The release of the album “Stranger” represents the culmination of a long-term passion project for Swedish rapper Yung Lean. Released in conjunction with a short film of the same title, this project is his third studio album.
Though he gained initial fame from a particular meme-saturated and overproduced style of internet rap, the Yung Lean who would rap lines like “Billionaire Boys Club, sweater is brand new / like everything I do is brand new / now I’m trippin’ on that cash flo” is nowhere to be found on this more mature project. Considering he started rapping at the age of 16, the Swedish musician has done a lot of growing up alongside his musical development.
Teased by the rare promotional single, this album takes the rapper in an unexpected musical direction. Minimalistic production is interspersed with absurdist lyrics — “wrist, diamonds, ice / neon green lights, don’t care about the price” — usually melancholically warbled by the young rapper, providing the backdrop for an artistic experiment that establishes Yung Lean’s new persona.
Production credits go to his original crew, Yung Gud, yung sherman and Whitearmor, who are collectively known as the Sad Boys. Bouncy synths, tropical drums and heavy bass lines are merged together on “Stranger” skillfully, providing beats that are musically complex and intriguing enough to surface beyond his contemplative lyrics.
The sound many fans have always expected from him does make an appearance, particularly on “Skimask.” The track offers a refreshing reprieve from the haunting beats and unsettling vocals present on the rest of the album.
Most of the songs on this album, from “Metallic Intuition” to “Yellowman,” are romantic and contemplative, in keeping with Yung Lean’s shift to sparse production and absurdist lyricism. The album opens with the track “Muddy Sea,” in which Yung Lean confidently announces “Fuck being famous / I don’t need all that shit.” Artists remaking their image is nothing new, but Yung Lean commits to this trope. Though still bound up in his old musical identity, frequently referencing money and drugs, he has cultivated an air of self-awareness on the album.
Yung Lean’s existential struggles are reflected in his lyricism, which plays with the split identity of a rapper turned multimedia creative. He alternates between more traditional rap lyrics on tracks like “Salute / Pacman” and more contemplative lines on other tracks like “Drop It / Scooter”
Though many expected him to be a one-hit wonder after his single “Ginseng Strip 2002,” Yung Lean secured features on tracks from mainstream rappers like Travis Scott and gained a cult following on the internet. He is now a relatable figure for a young audience, and it’s safe to say he’s found his niche: experimental production and forlorn lyrics.
“Stranger” overall offers a self-conscious break from the uncritical and drug-addled stream of underground rap releases, helping to establish Yung Lean as a young creative on the rise rather than just a minor internet celebrity.