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“The Melodic Blue” is like nothing you have heard before

Baby Keem's exceptional debut studio album elevates him from “up next” to “here”

Baby Keem, or Hykeem Jamaal Carter, Jr., had big shoes to fill. Aside from the pressure of a debut studio album — which generated serious buzz and placed Las Vegas on the map for reasons other than gambling —  Baby Keem has some interesting “family ties.”

Though he attempted to keep it under the radar, Keem's cousin is Kendrick Lamar — yes, the 13-time Grammy award-winning and Pulitzer Prize recipient Kendrick Lamar.  i-D Magazine labeled Baby Keem “Kendrick’s protegé.” All of these factors taken into account, the hype around Keem’s debut studio album “The Melodic Blue” was big, and only heightened by the preceding singles, “durag activity” with Travis Scott and “family ties” with his cousin.  

And the hype was completely founded. Baby Keem has proven he is more than Kendrick’s cousin or “protegé.” In fact, the Las Vegas native has put out what I think is one of the best albums of 2021 thus far. Baby Keem is a fascinating combination of brazen youthfulness with a sense of maturity. He impressively navigates a variety of flows, beats, and lyrical content, all the while, maintaining the persona of a 20 year old. I promise you have never heard anything like it.

“The Melodic Blue” begins with Keem lamenting a failed past relationship in something of a spoken word on “trademark usa.” “I can't help but feel neglected / time pass and we move on, nobody says sh*t / How I'm 'posed to act when my morals ain't respected?” he says. This spoken word is left in the dust when the beat picks up as Keem delivers one of the best verses I have heard in a long time in his traditional high-pitched vocals. 

Wildy juxtaposed to the melancholic beginning, Keem flexes for 1:30 straight with not so much as a discernible breath. “Generation money, type of money dying rich, and I wanna say shoutout to the dead, now I flex” Keem raps, paying homage to the dead presidents on his money. “trademark usa” also sees a beat switch, a tactic which Keem often employs, after his first verse which ushers in another round of boisterous flexing.

Baby Keem loves beat switches. “range brothers” featuring Kendrick begins with a trap beat as Keem and Kendrick exchange bars that touch on the bounty and the struggles that come with quickly becoming rich. The song is strong for the first four minutes, until a beat switch brings in the worst Kendrick verse I have heard — a great song until the lackadaisical second part. 

“lost souls” also has a beat switch, beginning with Keem singing over a meandering, 808 heavy beat before it transitions into a soulful ballad. 2:15 of “family ties” ushers a transition from Keem’s verse over a horn-heavy sound to a percussion beat which Kendrick raps over.

This frequent use of beat switches underscores the eccentricity that is Baby Keem. I would be hard-pressed to describe Las Vegas’ hip-hop sound, because a notable Las Vegas rap scene does not exist. Baby Keem has free reign over the sound of his city he is putting on the map and for that, it is very difficult to describe the sound. He produced 14 of the 16 songs of the album, and though it is enigmatically coherent, it is different. All I know is that it's good.  

Baby Keem recruited Don Toliver for one of the album standouts in “cocoa.” I consider Baby Keem and Don Toliver to be two of the most exciting new faces in hip hop, and this track makes me all the more enthusiastic. It is a focused youthfulness like nothing I have heard before. Co-produced by Keem, “cocoa” is a bumping speaker shaker. Typifying this fun, bumping track, Keem starts the song off with “I’m balling with my friends staring at this money in a trance.” These two are just having a blast.

Baby Keem is also capable of tapping into his emotional side. “scars,” another one of the album’s standouts, sees Keem poignantly question God as to why his decisions always seem to leave him hurt. “I ask God why this life you gave so hard? Why all the choices I make leave me with scars?” A deviation from his older works' trap sound and even some of the up-tempo bangers on “The Melodic Blue," this is one of the first times Keem delves into his mental capacity. Baby Keem on “issues” beautifully sings “I can’t go ghost, I face demons / don’t let it defeat you” as he confronts many of his damaging inner thoughts.  

Of course Baby Keem does not lament for long. The 20 year old flexes once more on the scintillating “gorgeous,” one of the best songs — if not the best song — on the album. If you are noticing a theme of “best" songs, that is because the album is teeming with them.

This is not to say there are not some certified skips, like “south africa,” which has a painfully cheesy, boring beat and weaker lyrics than its counterparts. “booman” is another of the weaker tracks, with a repetitive, weak instrumental and a bland chorus of “I’m sexy and blessed.” I am more torn on “pink panties” which is … intriguing, but I will err on the side of skip for Keem’s annoying crooning and its frankly foul content — no surprise from the title I guess.  

That said, my qualms with “The Melodic Blue” are few and far between, as a vast majority of the songs are strong, with some pushing phenomenal. “16”, the final song on the album, is one of them. For all the womanizing Keem raps about, he rounds out the album with a yearning, sincere and ultimately apologetic recollection of a decaying relationship. He honestly sings “what’s love? I guess I’ll never understand / Every time I say sorry, I do that s*it again.” For an album of youthfulness, at the of the day, he is clearly self-aware.

This is what I believe sets Baby Keem apart, and further, sets him on an only upward trajectory.  I hate to overuse the word “mature” but the content Keem is putting out is way above his age, whether it’s full of braggadocio or emotion. May I remind you again, he’s 20 ... I’m almost 20.  

Ultimately, “The Melodic Blue” was a remarkable debut studio album. He has certainly exited the shadow of his older cousin. Baby Keem is ready to put Las Vegas on his back. His previous projects were good, but left me wanting more. With this 16-song album, he has satisfied me.  Baby Keem has found his sound through “The Melodic Blue,” but do not ask me to describe it.

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