When Yung Lean arose from the depths of the internet last year, he raised a lot of questions. A lot of those questions have fortunately been answered since, but a few key mysteries linger. His debut studio album, Unknown Memory, doesn’t exactly clarify what it is Yung Lean is about, but it does at the very least make it easier to explain his mystifying appeal.
Rapping in his second language, the now 18-year-old Swede grabbed the attention of many by neglecting copious genre traditions. Throwing away the rapper rule book on his debut mixtape, Unknown Death 2002, Yung Lean embodies the eskewed internet generation. Unknown Memory moves even further from those hip-hop traditions that he ditched on his debut, and solidifies Lean as interesting character outside of his incredible post-modernistic aesthetic.
Instead of rejecting his surreal origins in favour of street thug fantasies, Yung Lean embraces the the term “internet rapper”. Instead of being detrimental to his sound, however, his cyberspace rumblings only benefit his video-game riffing production and atmospherics. The style he birthed with his initial singles preceding Unknown Death 2002 has fully evolved here, representing subterranean yet somehow intergalactic form of bliss rarely replicated. Produced entirely by Yung Gud, Yung Sherman and Whitearmor, Unknown Memory is his most consistently strong effort yet.
There’s a joyful sense of exhilaration that comes from Lean’s drawn-out murmurs, and hugely infectious hooks. This is evident from ‘Blinded’ onwards, and the record rarely lets up on this front. His vocals no longer resemble Michael Cera whisper rapping into his microphone so he won’t wake his mum up, with a new-found confidence bolstering each of the album’s vivid soundscapes. His vocals act as more of a cohesive sonic layer, becoming an instrument that sits proudly amongst the rest of the production, rather than a slurred blemish tarnishing some of the best production you’re likely to hear all year.
His sound and lyrical content highlight the garish disconnect between the digital world and the real world, similar to how James Feraro’s divisive Far Side Virutal did. It’s a high concept presented in the most accessible fashion possible, making it the perfect kind of music to simply turn off to. It’s proof that you don’t need to understand Yung Lean, you just need to appreciate the fact that his music is coming from a different place than other rappers. Essentially everything about Unknown Memory is imperfect as a hip-hop album; and yet, it’s hard to stop listening.