Before contemporary international Internet trap curiosities like Keith Ape proved Atlanta Hip Hop’s reach abroad, Swedish rapper Yung Lean was already occupying the space. Sir Jonatan Håstad was only sixteen years of age when his breakout single “Ginsing Stripe 2002” along with debut album Unknown Death 2002 made viral waves. His Swedish accent didn’t seem like much of a handicap marbled free associative rhymes more in line with Lil B. Through his Sad Boys collective, producers like Yung Sherman and Yung Gud did a serviceable job of blending 808 standards with more small traces of industrial. Add video games and American pop-culture references alongside depressing themes of aspirations and isolation, Yung Lean became perfect for the Tumblr generation. Clearly, he feels powerful enough to name his first project released as a legal adult Warlord. Yung Lean’s best attempt at real artistry, he succeeds for the most part.
Opening track “Immortal” sets the tone with opening lines featuring exactly what’s expected from the Sad Boys leader, but a lot sharper. “Hold up cause I gotta roll up / Doin’ donuts Euro don’t fold up / Four blunts on the road for four months / I don’t like takin’ pictures please ignore us / I’m abnormal, Gargamel cruisin’ in the four door / We rollin’ deep swisher sweets to my portal,” has it all; materialistic flexin, loner sensibilities, drug references, and Smurf metaphors. Each of those four ideas are spread across Warlord’s thirteen count tracklist. While that would cripple more domestic rappers due to sheer redundancy, Yung Lean’s charisma goes a long way in countering those notions. Still, it doesn’t mean Warlord wasn’t in need of some trimming using “Shawty U Know What it Do” and “Fire” for instance.
Recruiting Lil Fresh of Chief Keef’s Glo Gang for “Fantasy” doesn’t sound as phoned in as it possibly could have. More so, it’s better proof of Yung Lean ability to find those who compliments his somber moods. Bragging about his favorite Middle-Eastern Kush on “Afghanistan” overwhelmingly displays his much improved hook making ability. Additionally, verses like “I’m too fucked up, she said when I heard her/I don’t have no feelings left, I don’t wanna hurt” on “Eye Contact” do a satisfying job of grounding drug binge aftereffects.
Frequent Kanye West collaborator Mike Dean accompanies Yung Sherman and Yung Gud on a pair of tracks “Highway Patrol” and “More Staks.” Too bad both just don’t really add much despite the star appeal. While the Bladee assisted “Highway Patrol” come off as Travis Scott leftovers, the trippy production of “More Staks” doesn’t elevate Yung Lean monotony all the same.
Artists transitioning from teenager to adult is one thing. Making that same attempt in the Internet age is another. Regardless of some unintentional missteps, Warlord explores the mind of a man already turned cynical toward fame, even if it’s only by the binary codes of the web.