In the early 2010s a new music genre was born called vaporwave (also called vapourwave), and with it came aesthetic. Yung Lean was one of the biggest influences on aesthetic and vaporwave as a whole with his bucket hats, arizona tea, and buckets of sadness. Most, myself included, thought that vaporwave and Yung Lean would just die out in a couple of years and be forgotten. But while vaporwave is all but dead, Yung Lean is still thriving and his third album Warlord (February 25th, 2016) has just been released to the masses.
I am going to admit something that I have only ever admitted to a handful of people. I do unironically like some Yung Lean songs. Maybe it’s the banging instrumentals or Lean’s mesmerizing flow and voice that make me enjoy songs like Kyoto and Volt, but over the years he has been one of my guilty pleasures. Unfortunately, Warlord was far from impressive, and suffers from some of the same issues as most of Lean’s other full length projects. Despite my preference for some of his music, Lean is incapable of holding my attention for much longer than a few minutes, as all of his music sounds eerily similar. While listening to the 45 minute project I often found myself zoning out, especially during songs like “Af1s”. It’s clear that Lean is trying to distance himself from the vaporwave aesthetic, which I’m okay with, but it seems to me that he doesn’t really know what he wants to be.
On “Fantasy”, which features Glo Gang’s Lil Flash, it seems like Lean is trying to be more of a trap rapper. On “Hoover” it sounds like Lean is trying to be an experimental rapper, as the instrumental on the track is reminiscent of Kanye West’s 2013 album Yeezus. The hook on “Afghanistan” makes it seem like Lean is trying to be a more commercially successful rapper. All of these different sounds being fused makes for an unfocused and directionless project, something Lean seems to commonly struggle with. To Lean’s credit he does have a newfound attentiveness and aggressiveness that he hasn’t displayed in any of his other projects, and he seems to genuinely want to be a good rapper. Unfortunately for him, there are only a handful of songs that stick out to me as being anything other than mediocre.
Lyrically the album is about what you would expect from Yung Lean. He has never been the strongest lyricist, and often raps about drugs, pop culture references, or being sad with no context. The real appeal to Lean’s music has always been the fantastic production. Yung Gud and Yung Sherman really do a pretty good job on this album. All of the instrumentals are good, with the exception of Hoover, which really just sounds like a mess to me.
Overall, I am not a fan of this album. I just find it too unorganized and boring to really give me any sort of meaningful experience. I have never been a huge stickler on lyrics, and often times I will be the one to say that I don’t care at all about lyrics (in most contexts) but I would have enjoyed to see Lean deliver some meaningful lyrics in this album. While the project did lack in a lot of areas, Lean really does seem to be trying to separate himself from the vaporwave aesthetic. I think he wants to be taken seriously as a rapper, and I think he could eventually become a serious rapper. Some moments on this album make me excited for Lean’s future, while others make me cringe. I still love Yung Lean, and I think his next project will be better, but for now I’m gonna have to give this album a D+.
Favorite Songs: Fire, Hocus Pocus
Least Favorites Songs: Highway Patrol, Fantasy, Afghanistan, Hoover