Delving Past Yung Lean and Deeper Into the World of Sad Rap

There are plenty of rappers and producers making music to shed a tear to.

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Aug 1 2014, 11:43am
Two Yung Lean fans photographed by Jason Bergman

If, somehow, you haven’t already heard Yung Lean, then you may think his music is the spurned mumble of a Reddit user who got refused entry to a 16+ rap show. This, from the outset, is fair. But if you leave assumption aside, peer into his world, and read between the lines, you realise Yung Lean occupies a unique space; he’s an outsider, offering a unique take on a genre that, since it’s birth, has felt intrinsically Americanised. He occupies a fantasy world - flipping the stereotypical iconography of US hip-hop on its head, finding solace in sadness, and dropping bars about Arizona ice tea.

In the year since “Ginseng Strip 2002” dropped on YouTube, Yung Lean has turned not just into a legitimate star, but a cultural influencer. He’s influenced the next generation of teenage suburban rap fans in the same way Mac Miller did back in 2010 - the fans wear the same clothes, imitate his prose on social media, and fiercely devour the plethora of new music put out on a regular basis. The fact that Justin Bieber was photographed with the Sadboys is evident at the progress Yung Lean has made since half the music-internet couldn’t decide whether to take him seriously or not - and it’s Bieber’s pastiche of Lean’s aesthetic that not only proves the relevance and impact his career is having, but how far it can go.

You only need to take a quick glance through YouTube to see the artists that are coming up off the back of Yung Lean’s success. They may not all be influenced directly by Lean, but they occupy a similar space, making rap music from the future that sounds vastly different from anything released before the iPhone 4 was invented.

In an attempt to satisfy your thirst for everything else in the post-Yung Lean rap world, here’s a few people who are making waves.

Spooky Black

From the senile camcorder’s slow pan to Spooky Black in a turtleneck and do-rag, it’s at first hard not to think that “Without You” is a pisstake. But if your attention span extends beyond the initial assumption that Lil Spook is the kind of artist who thrusts a rain stained demo sleeve at you outside Camden Town station, you will be greatly rewarded - he’s the future of music.

For a start, he’s only fifteen, yet has enough balmy soul in his voice to convince me he’s the person behind the answer phone messages I’ve heard in my heaven themed dreams. His lyrics - which dart between to-the-point first love stanzas you’d pin in your locker and crushing one-liners reminiscent of every time you’ve soaked a pillow with tears - get inside your head. And then there’s the instrumentals, low-key, 80s teen film drum machines combined with compressed synths and twinkling triangle effects.

Spooky released his full-length album Black Silk back in April, and has tracks with Bobby Raps, that exemplify the proclivity for emotional candour that’s been present in the wake of acts like The Weeknd and Clams Casino. Apparently he’s releasing another full length this August, but it’s quite hard to tell when you consider his isolated social aesthetic includes avoiding the media and tweeting things like “your life is based off trends fuck you.”

Bones

L.A. based rapper Bones already has quite an impressive back catalogue considering he only started making music in 2012 - cranking out 30 music videos onto Youtube in the last eleven months alone. These include collaborations with the likes of Chris Travis, Na$ty Matt and Grandmilly, and his cohort of producers, photographers and rappers, known as Team Sesh. One video of his that emerges from the tangled VHS interlacing is “Dirt”. Bones has made a pallid nest in the rubble of a construction site and crouches on his haunches chiding; "Swerving off, my eyes closed, graveyard's where I call home. Razor blade in my fucking palms, touch me and I'mma cut you off.” Like Spooky Black, BONES borrows the uneasy aesthetic of home movies on Hi8 tapes used by directors like Larry Clark and Harmony Korine.

The ominous atmosphere created by the sinister looping nursery rhyme background melody, hostage style video, and churlish delivery are then offset by lines like "these women try to scheme cos I look like Dawson’s Creek". Maybe he isn't going to find and kill you with his switchblade. One of Bone's most notable collaborators is Xavier Wulf (formerly Ethel Wulf), ex-member of the Miami based Raider Klan collective. Their styles go hand in hand, Bone's low doomy tone with Wulf's gravelly flow as they smoke seemingly endless joints together in the videos for tracks like “Weatherman” and “鈍ら墓地” (Cemetery Blunts to you and me). You’ll get dry mouth just watching them. Although their album together is intense, recalling hardcore rap and horror films, it throws you with all kind of weird references to chocolate milk, Aaron Carter and Destiny's Child.

Dylan Ross

Self-confessed Japanese slam metal fan Dylan Ross brings a whole heap of motley influences to the table; gardening and Scottish clan history to name but two. He woos us with the 70s funk riff of Hydrangea; “swaying with the lillies and the hydrangeas watching” before suddenly veering into talk of the “castle of depression.” His excitable array of influences create witty lyrics; "Whats up, junt? Put the money in the bag and fold it up like a calzone". You can imagine Dylan’s raps evolving as streams of subconsciousness, books he’s read and his parents’ taste in industrial and noise music hitchhiking his thoughts; “Leave you burning like a Norseman floating on the River Styx….I'ma slice you from your sternum to your motherfuckin' butt.” Complex lad, I like that. The beats go from being heavily sample driven 70's funk, to the final battle with Bowser in Super Mario Brothers on “A Killer With a Crooked Jaw”. Like Bones, Ohio native Ross has only been uploading music since 2012 but has an insane number of songs on his bandcamp page. An encyclopedic music buff who knows about wild flowers and goregrind - I’d like to buy him a pint.

Black Kray

Black Kray's massively slurry vocals will definitely divide opinion, some will feel it, some will feel like they’re listening to a man who’s just had wisdom tooth surgery. That being said, Kray is a Tamagotchi lovin', flip phoning artist who's got his own interpretation of being a sad boy, which owes as much to the melancholy tinged pop he listens to; Best Coast, Cults and Wolf Parade, as it does Lil B. We also like to imagine that in “$$$ FLEXICAN GUDDA LUV $$$” when he chants about “thuggin with goth slugs”, he means hanging out with depressive gastropods. Since starting to experiment with rap in 2009, just fooling about on his laptop mic, he's now done a fair bit to establish himself. He has a strong coalition of High-Res and Lo-Fi videos under his belt- slurring in supermarkets and bubble baths, and has also expertly directed videos for the likes of Chris Travis and Kons the Child.

T-Time

Anybody who adds Dragon Ball Z references to their rhymes has to be given instant props. T-Time, the master of anime rap, also boasts a formidable Amazon wishlist which made me realise my profound need for a brass bin and a toaster that brands collies onto your breakfast. Instead of being backed by a big crew, T-Time drags a bemused elderly guy into the video for “Tetsuo”. He also posts videos under the name Tlyudacris; check out his YouTube channel to see the scariest cover of “Ice Ice Baby” ever and a disturbing reaction to keyboard cat. His video for “#DESU” still comes out in first place though. It fuses footage from Top Gun, Samurai Champloo, with dogs expertly driving cars. It is also educational, teaching me how to say idiot in Japanese (baka buso for future reference), and that Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū is a style of combative swordsmanship.

Follow Sophie on Twitter: @SophieHadleyy

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