Ranked: Yung Lean

Swedish artist Jonatan Leandoer, otherwise known to listeners as Yung Lean, is certainly a polarizing figure amongst music fans. It’s a difficult task to put Lean in a box. His projects typically feature dreary vocals supported by backgrounds of sometimes metallic grunge, and other times dreamlike concoctions.
Despite what your stance might be regarding Lean’s sound, there is no doubt that many contemporaries have drawn upon him as an influence, either directly or indirectly. With the release of the 25 year old’s most recent mixtape, Stardust (which will remain unranked for now), let’s take a closer look at Lean’s entire discography and attempt to rank his projects from worst to best. 

7. Frost God (2016)

Lean’s weakest work comes in the form of his 2016 album Frost God. This project only includes 8 tracks and many of them feel void of any emotion to attach yourself to. In my eyes, this is the main issue with the album. There also lacks the feeling of a clear intention within the project that some of his later work is elevated by. Still, Frost God manages to produce its fair share of bright moments. In particular these include the heartsick ballad “Hennessy & Sailor Moon” featuring Bladee, and the grimy banger “Kirby”.

6. Poison Ivy (2018)

      Poison Ivy is another project on the shorter side, in which Lean worked closely with producer Whitearmor to create a gloomy spectacle that evokes images of a ravaged Yung Lean walking through desolate paths and post-apocalyptic landscapes. There is certainly a unique melancholy flavor that is consistent in this album and displays the growing maturity of Lean as an artist. Its unfavorable placement comes mostly as a result of the mixtape lacking the high points of some of his other work. The mixtape is consistently good but it doesn’t feel as revolutionary as other things he has composed. A few personal favorites include the tracks “silicon wings” and “trashy”. 

5. Unknown Memory (2014)

      Unknown Memory is the closest thing I can imagine to being trapped in a futuristic fighting video game from the point of view of an underworld criminal. The production is electric and Lean’s energy is palpable. This album is best known for the track “Yoshi City,” and for good reason. Few songs have been ahead of their time quite like this one. Other highlights include “Ghosttown” featuring Travi$ Scott from the days where he still sported a dollar sign in his name, and “Monster”. Unknown Memory would have placed higher if not for some songs feeling a bit like dead weight that slowed down the momentum of the aforementioned highlights. 

4. Unknown Death 2002 (2013)

      Unknown Death 2002 is Lean’s first proper project, and it is also his most rough around the edges. The vocals are unpolished, and the lyrics are at times nonsensical. Still, Unknown Death 2002 captures the unique spirit of early Yung Lean that paved the way for Cloud Rap as a collective. Oh, and he was only 17 when this project was released. It’s a cult classic, so to speak. The production, headed by Gud, Yung Sherman, and Whitearmor, is relentlessly aiming to break the mold with dreamy beats and the inventive use of different samples. The greatest moments on the project come in the forms of “Gatorade” and “Lightsaber // Saviour,” which both share an ethereal quality that quickly becomes infatuating.     

3. Starz (2020)

      Starz is arguably Yung Lean’s most cohesive work to date. The sixteen song album is sinister in tone, like a slow fog creeping into the bay. As the album progresses however, you can feel a shift where Lean finds liberation in the darkness rather than being consumed by it like he once was. I perceive Starz as a metaphor of sorts, regarding Yung Lean’s life and the way he has made peace with his drug use and bipolar disorder. Some of the notable songs from this project include “Violence” and the opening track “My Agenda”. What holds this album back in terms of ranking has more to do with exemplary features of Lean’s other work and less to do with flaws within Starz

2. Stranger (2017)

      Stranger is the most harrowing project Lean has ever produced. It is cold in a way that perfectly encapsulates the starkness of sorrow. It feels to me as though the album tells the story of Lean waking up to an uninhabited icy wasteland, and just at the moment that he embraces his circumstances and pursues the silver linings, he wakes up all over again to a new icy wasteland. Regardless of interpretation, it is clear that Lean’s creativity is oozing through these songs, giving them life. Stranger’s brilliance is particularly evident in the hypnotic “Red Bottom Sky,” as well as the torturous fairytale that is “Agony”. 

1. Warlord (2016)

      In short, Warlord is unhinged. This album was produced in the midst of manic hallucinations and spells of chaos that eventually sent Lean to the mental hospital. That energy manifests itself into a unbelievably raw musical experience. Despite the chaotic energy that is prevalent on the album, Warlord maintains balance. The synthesis is a timeless album that I consider to be Lean’s best work. Songs that are worth checking out in particular include the wrathful “Hoover”, the unearthly “Miami Ultras”, and “Pearl Fountain” featuring Black Kray and Bladee, which feels like a drug infused car chase. Not that I would know what that feels like… but hey, that’s what music is for.

Max Ray writes for .WAV’s Content Team. He wrote the article. Jenna Nelson is on .WAV’s Art Team. She made the art.