Imma Make You Hurt: Sadboys & Yung Lean

The biggest change in music since the introduction of the compact disc would have to be the advent of the Internet. Digital distribution, single song downloads, and the ease of putting work out into the world have had widespread effects, and the hip hop/rap genre has been affected more than any other.

Yung Lean, born Jonathan Leandoer, is a Swedish rapper and the de facto leader of Sad Boys Entertainment. Sad Boys are compressed of Lean, as well as producers Yung Gud and Yung Sherman. They rose to internet fame in 2013 when the music videos for the songs “Ginseng Strip 2002” and “Hurt” went viral on Tumblr, Reddit, YouTube, and Soundcloud. “Hurt,” currently has over 3 million views as of February 2015. They gained their popularity through tracks and videos like these, and the imagery they use, and their atmospheric, drugged-out production. He released his debut LP “Unknown Death 2002,” that same year. Last year, he realized his second studio album, Unknown Memory.

The music of the Sadboys can be characterized as atmospheric, focusing on “sadness” and “emotion.” The instrumentals are spacious, far reaching, and have the ability to transport the listener into the world and minds of its creators. Synthesizers, drum machines, and extensive voice modulation are all employed to get this effect, and the slack rapping style of Yung Lean acts more as an instrument in the mix, rather than a voice layered on top of a beat. Producer Yung Gud tweeted last year that he doesn’t make beats, he makes music.

My first introduction to the music of Yung Lean was on Tumblr, seeing a blog post the music video for the song “Hurt.”

This song, produced by Suicideyear, has a hypnotic feel. The video itself however, is absolutely mesmerizing. Because it utilizes a lot of elements from Net Art and Vaporwave, I was immediately confused by the video, wonder just what the hell was actually going on. Arizona Iced Tea, Fiji water, codeine syrup bottles, Louis Vuitton duffle bags, Japanese characters, Pokemon cards, Nintendo 64s, Gameboys, crude 1990s computer graphics, and Grecian columns are just a few of the many visual elements to this music video. The lyrical content is also very confusing, with Lean referring to himself as Murakami, or bragging about having champagne with his carpaccio. He laments in the chorus that he will “Make you hurt,” referring to a girl. He wants to “hurt” her emotionally, but not in a negative way. He is a self-proclaimed “Sad Boy,” and he wants his girl to be as sad as him so they can connect on a deep emotional level. Sadness, not as a state of depression, but as a state of being and viewing the world, is the m.o. of Yung Lean and the rest of Sadboys.

Some songs are not as emotional, but show to more braggadocios, teenage fantasy side of Sadboys. The song “Damn Gud Shawty,” is a great example of this.

The lyrical content of this track is a bit crass, talking about romantic relations with various women, and doing various drugs. The beat is atmospheric, almost like a daydream, and the lyrical content reflects that of what many millennial teenage males daydream about. To me, this track sounds like a daydream while falling asleep in a boring High School math class.

My personal favorite Yung Lean track, and the second one I ever listened to was the non-album single “Kyoto,” realized in early 2014.

This song, produced by Young Gud & Yung Sherman, has a cloudy, dreamlike feel, the signature of Sadboys music and the rest of the “cloud rap” genre. Named after the Japanese city of Kyoto, the use of Eastern string patches and flutes mixed in with the hip hop drums and their signature synths, as well as the voice modulation gives a feeling of being in a futuristic version of that same city, but perhaps the future as imagined by a child in the early part of the 00s.

Lyrically, this track shows a bit more development and refinement from Lean. He still fantasizes, about being “Warhol” or “Wario in Mario Kart.” Drugs are still a prevalent theme, as well, adding to the atmospheric feeling of the music. In the second verse, Lean sings:

My life I’ve comprehended, it’s not a lie
I’m dependent on my team
When I send it, I spit fire I’m an element
I’m everything
You’re irrelevant
Take it easy
Yeah we getting it

It’s self aware, and braggadocios. Seeing how this song was released after they gained popularity, it’s a celebratory trip through a futuristic city, and the music video itself also illustrates that. It’s Yung Lean, the rest of Sadboys, as well as the collective Gravity Boys, friends and frequent collaborators. They are walking through Kyoto, wearing expensive clothes, riding ATVs, expensive cars, smoking, and drinking Arizona Iced Tea. This video is what the Lean in “Damn Gud Shawty” was dreaming of, and when him and his boys finally “made it,” they celebrate.

Yung Lean and Sadboys are a group of friends who make music that they like for fun, using the imagery of their childhoods as well as their fantasies. It’s honest, and not pretending to be anything that it isn’t. This music is not for everyone, and not for everyone to understand. And they really don’t care, because they’re doing their thing, whether it’s rapping about being “lonely clouds” or wearing Ugg boots, and want everyone who wants to come along on the ride.