Many know Baby Keem for his rapping, and I was not one of them; I’ve known Baby Keem as a producer as he has produced the better songs on Redemption and Crash Talk by Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q, respectively. So when I first heard some of his raps, the intrigue was there. Baby Keem has this unique ferocity that gives him the liberty to deliver different rhythmic patterns within the common traits of his flows. The Melodic Blue brings that ferocious energy; fortunately, it doesn’t get muddled when his strengths are on display in the introspective and flex raps.
Keem doesn’t mince words on the lyrical side and production side. It parallels the duality of “Trademark USA,” which is split in two as Keem perpetuates two sides of him. His actions are uttering the verses, and the production embodies the words — it is a constant throughout, especially with the way he delivers his flows. From this opening and on, Baby Keem and his co-producers keep a consistent cadence to the sound. It fluctuates between nuanced trap and percussion-heavy west-coast hip-hop, the latter of which has been prominent with the more authentic west coast style.
Despite having co-producers, Keem touches almost every production to make sure we hear his vision — considering Keem is using well-known hip-hop producers like Frank Dukes, 30 Roc, DJ Dahi, and Cardo, to name a few. Their talent brings easier transitions, especially the many times it shifts from trap to melancholic hip-hop — the latter contributes to the songs with more lyrical substance. From an array of styles, it isn’t rare for Keem to hit in his trap-centric songs, like on “Durag Activity,” which sees him and Travis Scott bring out this cultural energy that I have little relevance in — seeing how some people act with them on, it seems like a boost for their confidence. That isn’t to surprise as I’ve seen them on people post haircuts, similarly to the feeling when Travis outshines Keem.
Baby Keem gets outshined on almost every song that has a featured artist. However, when Kendrick Lamar is the featured artist, don’t expect Keem to have the better verse, despite bringing his A-Game. “Range Brothers” and “Family Ties” continue to deliver the world’s exploration into Kendrick Lamar’s vocal meme game within his verse — “Range Brothers” sees Keem and Kendrick trading bars over a bombastic trap-esque production. It ends with unique adlibs from Kendrick, which becomes an addition to the meme book Kendrick-Lamar-isms — most recently on tik-tok.
“Range Brothers” is another song of action, as Keem viscerally raps about his successes and disproving people who believed Kendrick ghostwrote for him. But on the song, Kendrick and Keem reaffirm that this is the authentic him and not another carbon copy.
There are few moments where Baby Keem doesn’t translate his strengths on the final product, and it delivers some songs that made me feel like the tank was left almost half-full. It’s a detriment to the few songs that don’t have that oomph, like “Booman,” a typical boring self-flex rap. Like “gorgeous,” it isn’t profound, and it becomes an afterthought. We hear Keem delivering a better song, with similar qualities in “16.” Like “16,” Baby Keem is at his strongest when he gets personal and introspective. “Issues,” “Scars,” and “South Africa” embolden his bravado as we hear Keem digging deep into the crevices of his subconscious.
“Issues” and “Scars” contain more intricate production, calming down the percussion and elevating the surrounding sounds to embody a different atmosphere. Baby Keem does similarly with “South Africa,” but that song focuses on his cultural roots instead of an introspective take on his life. “Issues” speaks on his mother and growing up without her due to her issues with drug abuse. Though subtle, Keem lets down his walls as he laments a life missed with her, and the chorus has you feeling for Keem. On “Scars,” Keem recounts when loved ones left him, which led him to question his religion since God made choices that left him with scars. The way he reflects the trauma in the song is beautifully tragic. Keem’s songwriting is at its best here, as opposed to the “radio” trap songs.
Baby Keem’s strength as a songwriter seems to shift from song to song, as the style controls his delivery. On “Pink Panties” and “Cocoa,” Keem raps over vibrant trap production; unfortunately, they become easily forgettable with immature choruses and raps that lack natural substance. In “Cocoa,” the chorus speaks on Keem trying to faun over a female whose clout is self-made, and due to it reflects her nature in life. As a prominent rapper who can afford to eat at Nobu, Keem notes that he isn’t this type of person in his verse, in a delivery that sounds tonally different from the rest of it. Despite feeling indifferent about the chorus, the song is this unique allegory toward self-worth after the money. Don Tolliver turns on the snooze button, as his verse poorly mirrors the intent of Keem’s verse and reflects the latent chorus.
As a rapper, I came with minimal expectations toward the quality of music we’d receive from Baby Keem’s debut. I wasn’t privy to his mixtapes, and some of his raps have kept my interest from start to finish, but he didn’t have that wow factor like his production subtly showed. The Melodic Blue makes any qualms a figment of the past, as he proves he has the potential to be bigger than what he is now. The Melodic Blue is more than his various rhythmic palettes; it’s a statement that Baby Keem, despite the name, is ready to place his stamp on the world. \