Skip to content

Yung Lean – The Innovative Swedish Rapper

Yung Lean
Name: Jonatan Leandoer Håstad
Born: July 18, 1996 in Minsk, Belarus

Genres: Cloud Rap, Lo-fi Hip Hop, Alternative Hip Hop
Labels: Sad Boys Entertainment, YEAR0001

Associated Acts: Sad Boys, Drain Gang

As a longtime hip hop fan, I‘ve been enthralled watching Swedish rapper Yung Lean rise from a viral internet mystery to a boundary-pushing and genre-blending artist. Born Jonatan Leandoer Håstad in 1996, Yung Lean burst onto the underground scene as a teenager with his hazy, mesmerizing style of hip hop.

Upbringing and Early Interest in Hip Hop

Yung Lean spent his early childhood in Belarus before moving to Stockholm where he absorbed the city‘s diverse musical influences. During his teenage years, Lean became enamored with hip hop after discovering rap videos online. Unlike many young rappers, Lean had no connections to the scene and began teaching himself to produce beats and write lyrics. Some of his early influences included staples like Lil Wayne and Gucci Mane along with alternative rock acts like The Smiths.

Armed with only a basic mic and computer program, Lean started self-recording songs and releasing them online under the moniker Yung Lean. He adopted a slowed-down, psychedelic style that transfixed listeners even in its raw form. As Lean sharpened his sound, he formed the hip hop collective Sad Boys in 2013 along with producers Yung Gud and Yung Sherman. Little did they know what was in store…

Rise to Fame with "Unknown Death 2002"

The turning point came in 2013 when Yung Lean released his breakout mixtape Unknown Death 2002 at just 16 years old. Full of hazy, downbeat beats and Lean‘s numbed-out, poetic lyrics, it garnered millions of SoundCloud plays seemingly out of nowhere. Songs like "Ginseng Strip 2002" and "Kyoto" became viral sensations praised for their hypnotic production and Lean‘s uniquely frail, emotive rapping.

As Unknown Death 2002 took off across the internet, Lean embarked on a sold-out North American tour, performing for raucous crowds who knew every single word. It was a testament to the grassroots power of internet virality and Lean‘s resonance with young listeners longing for something outside the mainstream.

Evolution on Debut Album "Unknown Memory"

Following his rapid rise, Lean released his first official studio album Unknown Memory in 2014 through iconic indie label Orchid Tapes. Expanding on his signature "cloud rap" sound, the album mixed gorgeous, atmospheric production with Lean‘s spiraling, stream-of-consciousness lyrics and melodic vocal style. It earned critical acclaim for its vulnerability and inspiration from genres like shoegaze and dream pop.

The album‘s standout single "Kyoto" racked up millions of plays, propelled by its lush instrumentals and Lean‘s tender ode to escapism. As his fame grew, Lean embarked on his first world tour including festival performances that cemented him as a buzzworthy live act. Though still a teenager, Lean had developed a sound entirely of his own.

Collaborations and Continued Growth

Over the next few years, Yung Lean expanded his sound and collaborated with prominent rappers like Travis Scott, Chief Keef and Yung Gleesh while releasing projects like Frost God and Warlord. In 2017, he joined forces with close collaborator Gud to form Drain Gang, a collective of Swedish artists blending rap and pop.

Lean‘s third album, Poison Ivy, arrived in 2019 with a more mature, introspective style drawing influence from indie pop and new wave artists like The Cure. Songs like "Blue Plastic" showed Lean‘s songwriting continuing to grow in depth.

Throughout his career evolution, Lean has maintained his idiosyncratic artistic vision and close relationship with his cult fanbase. His willingness to experiment outside of hip hop constraints has made him one of the most unpredictable, endlessly creative rappers today.

Lasting Impact on Underground Rap

Now entering his late ‘20s, Yung Lean has already left an indelible mark on underground and alternative rap. As one of the pioneers of the cloud rap explosion, he‘s inspired countless young artists to embrace atmospheric, emotive production. His DIY approach to gaining a following also helped spearhead a movement of independent online artists.

While much of the industry has shifted to a viral, streaming-driven model, Lean has remained dedicated to the craft of album-making and touring. For his loyal fans, Lean‘s withstanding appeal comes from following his uncompromising creative vision through every reinvention. Yung Lean remains one of the most daring, versatile artists that underground rap has produced.