Review Summary: Wait, what?
I have a long and complicated history with Yung Lean's music. I’ve reviewed both Warlord
and Unknown Memory
, and can say I had a not-great time reviewing both. While Warlord
boasted some excellent production and, at times, some genuinely catchy choruses and interesting lyrical moments (note the distinction between “moments” of goodness and worthwhile or good songs), Unknown Memory
is, to me at least, one of the worst things ever committed to wax (or memory). Even so, neither of them stuck with me for more than a week or two, and neither had the kind of standout that endears it to year-end listmakers or anyone outside a small internet-based niche. So I approached Frost God
with heaps of trepidation. The single “Hennessy and Sailor Moon” ended up surprising me a bit. On paper, it seems like the worst kind of dirge. Lean has never been the moody troubadour that someone like Corbin (FKA Spooky Black) is, and his efforts at heartfelt balladry rank among his grandest and most spectacular failures (“Leanworld” is the kind of self-important, boring mess that would make some quit altogether). But “Hennessy” was different. The production was effortless and ethereal as ever, but Lean actually turns in a passable performance as a lover, and Lean’s mantric vocal intonation is simplistic in a good way. It actually works
, and got me mildly excited for this project. And “Hennessy” is no red herring: Frost God
is undoubtedly Lean’s strongest release.
improves markedly on almost all the redeeming qualities that Lean has demonstrated throughout his career. The lyrics, while not even close to the output of more lyrical rappers (or even other mumble rappers), are coherent and workable. In some places, Lean details personal experiences that are infinitely more compelling than his usual subject matter. On “Hennessy,” he talks about how the hope of seeing a girl again kept his spirits up when he was in the hospital (for those who don’t know, Lean was in a pretty bad accident after overdosing on, you guessed it, lean). “When I was in the hospital I saw you/I know what you're feeling inside cause I feel you” is perhaps the sweetest, most authentically emotional line in Lean’s oeuvre. The other lyrics in the song are simplistic but effective, and do nothing to ruin the song's sentiment.
Elsewhere, Lean’s renewed vigor imbues some of his more stereotypically bland lines with a needed bravado that sells them. The one-two punch of “Back at It” and “Hop Out” is aided by a vigorous and energetic delivery from Lean. A line like “I serve your mommy and daddy cause I'm the ***” is given the smirking delivery that it deserves for being so hilarious, and that self-awareness is a welcome light through the frozen wilderness that is Lean’s world. The guest features range from unnoticeable to genuinely surprising and pretty good. Adamn Killa's verse is delivered in such a way as it's virtually indistinguishable from Lean, making his appearance perfunctory at best. Same with bladee on “Hennessy and Sailor Moon.” Bladee's other output has been pretty good, if not great, and it's sad to see him so underutilized. If it hadn’t been for the video, I’d have never know two people were on the song. However, not all the features are underutilized or subdued. A$AP Ferg
surprisingly shows up and delivers a damn good performance on "Crystal City."
But focusing on lyrics is, ostensibly, not the point here. The real focus should be on the atmosphere, the raw emotions that Lean has been billed as projecting. At least production-wise, this project is par for the course for a Lean project. All the usual suspects show up and do good work (Yung Gud, White Armor, et al), and Lean doesn’t necessarily *** on any one of them. Special recognition is due for newcomers Acea and Shlohmo
(!!!!), who produce the album’s most effective songs (Acea with “Crystal City” and “Hennessy,” and Shlohmo with “Hop Out”).
It’s worth noting however that Lean's tendency to rely on the production to carry him is still present on some of the tracks here. “Kirby” with its lurching, sliding 808s and Southern trap horns, has an instrumental suited to someone more charismatic like Gucci Mane
or Lil Uzi Vert
. Lean slurring his way through is an injustice! “Cashin,” with its midtempo production, slurred delivery, and lovelorn lyrics ("she called me up and called me on the phone/she fucked me over once, someone that I know") plays like a poor retread of “Hennessy,” but without the infectious chorus or the energy. “Get it Back” to its credit, works, but just barely: Lean does actually sound like he’s putting in effort, and the buoyant production is jovial enough to make lines like “diamonds on my wrist, give me an ice attack” seem as playful and comic as they’re (hopefully) meant to be.
But those duds can be forgiven, not least of all because they’re nowhere near as bad as they could be. As a whole, Frost God
is the Lean project that I’ve been waiting for since Unknown Death 2002
and “Kyoto” dropped in the summers of my youth. It’s chilly and well-produced, and Lean comes to the mic sounding awake for once. He sounds like someone worth listening to and investing time in. His lyrics, for once, possess some semblance of coherence. His excursions into ballad territory don’t make me want to wander into the frozen tundra and starve to death. By all metrics, this project is a success. I can only hope to God that subsequent Lean projects show Lean improving and developing the skills he’s shown here.