Review Summary: a final fantasy definitely worth playing
Hip-hop music has always been entrenched in the relationship between MC and DJ, rapper and producer, lyrics and beat. The instrumentals that back each verse are often hypnotically repetitive, adding texture and a skeletal rhythm to supplement an emcee’s verses without distracting from them. As hip-hop became increasingly more accepted into the mainstream, tracks that boasted hooky lyrics and catchy beats found commercial success while linguistically and politically complex records continued to be prized by an invested fanbase. Modern hip-hop is home to a number of divisive artists whose substandard lyricism is excused (by their fans) due to other redeeming qualities in their music.
Yung Lean is undoubtedly one such artist. There is nothing particularly profound about Yung Lean’s lyrics; his bars contain braggadocio, tales of drug use and most notably admissions of sadness and depression. Supplementing Lean’s lyrics are raw industrial-cum-trap-cum-ambient instrumentals produced by a range of producers in his social circle. And supplementing the music are pieces of film that are remarkably bleak yet vibrant. Lean’s music videos boast Von Trier-esque slow-mo shots of death and partying in incredible definition; written and filmed documentation of him and his Sadboys crew portray a group of semi-aimless but friendly young men alternately troubled by and content with a communal touring lifestyle. In such a context, it becomes apparent what the purpose of Yung Lean’s music is: to capture and assert freedom, youth and drug use in a world where all are met with hostility.
On Warlord, Lean has abandoned all traces of the goofiness that marked his early word in favor of crafting a sincere and focused record. This approach not only yields a bonafide floor-shaking banger (“Hoover”) but a wealth of tracks that successfully merge all the elements of Lean’s sound – industrial beats, autotuned crooning/rapping, and huge synth leads – into conflicted yet coherent compositions (“Immortal”, “Highway Patrol” and “Hocus Pocus”). The ambient and industrial elements of Lean’s music are in constant contrast, but both are balanced to the point where the record avoids the sleepiness of some of his previous work (see “Greygoose”) or becomes void of atmosphere (even “Hoover” boasts an formless, sound-collage intro). Instead, each track is propulsive and entrancing, boasting ethereal soundscapes and hypnotic lyrics that favor sonic cohesion over comprehensibility.
Even at its most grating (“Shawty”) and least engaging (“Fire”), Warlord maintains a mesmerizing aesthetic that’s as inviting as it is uncompromising. As such, it provides an immersive experience that’s worth indulging in. “Warlord” might not offer the lyrical complexity or masterful sampling that is expected out of hip-hop, but its spellbinding tracks form a sonic world worth exploring all the same.