Empire Of Emotions—A Guide To Yung Lean & The Sadboys

By Stuart Oakes

First, the facts: Sadboys is a collective consisting of teen rapper Yung Lean and his producers Yung Gud and Yung Sherman.  Gravity Boys, an associate group, includes rappers/singers Bladee, Thaiboy Digital, and Ecco2k, and producer Whitearmor. The members of both groups hail from Sweden and collaborate frequently. They are responsible for several mixtapes and one album, Lean’s Unknown Memory. They rap and sing in English, their second language. They have yet to find an audience in their home country but continue to sell out small shows across North America.

Now comes the controversy: a lot of people dislike them. Some even despise them. Neither collective seems to care about how amateur it all sounds. Lean raps using a simplistic, monotone flow. Extensive auto-tune prevails. Several prominent critics have tried to write them off as a bad joke. It all raises the question: why should you care? Because if you are a certain kind of person, these guys are as good as it gets. Sure they owe a pretty large debt to Lil B. Yes, they like Clams Casino. Despite accusations of ironic unoriginality, Sadboys and Gravity Boys have proven themselves to be both serious and singular and, so far, no one else is even close to touching them; not Bones, not Lil Pain, not even the Based God himself. It is a pretty big claim so to back myself up, here are some choice tracks to defend my case. If you find yourself looking for more, I recommend Lean’s Unknown Death 2002 mixtape as essential listening.

Yung Lean – “Kyoto” (prod. by Yung Gud)

A single from 2013 that has yet to appear on any official releases, “Kyoto” is generally considered the Sadboys’ best work to date. If you are a fan, you may even consider it one of the best releases, bar none, this decade. That may be a lot of hype but honestly, turn the bass up; it is an anthem.

Bladee – “Ebay” (ft. Thaiboy Digital & Ecco2k) [prod. By Whitearmor]

Even more so than Lean, Bladee generally embodies the collective’s fascination with sadness and loneliness, the main creative drives. That is not the case here. Watch out for a bassline worthy of “Fucking Problems”. “Ebay” is off Bladee’s 2014 mixtape Gluee.

Yung Lean – “Yoshi City” (prod. By Yung Gud)

Off Lean’s first official album, 2014’s Unknown Memory, “Yoshi City” is a sign of growth. Lean’s lyrics are stronger and more thoughtful than they have been in the past and the beat continues to zero in on a sound, based on fluttering synth patterns and detuned vocal samples, that he has come to call his own. Much more confident and considered, “Yoshi City” sounds Lean knows what is at stake, a career, and what it will take to make it happen.

Yung Gud – “Hello”

Released on Gud’s Soundcloud page, “Hello” is a trap style beat begging for bars. It is also a showcase for one of the driving causes behind the collective’s success. Lean’s monotone forces the ball into the ball into the producer’s court, and his unchanging anchor of a flow allows for beats that stretch and shift more than normal. Furthermore, as one of three talented, like-minded, house producers, Gud can experiment without worrying about changing the group’s sound too much.

Bladee – “Upgrade Enabled” (prod. By Curtis Heron)

A reminder that the group is serious about its sad aesthetic. The auto-tune allows Bladee to mimic Lean’s monotone while remaining individually recognizable. This allows for a relationship similar to Lean’s with the house producers, and allows for a consistency of sound. Part of Bladee’s Gluee mixtape.

Yung Lean – “Hurt” (prod. By Suicideyear)

The absolute peak of the Sadboys aesthetic. Namechecks Murakami, Caravaggio, and Louis duffel bags filled with heroin. Part of Lean’s Unknown Death 2002 mixtape.

Bladee – “Jewelry” (prod. By Lil Sad & Yung Sherman)

Notable for how well Sherman can stretch the group’s sound while still maintaining the instantly recognizable atmosphere. The guitar is reminiscent of King Krule, and it fits surprisingly well with the by now standard synth and detuned vocal lines brought in to cocoon Bladee’s musings on the fame, loneliness, and money.

Yung Lean – “Emails” (prod. By Whitearmor)

The single most quotable song Lean has released to date. Everything is a quote. I guarantee it will be stuck in your head. From Unknown Death 2002.

Yung Sherman – “Fear”

Released on Sherman’s Soundcloud, “Fear” highlights some of the differences between his work and that of Gud and Whitearmor; while the latter two tend towards synth driven beats, Sherman prefers a wider instrumentation and strange vocal samples. It adds much needed diversity to the group’s sound.

Yung Lean – “Gatorade” (prod. By Yung Gud)

An early sign of where he would go with Unknown Memory and proof that Lean has a gift for hooks. From Unknown Death 2002.

Thaiboy Digital – “Tiger” (prod. By Whitearmor)

“Tiger”, which takes flight like little else in the Sadboy/Gravity Boy catalogue, introduces Thaiboy as a force to be reckoned with. While it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between him and Bladee because of the auto-tune, the sound itself is very disimilar. Thaiboy prefers the hip-hop influenced, synth driven beats favoured by Lean whereas Bladee tends towards a far prettier, more ruminating style.

One Response to “Empire Of Emotions—A Guide To Yung Lean & The Sadboys”
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  1. […] as just another subset of the overdone, impossible-to-keep-track-of “yungs”, but the sadboy comparison is both inaccurate and mildly insulting. The group – which including rappers and […]

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