Soaked in sweat on one of Chicago’s lately typical too humid to breathe days, 200 of the saddest boys and girls packed into Reggie’s Rock Club to witness someone only recently crowed a young prince of the ever evolving rap game. Yung Lean, Sweden’s 18 year old rapper only recently stepped foot in America, but to a tidal wave of fans fully embraced in his “sad boy” movement. Until recently, not much was known about the young rapper besides his virtually stimulating videos and abstract hip-hop style accompanied by SuicideYear and Yung Gud beats. Aside from a handful of appearances around the globe including stops in New York City, London, and a small European tour that took place last spring, the rapper has hardly ventured out into the touring world. When Lean dropped the dates for his American summer tour, I jumped on them immediately, not entirely sure what to expect, but excited to see what the young artist had to bring to the table. (I also counted bucket hats at this show: there were 17-bucket hats I noticed.)
Lean’s tracks vary in style, ranging from slow and emotional with airy production and slow, drowning vocals to hype tracks reminiscent of Gucci Mane, if anyone. What I was almost equally as excited to see we’re the fans that came to hour the Internet kingpin. “I’m going to burst into tears when he gets on stage”, claimed one young fan waiting to get into the venue before the show along with “I’m so sad!”, all ironic jokes in support of Yung Lean and his Sad Boys crew of stylish but sad young personalities. Mostly under the legal age to drink, the fans surely did come out in numbers and sold out the all ages show just a few days after tickets were put up for sale. I had initially heard of Yung Lean from several people, my younger brother being one of them but also several other friends. I absolutely loved his aesthetic and what he was going for but couldn’t believe it would become much of anything, at first. With the release of his first mixtape, Unknown Death 2002, Lean grasped onto a hearty group of young hip-hop fans looking for something oddly relatable. Quickly, a near cult-like appreciation for the young MC has cultivated involving people of all ages has evolved, embracing his emotional ways and youth hero image.
The show began with a DJ set by Total Freedom, whom I had just seen Pitchfork weekend at the Them Flavor’s after party for Pitchfork artist Kelela (Total Freedom is also her DJ.) Strange mashing’s of popular and throw back raps with new wave, abstract beats behind them had the crowd swaying, making them increasingly excited for Lean to hit the stage next. In a strange way, the paring of the out-there sounds from Total Freedom in preparation for Yung Lean was a great one. The intimate DJ set, which included Total Freedom munching from a giant bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos throughout, gave the crowd a down to earth sway (a calm before the storm feeling of sorts.) Soon, Yung Gud and Yung Sherm, Lean’s DJ’s and producers, were beginning their set up which allowed the crowd a much needed last breath before the headlining set.
As the bass began to build and the volume of the music increased, fans started to push together, all trying to get as close to the stage as possible. In a flash, Lean jumped out from behind the curtain of back stage and began jumping around, screaming the verse of Gatorade, one of the stand out tracks off Unknown Death. Immediately, hands flew up as the crowd of mostly young people began screaming every lyric. My immediate response was to join in on the jumping and bouncing, which is what I remained doing for most of the set. The smiles on the faces of everyone finally experiencing some of their favorite music in the last year gave me a warm feeling. These kids and fans weren’t here because there wasn’t anything better to do on this Tuesday night. They were there because of a genuine love for music not many have begun to understand. As Lean kept barreling through his set, it was clear that he could barely talk, much less rap. Normally, that would derail a hip-hop show, but no one really seemed to care. With collaborator Bladee hyping Lean and taking over much of the vocal performance, Lean was left to jump around on stage, shaking fans hands and occasionally jumping in the crowd. When “Hurt” dropped, one of Lean’s most popular songs with production from Suicideyear, a girls scream actually peaked over the pounding instrumental pouring out of the Reggie’s sound system. In essence, that occurrence properly defined the Yung Lean show as whole: total fandom and love for Yung Lean.
One bloody nose later after an unfortunate catch of a shoulder to my face, I burst out of Reggie’s, gasping for air, completely soaked in sweat. However, none of it mattered after getting to express total sadness and joy at the same time with one of the Internets hottest young rappers.