Producer: White Armour & Yung Sherman
Earlier this year, a little-known rapper from Washington, D.C. named Yung Gleesh released an odd gem called "Lazyness." Over a dreamlike beat from Zaytoven, the song's lethargic, low-stakes charm didn't sound out of place next to similarly laconic tracks from folks like Chief Keef or ZMoney. The main difference was that Gleesh had a decidedly "based" self-awareness, and was a clear disciple of Lil B. Like B, this purposeless eccentricity was central to his appeal, rather than a by-product.
While this worked a whimsical charm on a coy curiosity like "Lazyness," it became something much more noxious on "It's Sad Boy," which featured novelty Euro-rapper Yung Lean. (More on him in a minute.) The beat comes courtesy of Yung Sherman and White Armor, and it sounds like four waveforms (presumably, two from each producer) laboring to mesh. It aims for high drama—when the vocal sample enters, it's something like a developmentally stunted "Carmina Burana."
His entire persona is the logical endpoint of content that is more meme than music, an inside joke that revels in its inability to articulate anything that could possibly translate as an emotional truth. Instead, everything is lost in the maudlin haze of cliche and ugly cynicism.
That tottering, off-balance feel could work, given the right personality at its center. Instead, Yung Gleesh seems lost. He works in an "experimental" melodic vein that's possibly informed by in-vogue rappers like Young Thug. But there's a listlessness to the experiment; it lacks the necessary confidence to pull something like this off. There's none of the friction of concomitant energies congealing into a living, breathing effect. Instead, it's haphazard, a bunch of received ideas about what should be "cutting edge" in 2013 soldered together with cynical workmanship that splits the difference between self-parody and sincerity.
Which is, of course, the whole purpose of the "sad boy" movement, an ironic, Internet-based one-note joke. Like the literature of Tao Lin, there's a torpid, repetitive numbness to all the music that has come out of this post-based vein. It pretends at some kind of profound generational statement but is really representative of cowardice. Nowhere is that more evident than in the disingenuous presence of Swedish guest rapper Yung Lean. His entire persona is the logical endpoint of content that is more meme than music, an inside joke that revels in its inability to articulate anything that could possibly translate as an emotional truth. Instead, everything is lost in the maudlin haze of cliche and ugly cynicism. Most of all, it's safe: if you criticize it, it's just a joke. If you dare accuse him of trafficking in a funhouse mirror of self-reflexive irony, you're the cynic for questioning his sincerity.
Any statements of generational centrality are suspect—this stuff isn't all that popular. It's also not particularly innovative: everything Lean has done existed before, musically. Instead, it's a victory of amateurism as aesthetic, an attempt not to subvert hip-hop's existing rules, but to ignore them entirely, transforming rap music into an inside joke between a group of a few hundred net-savvy kids who prioritize the same pre-set assumptions about what makes hip-hop interesting in 2013. —David Drake