Yung Lean and the rise of the internet rapper

Yung Lean has come a long way from his beginnings in a Stockholm suburb. He’s toured North America extensively over the last year and a half, playing sold out shows across the continent. When you look at his counterparts, you realize that he doesn’t seem to have any. Yung Lean exists in a vacuum; he’s not competing with American rappers, or anything that the industry has been putting out in the last few years. He’s created an ultra-niche for himself, and his age, his ethnicity and the subject matter in his rhymes are all markers that uniquely identify him. He’s a synonym for mellow, with everything about him, from his style, to his music, to his calm demeanour indicating that he’s far removed from the lavishness that is often glorified in rap.

Yung Lean, born Jonatan Leandoer Håstad, is one of the most successful examples of an internet rapper. In the last decade, the ability for artists to make money from their music online has quantified significantly. In the past, the internet (well, Myspace) was a place to drum up buzz, to get people behind your music in the hopes of catching the ear of an A&R. That’s become less important as platforms such as Bandcamp and YouTube allow for music to be sold independently. This has, to an extent, led to an over saturation of the market, with everyone and their mother peddling their Soundcloud link on Twitter. But, if you’re able to crack social media, and YouTube, and put out decent music, it’s more possible than ever to make it financially, without ever having a song hit radio airwaves.

For Yung Lean, his success may seem instantaneous. He’s been “famous” since he was in his early teens (he’s eighteen now) but the road to crossover to North America must have been grueling. He’s making the most of his time by touring in support of his album Unknown Memory, which he dropped in September. He’s got his collective, Sad Boys, which consists of longtime friends Yung Sherman and Yung Gud. They’re unofficially joined by the thousands of young, err yung fans that are collectors of Yung Lean and his lifestyle.

For Sad Boys, there’s nothing foreign about performing in front of thousands of fans. They were at ease the entire time they were on stage, comfortably moving along to the music, which was echoed back by the visibly buzzed up crowd. We could go into the drug culture that Yung Lean’s music promotes, one that quite a few of his young supporters partake in, but that wouldn’t be fair to him, as he’s hardly the first or last to perpetuate that sort of lifestyle. Whether helped along by chemicals or not, Yung Lean’s army of sad boys and girls were thoroughly entertained.