Baby Keem is weird, but that’s not a bad thing at all. Many of today’s rappers are, and this often triggering adjective for some is not meant to be disrespectful to the 20-year-old Vegas rapper or any of his contemporaries. Keem is part of a generation of hip-hop that prides itself on going against the grain. “Rules” were broken, torn up, and disregarded, and rightfully so. Abiding by them for too long hinders the chance for evolution and change as a whole to occur. Kid Cudi, who Keem has cited as an inspiration on multiple occasions, Young Thug, Travis Scott, Playboi Carti, and many more, are clear-cut examples. With that being said, while the openness to all that is “weird” is clear nowadays, there are also limits to how funky, unique, and unorthodox things can get.
That’s something that Baby Keem’s major-label debut album The Melodic Blue understands. Comprised of 16 songs with help from stars like Kendrick Lamar, Don Toliver, and Travis Scott, the Vegas rapper dulls the loud colors and sonics just enough to deliver his version of a mellow atmosphere without sounding monotone or robotic. It’s a sharp contrast compared to his 2019 breakout project, Die For My B*tch — an erratic and chaotic release inspired by a failed relationship. That body of work promotes screaming and mosh-pitting your anger out as opposed to healthier and less-fun habits like meditation or therapy.
The Melodic Blue is Baby Keem’s attempt to balance his individuality with a reduced dose of his trademarked chaotic energy, something he tries to harness on the project. “Trademark USA” is a sucker punch to start the album that would also invite Gen-Zers all over the world to the mosh pit at the risk of their once-clean sneakers. Kendrick Lamar contributes to the raucousness of “Family Ties” and “Vent.” The former is by far the rowdiest track on the album thanks to Lamar’s proclamation of “smoking on your top five” rappers, while the latter invites aggression from all corners with the knowledge that Keem and Lamar can handle it all. The remaining majority of The Melodic Blue is occupied by records that show a more tender and reserved side of Keem.
An early example arrives on “Issues,” a spacious track that lays life’s most harrowing conflicts down like a deck of cards. Airy production uplifted by climatic drums adds to the whirlwind of unsolved issues in Keem’s life. It’s a song that the rapper says “means a lot to him” and with lyrics like, “I knew since we first got evicted out our roof / My new since rehab, I was six, tryna see you,” the weight of the track becomes clear. “Scars” is similar in the sense that Keem dips into the same pain-driven lyrics with conquering production. Even trap-leaning tracks like “First Order Of Business” and skeletal efforts like “Scapegoats” are superior for the things Keem says rather than for their sounds. It’s clear that Keem had a lot to get off his chest on The Melodic Blue, and in addition to crafting the appropriate lyrics to get that done, the rapper also placed himself in a sonic landscape that would accentuate the impact of his words. The best songs on the project, however, come when the rapper doesn’t sacrifice too much production to accomplish his goals for the album.
“Gorgeous” is a personal favorite from The Melodic Blue as it showcases the rapper’s unwavering love for his pattern with the help of heavy synths, ratting piano keys, and drawn out bass kicks. “Lost Souls” supplies the same airy production of “Issues” and “Scars,” but the addition of drums and a steady hi-hat bring it closer to a more familiar home for Keem. Even the banger that is “Durag Activity” with Travis Scott is laced with a verse from an extremely timid and near-mumbling Baby Keem. Along with additional examples like “Booman,” it becomes more and more obvious that residing as close to the middle on the spectrum of calm to chaotic was Keem’s goal for this project.
Personally, the toughest aspect of The Melodic Blue is letting go of prior expectations for the project to properly accept and digest the work Baby Keem offered to the world. Preference lies with the chaotic energy of Die For My B*tch, but truthfully speaking, that project is at the very most a strong collection of songs. The Melodic Blue aims to craft a cohesive album, and for what it’s worth, Keem succeeds at that. The rapper delivers just enough to accomplish that, but there are moments where a bit more could’ve been done to make this achievement undeniable. Whether it be extending “Scapegoats” into a full song or slashing the excessive and unnecessary second half of “Range Brothers,” The Melodic Blueundoubtedly has its rough edges. However, the album’s rawness elsewhere is also what makes it enjoyable, and in total, Baby Keem gets it done with his major-label debut album.
The Melodic Blue is out now via PgLang/Columbia. Get it here.