Pouty-lipped Little Pain has the bad sadz
Part of hip-hop’s allure is its expression of extremes of human emotions, balls out, with no thought of consequences or social appropriateness. Its stereotypical expression is self-aggrandizing swagger, cheerful jubilation, or menacing, threatening anger, but rap has always expressed sadness too. Sad songs are in every rapper’s repertoire, however tough his persona. Eminem, Tupac, Nelly, and Jay-Z have lyrics that can make even the hard-hearted cry.
But this year there is a new manifestation of rap, embracing the vulnerable, lonely, despondent, sad side of the psyche. There are precursors to this style—Kid Cudi, Joe Budden, MC Homeless, Lil B, and Riff Raff—but a couple of hip-hop artists are basing their entire image and songs around sadness. And proud of it. They are not only expressing a desolate emotional worldview, they are boasting about being the saddest thug of all. In time-honored bombastic rap tradition they are trying to one-up each other as the master of melancholy.
Vice is largely responsible for introducing a huge chunk of the world to these perpetrators of emo rap: Little Pain (a.k.a. Sobbin Williams) and Yung Lean.
Little Pain is a 21-year-old rapper from Brooklyn, who has only been rapping for about five months but already has a tattoo on his left cheek of streaked tears. He told Pigeons and Planes:
I cry everyday at least once a day, sometimes more. Sometimes I shed a couple tears and sometimes I full out start bawling. It just depends on the situation. I’m not worried about people taking me as a joke at all because at the end of the day the music is as real as it gets. Some may laugh and shrug it off and some may relate and love it.
Little Pain’s debut mixtape is called When Thugz Cry but he is not yet signed to a label.
Yung Lean (formerly “Yung Lean Doer,” because of his fondness for lean) is a 16-year-old white Swede of Stockholm’s Sad Boys crew. Little Pain admits that Yung Lean gives off a “sad vibe” but isn’t what he considers truly sad.
Yung Lean is signed to a label called Teaholics, which is fitting, because his crew was formerly called the Arizoned Iced Out Boys, and he brandishes jugs of Arizona Iced Tea in his videos. His mixtape, Unknown Death 2000, containing collaborations with Suicideyear, was released earlier this month. I wonder if the moms at the local playground are going to switch to Kombucha now to avoid the thug-life implications of Arizona Tea.
Duncan Cooper described Yung Lean on Fader:
His sleepy-eyed gun and money talk is reframed not just by his whiteness, but by his whole depressed pose—his group is called Sad Boys—and general internetty teen-ness, working N64 controllers and Mewtwo Pokemon cards into music videos. Crying appropriation is a logical first reaction, but I think Yung Lean’s music is more nuanced. Whether you buy it as a real trait of his or as simply an aesthetic choice—potentially a whole other debate—his depression and atonal delivery puts a spin on violence and excess that is at once self-aware (money can also make you unhappy, a common rap theme), and the opposite of self-aware (Yung Lean himself has presumably never been in a position to judge that firsthand).
Yung Lean’s song “Oreomilkshake” references glory holes, various drugs, Arizona Tea and milkshakes, all of which he seems to like, but the sad Swede still sounds bummed. Aside from seasonal affective disorder in the winter, it must be difficult to come up with things to be sad about in a country with cradle-to-grave social benefits, not least of them single-payer universal healthcare.
Hip-hop expert Ray the Destroyer put sad rap in perspective on Vice:
Drake was the first dude to center his whole persona around ennui as the French would say, or “having feminine ways” as dudes at my barbershop on 125th would call it. The thing that’s interesting about the Sad Rap wave is cats are using sadness as an aesthetic. Little Pain is out here flossin’ sadness like money, and tonally Yung Lean raps like someone who’s immune to the mood elevating effects of antidepressants, blowjobs, puppies, and ice cream.
Below, Yung Lean is “Hurt”: