yung lean is all grown up
If at this point you still haven't heard of Swedish rapper Yung Lean, I'm not quite sure how you've managed it. Having just dropped mighty second album Warlord, he and his Sad Boys have sold out shows across the world.
I first interviewed Stockholm's Jonatan Leandoer Håstad before the London leg of his 2014 White Marble Tour at Camden Barfly, which, incidentally, A$AP Rocky would later turn up to. Then just 17, he was touring Europe with his Sad Boys (producers Yung Sherman and Yung Gud), their mates Gravity Boys (ecco2k, Bladee and whitearmour) and several girlfriends - all having the time of their young lives. Living out his rap fantasy as Yung Lean, he was all about Pokemon, Arizona Iced Tea and bucket hats. And so were his fans. Early EP tracks Ginseng Strip 2002, Oreomilkshake and Kyoto were addictive and came accompanied by homemade videos dripping in glitter stickers and followed closely by the release of his debut full-length Unknown Memory.
Two years have passed and our favourite Swede has gone from internet weirdo du jour to globally-recognised artist and innovator, his bottle of Arizona switched for a cup of lean and his hair changing colour from blue to green and back to blonde as he went. He has toured the world, launched his Sad Boys Entertainment clothing line and just released his second album, Warlord. With the same glorious post-internet production and obsession with Japan, his lyrics are this time more reflective. After all, it was just over a year ago that he tragically lost his manager, Hippos In Tanks co-founder Barron Machat, in a car accident. He has since dedicated his track Roses to him. Miami Ultras too, tells of a lifestyle of smoking and watching Starwars while digging his own grave. That's not to say he's not still rapping about smoking kush from Afghanistan, getting More Stacks and Sippin' - he totally is.
In town for a sold-out show at Koko (significantly larger than where we last saw him down the road), I meet Yung Leandoer shawty for coffee. Remembering me, he suggests we do this Before Sunrise/Sunset style and keep it up every two years for the rest of our lives. Generally more grown up and with a lot more tattoos, he might rap about Louis duffle bags but today he's brought with him a plush Gengar backpack, complete with built-in Pokemon card holder. Regrettably he no longer has his childhood collection, but him and his mates are currently into Hearthstone, a Final Fantasy style magic card game that is "not as iconic as Pokemon, but still interesting."
So, how've you been?
I've been good! Very busy.
I bet. When we last spoke you told me that touring had taught you that Sweden sucks. You're still living there… have you changed your mind?
Oh, no! Now I kind of like Sweden, but not all of Sweden, not the Swedish mentality. But I live by myself now in a really good place called Sätra and I'm really happy there.
Is that far from where you grew up?
Not that far. Stockholm isn't that big really. Sätra is where all the hood rappers are from, it's nice though. It's where I could buy an apartment. I couldn't afford one where my parents or friends live - that would be way too expensive. And I kind of prefer it there anyway. There's a big shared balcony, more woods, more trees… really good Syrian restaurants. When I did the interview with you before, coming home I was hiding my eyes and being like, 'yeah... tour was good'. But now when I come home, it's just me! It's nice.
Yeah, there must have been a huge contrast between the two sides of your life; being on tour and then suddenly back to being a child...
Exactly. I guess I'm just in a better place right now...
Good. What have the past few years taught you?
I dunno… that people aren't always nice?
And is there something that you know now that you wish you had known when you were 16?
Maybe don't say too much.
Have you already said too much?
No but when you're 15 or 16 you don't really think about the consequences… you have sex with someone while high and you don't realise that that's gonna come back to you.
So you think things through more now?
Yeah. But I'm still very impulsive. I'm learning that things follow you around, like rumours. But I don't really care I guess. I'm just in my own little bubble. I've learnt that I'm very South American…
In what sense?
I'm very tranquilo. My managers are like, we'll meet here for dinner at 8pm and I'll be there at 10. And like, I haven't really fitted in anywhere. In Stockholm and London everyone is really on time and on point, and I never am. But I went to South America and it just all made sense to me.
Do you think you'd like to live there one day?
Yeah, I'll move to Mexico City next year probably. I'm gonna keep my apartment in Stockholm though, for sure. I'll just rent it out or something.
You've been to Japan now haven't you? Was it everything you dreamed it would be?
Oh yeah, I might be a bit Japanese too actually! I live very minimally. I don't take up much space, don't need much stuff. I've been twice and hung out with the same people; we get drunk and sing karaoke and everyone is very open about everything. It's really fun. We went to the karaoke place where they shot Lost In Translation and drank Japanese lean. It was good! We brought home like six bottles and I was about to start selling it in Miami for like $1000 a piece. I was gonna make some good money!
Well it's always good to have something to fall back on.
Yeah, exactly! I'll just start selling drugs. Do things the opposite way around... usually rappers start off selling drugs and then make music but I'll revert instead.
It's always there. You seem to be on tour for the next six months... will you be away on your birthday in July?
No, I'll be with my grandma! And about 80 other people… I'm having a 20th birthday and this Columbian guy who's a friend of the family is going to cook and my Japanese friends are coming over to visit, and so is Adamn Killa from Chicago. It's gonna be fun. I sound like a little kid talking about my birthday!
