Yung Lean — headlining Neumos with his Sad Boys crew on Thursday, Dec. 18 — is a telling example of just how young, strange and global rap music has become.
An 18-year-old Swedish kid whose first exposure to rap was 50 Cent’s 2003 track “Patiently Waiting,” Lean combines futuristic, emotive electronic beats with stream-of-consciousness, alternate-reality raps. His tracks are about things like drugs, sex and video games, often soaked in echo-chamber reverb or syrupy Auto-Tune effects.
Detractors say Yung Lean’s music is pointless or appropriative, that he’s a bad rapper, that he’s “what’s wrong with hip-hop” these days.
But his 2013 video for “Ginseng Strip 2002” — shot when Lean was 16 by his friend after school one day — has over 3 million YouTube views and was largely responsible for the attention his subsequent mixtape “Unknown Death 2002” received.
In a Skype video chat, Lean — given name Jonatan Leandoer Hastad — recalled the seminal “Ginseng” session.
“There were a lot of people at [Sad Boys producer] Yung Gud’s place recording,” he said. “I didn’t know any of them, it was like real hip-hop heads. I got on the mike and I did one take for the whole song and everyone’s like, ‘What the [hell] is he rapping about?’ … But then when we listened to everything we recorded, they were like ‘Play that li’l Lean [song] back.’ ”
A year later, Yung Lean is sounding older, colder and more focused, having gotten into a non-bedroom studio to record his debut full-length “Unknown Memory.”
“ ‘Unknown Death’ was like this weird homemade world,” he said. ‘The sound is quite dark, but the lyrics are happy, sort of references to Mario and nostalgic [stuff] like Arizona [Iced Tea], whilst ‘Unknown Memory,’ the sound is more light, but the lyrics are darker … more honest. It’s like yin and yang, black and white.”
But Lean doesn’t like talking too much about how his music sounds.
“You can’t describe your sound,” he said. “Like, ‘Ah, damn, this song sounds like 100 puppies running around in a field of oatmeal.’ ‘Whoa, this sounds like Miley Cyrus on crack.’ You have to use metaphors. It’s really lame to talk about.”
Nevertheless, Lean’s American rap influences are apparent. He prefers “modern rappers” like Chicago’s similarly aged (but exponentially more “street”) Chief Keef — while acknowledging that his own background is very different.
“In Europe, we have like ‘culture,’ ” he said, “World War II, stuck-up French boys in Paris, beautiful churches everywhere. … We don’t really have that mentality of growing up on nothing and following your dreams.”
Yung Lean & Sad Boys
8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 18, at Neumos, 925 E. Pike St., Seattle; $15 advance (206-709-9467 or neumos.com).