Yung Lean, the 18-Year-Old Swedish Rap Star: "I Saw This Shit Coming"
Yung Lean, inspired by sadness and Arizona Iced Tea.
Photo by Brock Fetch
Your kid drops out of high school to start an Internet-driven music career, rapping about video games, hard drugs, sadness, and Arizona Iced Tea. As a parent, you may raise an eyebrow.
Lucky for Yung Lean, he doesn't have any parents.
That's obviously not true, but the 18-year-old Swedish stream-of-conscious MC likes to keep his cards close to his chest. He and his producer friends Yung Sherman and Yung Gud bring their talents together as the Sadboys. They got the Internet going nuts with 2013's Lavender EP and Unknown Death mixtape. This year's full-length Unknown Memory benefits from more money and better production, but it still has the same dreamy style.
Depending who you ask, Sadboys are either the future of music and fashion, or everything that's wrong with the world. Prepping for his Basel Castle 2014 gig, we here at Crossfade chatted with Lean about the Swedish hip-hop scene, speaking three languages, being "a '90s child," predicting the future, and making "music just for myself."
See also: Art Basel Miami Beach 2014 Party Guide
Crossfade: You're in Sweden now?
Yung Lean: Yeah, I'm outside the studio.
Are you always working on tracks with the crew?
Yeah, I guess. Just progression. We're making an opera track right now with me singing really beautifully.
I read that your first rap album was Get Rich or Die Trying. What made you first connect with hip-hop as a genre?
Those were my first CDs, 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Trying and this Swedish group Latin Kings, the album was called, Mitt kvarter, "my hood" in English.
The Latin Kings is a gang over here.
Yeah, it is. I don't think they knew it was a gang, but they're like OG, 20 years ago, 30 years ago.
I really don't know that much about the Swedish hip-hop scene.
There is none really.
It's just you and the Latin Kings?
I don't know. I don't follow it. There is definitely one that is, like, horrible. But that's not what got me into hip-hop. I don't know. But I listened to a lot of stuff while I was listening to hip hop. I never just had an only-rap period.
English is not your first language, right?
No, my first language was Russian. That's my original mother tongue, but then I forgot it when I moved back to Sweden. Swedish is my first language, and English is my second. Spanish is my third.
See also: Five Signs You Might Be a Shitty Rapper
Photo by Brock Fetch
Miami is a cool spot for you.
Yeah, we're going to do this interview with Fiesta TV or something for just Spanish families. Miami is nice. We were there on the last tour. I like Miami.
How was that? Was that actually your first time coming to the States?
That was the first. I was there when I was a kid, but that was the first time I am remembering the States.
How did the first tour go down? Did you do a lot of networking?
I don't network. It's not the way I make music and go on tours. It was beautiful. It was like the Beatles coming to the U.S. No, don't quote me on that. It was like Yung Lean coming to the U.S.
When I think of the Sad Boys sound, it's hard for me to imagine your rap style separated from the production of Yung Gud and Yung Sherman. Do you have people coming to you now asking you to rap on their shit?
Yeah, for like the past two years, people have been sending me beats and asking me to rap with their stuff. But I don't know. There's a couple of producers I think are cool but right now, it's nice you can hear that it's the same vibe in the music.
You've done work with South Florida artists Robb Banks and Denzel Curry. How did that come about?
Just SoundCloud, Twitter, 2013 vibe.
Do you feel any sort of kinship with the scene over here?
Yeah, you guys have Trick Daddy and Rick Ross. That's good enough.
You've become an Internet fashion icon.
I don't know anything about that.
Do you think of yourself as fashionable at all?
Where do you get your clothes?
Nope, I don't know. They send them to me from luxurious stores. Nah, I'm kidding, I find them. They come to me.
I'm older than you, but when I started watching your videos and listening to your music, I could instantly relate to the Nintendo, Pokémon, and Mario references.
Yeah, but you're probably a '90s child as well.
Is that why you chose to make your love of those things so prominent in your music?
No, that was just our vibe when we were making those songs and those videos.
Do you feel any external pressure now that you guys get bigger to move in a certain direction?
No, I'm just happy that we have more opportunities. Before, I had ideas and shit, but I couldn't get it through because we didn't have the budget, but there's no external pressure from the other world.
Do you have a clear vision of what you want the project to be?
Yeah, right now I do. I know right now, but who knows what's going to happen in the future. You want dreams, but you don't want a short vision. You just have to sort of go with the flow, but always plan ahead. You get what I mean?
You have to be open to things changing, flexible.
Yeah, flex. You have to flex. You have to be flexible as well.
When you guys started making music and releasing it, did you take it very seriously? Or did you become more serious as you went along?
Nah, listen to "Ginseng Strip 2001." The last word I say is "who's laughing now that I'm explosive like Alfred Nobel." I saw this shit coming.
Did you graduate high school?
Nah, I did not. I didn't care.
Did you ever get support from people in your city?
No. It's been a war. It's a hate relationship between Yung Lean and his city. In the beginning, we got so much shit from media and stuff. A lot of people hated us, still do. Swedes are kind of scared of having opinions. It's like with Abba and Ace of Spades and everything. If it is weird and not completely understandable, then the Swedes wait for it to get big in Europe or the U.S., then they can say that they like it.
Yeah, they've done so much shit like, so many bad articles on us and wrong facts, getting everyone in a weird position. They put out my dad's name, said that I was grounded and shit when I was like 16, and everything was just wrong. They just take everything wrong.
Are you parents supportive of your music career at this point?
That's a personal relation. I don't know if people want to hear about Yung Lean's parents.
Yung Lean doesn't have parents. You're born from the ether.
Exactly, from that video. Yung Lean doesn't have parents. It's true.
Do you feel respected by the American hip-hop community?
I don't see myself as being a part of anything except what I'm doing. The rap industry and the rap crowd is not really what I'm aiming for. If artists I like, if they like what I'm doing and I like what they're doing, we get along and that's cool. Other than that, fuck them.
Do you aim for any audience in particular, or do you just make music for yourself and then if people like it, cool?
No, nothing. If I was in a cave, I would hopefully make music. It's just for myself. Who else? If you do it for someone else, then why would you do it?
That's usually when it starts to sound bad.
That's when Taylor Swift comes out.
I'm really excited to hear the music you're working on now. Is there any timeline for when you want to start releasing more music or are you riding on this album?
I'm just going to be low-key and drop it when I'm ready.
Anything you want to say to Miami?
Shout-out to Miami. Shout-out to the Miami Dolphins, to the people of Miami, to everything. I love Miami.
I guess it's a little different from the weather you're used to.
Yeah, and I'm happy for that. Fuck the Swedish winter. I'm gonna fly away.
Crossfade's Top Blogs
Basel Castle 2014. With Yung Lean & Sad Boys, Future Islands, and others. Presented by Overthrow and Embrace. Saturday, December 6. Basel Castle, 41 NW 20th St., Miami. Doors open at 6 p.m. and tickets cost $20 to $25 plus fees via ticketfly.com. Ages 18 and up. Visit baselcastle.com.
Follow Kat Bein on Twitter @KatSaysKill.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.