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Yung Lean

May 10/2016
WORDS Ian McWilfred PHOTOGRAPHY Matt Barnes

Staying true to one’s original narratives can be tricky in a game that constantly threatens to change you for everything you are. Stockholm’s Yung Lean has gone from being a somewhat obscure underground figure to a burgeoning global star in a matter of a few years. Bursting onto the rap scene with his Sad Boys in 2013, the last three years have seen a deep period of strife and personal development. Sitting down with Yung Lean, we talked about his influences, growing up, fame and staying true.

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The 19-year-old star is no stranger to the lifestyle that seems to compel youths to express themselves through rapping. “I grew up in Belarus, in Russia, but spent most of my time in Stockholm. Stockholm is kind of  crazy. I went to normal public schools – a lot of bad kids and a lot of hooligans.” Lean characterizes his transformation from high school to a three year period of running around the world as just a progression of life. “It’s nice, it’s fine. It doesn’t make any sense, really, but I guess you can really do anything if you put your mind to it. Like, I worked at McDonald’s and I tried to be the best at it. But I wasn’t the best, so I went on to rapping.”

Well acquainted with fame at this point, Lean reflects: “I don’t love the fame, I love making music and hanging out with my friends, like on the tour bus. But I don’t really like people taking photos or stuff like that. I don’t fuck with that. My life’s the same – I just have more money for clothes.”

If you’re a fan of the Sad Boys sound, you’ll realize that on the Warlord record there is definitely a show of introspection on tracks like “Eye Contact” and “Highway Patrol”.  “Life sort of hit me,” explains Lean. “My manager died. I went to the hospital for a drug overdose. A lot of stuff happened. While recording Warlord a lot of things went down, so I grew as a person.” Regardless of this, the sound stays true to the roots. Lean says the consistency comes down to having the same people around. “Ever since I was 16, I worked with Sherman, White Armor and Gud. I’m still working with the same people. So the only person that’s really new is Mike Dean, but he’s only on two songs. It’s always about hanging out and working with the same people you grew up with and started making music with. You can hear with some people – they’re real when they start out but when they’re famous, they just get fake. It’s not like that if you keep the same people around you.”

It’s fun to have haters. They need something to do. They donít have enough positivity in their life. They need someone to hate. So I don’t care about them.

Lean draws influences from various sources that range from southern heavy bass trap to some weird pop, and is no stranger to varying critical reception. Undeterred by his critics, Lean welcomes the hate. “It’s fun to have haters. They need something to do. They’re just filled with hate,” he says with a chuckle. “They don’t have enough positivity in their life. They need someone to hate. So I don’t care about them.”

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