Born Hykeem Jamaal Carter, Jr., rapper Baby Keem has skyrocketed to the forefront of the music industry in the three short years since his first mixtape. Baby Keem, hailing from Carson, California, takes a huge swing with his debut album, “The Melodic Blue.” The legacy of his cousin, generational talent Kendrick Lamar, leaves plenty to be expected out of the 20-year-old MC, and so far there are no signs that Baby Keem can’t handle the pressure.
“The Melodic Blue” is light-years ahead of expectations for a debut album. Baby Keem dropped this new project fresh off a feature verse on “Praise God” from Kanye West’s 2021 album, “Donda.” Baby Keem also recently released the successful single “family ties (with Kendrick Lamar),” which provided the world with Lamar’s first verse since 2019. It would be easy to downplay Baby Keem’s accomplishments, citing his famous cousin as handing him a career or the famed Kanye co-sign as an easy route to success. However, the 2020 XXL Freshman shows more promise and freshness than most have shown this early in their music careers.
The studio album spans 16 songs with a 53-minute runtime, but each song occupies the time fully, with few occurrences of dead space. The lead track, “trademark usa,” has the potential to be one of the strongest opening songs of a rap album in the modern era. Baby Keem understands the pressure he’s under and welcomes it. In a few short years, thrust into the spotlight of success, Baby Keem faces enormous responsibility to live up to expectations, rapping lines like, “I took the torch, I quit being nice / I took the torch, now I gotta fight.”
Baby Keem continues to dabble in his familiar upbeat, braggadocious, head-banging sound on tracks like “pink panties,” “cocoa (with Don Toliver)” and the surprising “booman.” He shows just how many times he can switch up sounds, instrumentals and flows throughout “The Melodic Blue” with the stark differences between “family ties (with Kendrick Lamar)” and “first order of business.”
Perhaps Baby Keem shines brightest when he peels back his own layers, revealing a beautiful rawness to his thoughts and musical ability. The track “scapegoats” is a very strong interlude, featuring a piano loop that is stunning and emotional. Baby Keem released an accompanying video for the track “issues,” which shows a deeper glimpse into the mind of a 20-year-old who is wise beyond his years. The song “16” may possibly be the best one on the album, with Baby Keem performing a vulnerable, loving and apologetic dream-pop ballad of sorts.
As is usually the case with any young artist’s music, there are downsides to “The Melodic Blue.” It seems that Baby Keem stands between the line of wanting to be vulnerable and real, as shown on some tracks, and wanting to be a loud, fast-paced, “mosh-pit” rapper. The balance between the two sides of Baby Keem has yet to be fully smoothed out, which sometimes leads to steep energy changes when listening from song to song.
When all is said and done, “The Melodic Blue” just might be one of the best debut albums in rap. The production, the vision, the lyrics and the aura that Baby Keem brings to the project are all undeniable. His trajectory is incomparable and his growth is awe-inducing. Baby Keem leaves no doubt he can eventually stand on top of the industry for a very long time as he continues to carry the torch.