Are you looking forward to it more than tour?
Probably, yeah. It's like, I get to decide the music and the people… it sounds kind of wrong because you can't decide the people at your show. But I dunno, different things are always more fun. But as long as I get to have some of my ideas in the show, it's good. I'm trying to use more props and stuff; I have fake blood and nurse outfits. I was just getting so bored of the visual of rap shows so I took elements from noise and punk. Cause rap music and the characters behind it is exciting in itself, like a Little Durk show; you don't need Little Durk covered in blood… to be honest, you probably didn't need Yung Lean covered in blood either... but it's fun. I was just bored of straight-up people on a stage.
What's the most exciting live show you've been to?
I haven't seen many shows recently so my head is like, dead. One thing that I'm seeing this year that I'm really excited about is brainbombs, you have to listen to them, they're really good. They're from Sweden too. Their songs are called things like Lipstick On My Dick and they're really anti-political. It's really good music but it's so funny because the typical Swede would vomit in his mouth.
But not you!
No, not me… I'm South American and Japanese! I just remembered - when I was 13 I saw Crystal Castles and they were really good. I like extravagant shows too; I wanna see elephants on stage and stuff.
Talking of extravagance, what's the most luxurious experience you've had?
I wish I had had more. Maybe being in a limousine, drinking champagne, smoking blunts, eating xanax and listening to Future? That was last year in New York. And then I got stuck in a Prada bag. I was really high and trying to get it on and I got stuck inside.
Is there evidence?
Probably on Sherman's phone, yeah.
Let's talk about Warlord. Which track are you most proud of having created?
Probably Fire and Eye Contact. Maybe Miami Ultras too. They all make me happy because they're a good representation of what I was doing and feeling at the time.
And which movie do you reckon the album would be the best soundtrack for?
A mix between Aguirre Wrath of God, The Shining and Neverending Story.
Good shouts. You've said before that Yung Lean is a persona that you've created. Do you feel like it's actually just you now?
Yeah, pretty much. The mask is off.
Is that because you've become that more confident person?
I was sixteen and rapping about doing coke, and then I started actually doing coke and… it's pretty much that. I felt like it was fun to create a character and then after a while you sort of become the character and realise that it's you; everything you're saying, however you try to patch it up, everything from Oreo Milkshake to Warlord is based on true events. It's all happened. It'd be very hard to make all this stuff up. I wish there was someone else behind this project… a bigger plan. Because at the end of the day it's just me and that's kind of sad.
I think it's actually a good thing that it's just you...
No, but it would be a good spin. A good story.
What's the best thing that you've ever been sent after mentioning it in your lyrics?
Probably when I rapped about a catbus, you know, like from the Miyazaki movies? I was sent like three catbusses when I was in Tokyo!
Did you go to the Studio Ghibli museum when you were in Tokyo?
Yeah, quite a disappointment. I thought it was gonna be like Disneyland or something but with Miyazaki stuff.
Agreed. What was the last dream that you remember having?
I actually write down my dreams - every single one that I can remember.
Do you write them down in English or Swedish?
Swedish, but I'll translate. Alright… we're in Stockholm, walking up a street. Kim, my guy who makes all the merchandise, gets shot. Someone tweets that I should stand on the stairs. I'm standing on the stairs and it's by a boat. A person on a boat gives me a camera and I put a device on the camera and there's ammunition on the camera now - it's a loaded gun. Me and Nino (Thaiboy) are looking for the guy who shot Kim. We find him and take some photos. We meet with some friends and tell them that Kim is dead and that our adventures have created chaos in Stockholm. We go to see a play in a theatre with only dogs as actors. In the play, the dogs are talking about listening to Burial. Kim loves Burial so I look at my friends and they're both crying. Emilio releases the Sippin video but the song is an 80s song with a pitched voice and the video is just Nino shooting guns. I get angry at Emilio.
You should make a dream book.
I'm going to make a movie. I'm actually writing a script now. I'm thinking that I'll try to make it as close to Drive as possible. I want people to get anxious watching it.
And would it be a series of short films?
Yeah. I'm looking forward to making it. I'm going to finish the script in Mexico.
Perfect. Are you reading any books at the moment?
Yeah, I just read a book this morning actually.
The whole thing?
Jonathan Livingston the Seagull. It's great. I got it from this girl called Barbara. This seagull called Jonathan invents a new way to fly and gets to heaven. It's kind of biblical because he has eight apprentices. It's a good book.
And which fictional character do you think you're most like?
Growing up, it was always Holden Caulfield from Catcher In The Rye. But that's so cheesy you know. At 12, you've only read Harry Potter and then you read this book and it's like, oh my god, I walk around by myself too! I'm not like everybody else either! Now I would say maybe Yukio Mishima from Sun and Steel. Not because I work out, but because I get stuck with ideas in my brain, which isn't always a good thing. He gets obsessed with the idea of killing himself in a beautiful way. So he has to become a beautiful person to kill himself and leave a beautiful body.
And what's a beautiful way of dying?
Text Francesca Dunn
Photography Lily Rose Thomas