Quarantine Tunes: Yung Lean and Kavinsky

Trigger Warning for the readers: mention of drugs 

These past few weeks have been tough, to say the least. Locked in the house with a messed-up sleep schedule and not being able to see my friends. Luckily, I have a ton of music that helps relieve my stress. I’d like to introduce to you some of my favourite, lesser-known artists that I’ve been listening to. 

Yung Lean

Arguably the first rapper that came to prominence through the SoundCloud platform as a ‘cloud rapper’, paving the way for others in 2013, Yung Lean was nothing short of absurd in the beginning. A 17-year-old on camera wearing tacky (at the time) designer clothes, and rapping lyrics like ‘Got my balls licked / By a Zooey Deschanel look-alike cocaine addict’ and ‘Poppin’ pills like zits / While someone vomits on your mosquito tits’ in ‘Ginseng Strip 2002’ had many in the hip-hop community label him as just another meme rapper. The vaporwave aesthetic videos didn’t particularly help his case either. 

Ginseng Strip 2002 by Yung Lean

But backed by an amazing production crew that is Yung Gud, Yung Sherman and whitearmor, the instrumentals on every song were undeniably amazing. Every instrumental was marked with mellow, trippy, spacey and futuristic vibes all over. And there was no denying that there was something special about this kid. 

A prime example of this is ‘Kyoto’, released in 2013, the song represents a pivotal point in Yung Lean’s career. This was the point where you could look to him (or rather hear) and see that he really could rap. And backed by his amazing production crew, the song is one of Yung Lean’s early highlights. The instrumental’s spacey, synth-created beat was both subtle and a head-turner at the same time, letting Yung Lean’s rapping grab the spotlight. You could never listen to a Yung Lean song and think that the production was lacking. You’re more likely to think that the Swedish rapper was the one lagging behind. This was true at the beginning, but now that both he and his songwriting have grown, leading to a more cohesive sound, it’s a treat to listen to every new release.

Kyoto by Yung Lean

Now you might wonder still how he stood out from the crowd. To put it shortly, Yung Lean was himself every step of the way in his music. At first, we saw what many thoughts were a caricature of modern rap songs such as ‘Ginseng Strip 2002’ and ‘Hurt’ in 2013. The next moment we saw him release his debut studio album ‘Unknown Memory’, collaborating with Travis Scott on ‘Ghosttown’ in 2014.

Ghosttown by Yung Lean ft Travis Scott

 And not much later we saw him go through addiction and grief in 2015 when he was recording ‘Warlord’ in Miami. Throughout all the years, we have been given a front-row seat to his life. First, the Swedish kid who had no say in rap whatsoever. Then acceptance from the hip-hop community with various American rappers vouching for him, yet at the same time still an outsider. And finally, in his pilgrimage to Miami. He flew too high with drugs and was admitted into a mental hospital after a mental breakdown. Grief came in the form of the death of his manager, Barron Machat (1987-2015). He had helped arrange Yung Lean’s stay in Miami. His reflections on what happened in Miami came later in an exclusive with The Fader in 2016 and ‘Stranger’ in 2017.

Yung Lean is a lot of things, but you can’t deny his ability to embrace who he is. To be able to break through into the American hip-hop scene, consequently influencing many current rappers, what you have is a one of a kind. 

There’s a lot of music to choose from, ranging from braggadocious to sombre. But if I had to pick just five songs to pique your interest it’d have to be: 

  • ‘Kyoto’
  • ‘Red Bottom Sky’
  • ‘Highway Patrol’
  • ‘Miami Ultras’
  • ‘Ginseng Strip 2002’

Kavinsky

If you’re a fan of Daft Punk, you probably know who Kavinsky is. Part of the French house movement, Kavinsky is an artist that I stumbled onto just very recently thanks to The Weeknd with a feature on Kavinsky’s ‘Odd Look’ way back in 2013.

Odd Look by Kavinksy ft The Weeknd

Similar in ways more than one to his kin – Daft Punk – there’s not much known about Kavinsky. He was first an actor, but it was boring, not what he envisioned it to be. So one night when a friend was about to throw away his old computer, he asked if he could have it to make music on it. For over a year he spent making ‘bad nonsense music’, until in 2006 when he made ‘Testarossa Autodrive’. An adrenaline rush of a song, with its never-ending barrages of blaring synths and thumping drums, there has never been a track name so apt. It’s the perfect song to jam out to – not only on the dance floor – but also in your bedroom. He showed it to a friend of the friend that gave him the computer and from there came the release of his debut EP ‘Teddy Boy’.

Testarossa Autodrive by Kavinsky

And there’s no dire need for tales of him when the music he produces speaks for itself. Besides the French house style of production, his songs are all heavily influenced by the 80s with rapid blaring synths and minimalist production.  Picturesque at every second, Kavinsky brings out memories of retro video games, and the beginning of the digital era in his songs, even if you’ve never lived a second of it. He has said that his music is inspired by the thousands of movies he watched as a boy. He took all the good parts and made them the inspiration for his style of production.

If you like what you’re hearing and want to get into Kavinsky’s music, check out the songs

  • ‘ProtoVision’
  • ‘Testarossa Autodrive’
  • ‘Nightcall’
  • ‘Deadcruiser’
  • ‘Odd Look’

Now that’s about all there is for this article, my hope is that you find a new favourite artist in either of these great artists. See you next time for another part of Quarantine Tunes! Nah I’m just kidding. I miss the outside and hopefully, this all settles down soon and we’ll be able to return to our normal lives.

Written by Norman Shaqir Shariran