone for the rest of the project, running through multiple elements of his life that he presents as disjointed and in some cases broken. Opening line “I don't care about money so yeah I spend it quick” sounds like your standard rap braggadocio, but in context the statement fits into the feeling of almost complete disconnection Lean is trying to present.
This sense of detachment continues on 'Red Bottom Sky', where sonically there’s some crossover between Lean and Post Malone, with the ethereal beat and melancholic vocals resulting in a pretty close parallel between the two. 'Metallic Intuition' highlights both the quality of production on 'Stranger' and also a rare moment of real experimentation, when he diverts away from his traditional melancholic 'cloud rap' in favour of a more jarring and industrial sound.
However, it is on the spacier and more pensive tracks that Lean is in his element. Unfortunately this means that despite his unique background, his style of music is commonplace in a rap landscape dominated by Drake-esque downtempo introspection. Lean truly shines through on tracks like 'Agony', where he combines this style with his own innate eccentricity, singing in a somewhat unhinged way over an out of tune but melodic piano. 'Stranger' is at its best when it steps away from the safety of cloud rap melancholy in favour of Lean embracing his outsider identity.
Words: Will Rosebury
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