Some touring acts have deliriously ribald stories of life on the road, detailing all manner of debauched goings-on. Yung Lean’s tour tales, on the other hand, are nothing short of terrifying. A few weeks ago, some gun-wielding lunatic in Pittsburgh randomly fired seven shots in the direction of Lean’s bus. Then, on March 27, the Stockholm-based rapper and his Sad Boys Entertainment crew were all set to hit the stage at Minneapolis’s Fine Line Music Café when things went sideways. Reached in Billings, Montana, Lean—known to his parents as Jonatan Aron Leandoer Håstad—says, “We were just at the venue, and we were about to play—it was an early show—and they were like, ‘Minor problem. There’s been a bomb threat.’ ”
A Reddit user had posted said threat online, announcing that an explosive would be detonated at the club, supposedly by a U.S.–based wing of ISIS. Håstad picks up the story: “Then we get escorted by a security guard to the bus, and then when we’re in the bus a police officer comes in and says, ‘There’s a timer that has been found in a trash can, and it’s set to explode at 7 o’clock when the show starts.’ And that was at 6:57. The funny thing is, that cop was just lying. There was no timer. They were just trying to scare us, I think.”
Even with no actual bomb in sight, the venue’s management was sufficiently spooked to cancel the show at the last minute over what was a rather transparent Internet prank.
All things considered, you can’t blame Håstad for not being overly fond of touring. “I don’t think I really like it,” he admits. “Well, I like the fact of going around in different cities and, like, seeing people and stuff. That’s sick. And you get a lot of work done. I love having a bus, but I don’t really like all the attention.”
Yung Lean has received plenty of that since the video for his track “Ginseng Strip 2002” went viral in 2013, when he was just 16. His laconic flow and odd product references—especially his bewildering veneration of Arizona Iced Tea—were bracingly offbeat, as was his seemingly contradictory mixture of braggadocio and melancholy.
On Yung Lean’s sophomore long-player, the recently released Warlord, the trap-inspired trillwave beats—provided mostly by Sad Boys Yung Gud and Yung Sherman—are as potent as ever, but anyone looking to the lyrics for insight into the world of Håstad is going to come up short. The Swedish MC is notoriously reticent about his personal life in interviews, and he tends to keep such details out of his songs, too. So just how much of him is in there? “A little too much, I think,” he says, “but you have to know me to understand what I’m referring to.”
Constructing a separate public persona is a time-honoured hip-hop tradition—listening to a Rick Ross record probably won’t tell you a damn thing about William Leonard Roberts II—but sometimes the line between fact and fiction gets blurry. “It started off as a character,” Håstad admits. “Yung Lean was everything Jonatan wasn’t. And then as time went by, I started doing more and more Yung Lean–type things. You know, Jonatan and Yung Lean just became friends.”
Yung Lean plays the Vogue Theatre on Thursday (March 31).