Our opinion: 4 stars
After a sporadic streak of singles, Californian rapper Baby Keem released his debut studio album, “The Melodic Blue,” on September 10. Baby Keem co-produced or solo produced all but two of the tracks on the album. “The Melodic Blue” as a whole is Baby Keem’s statement that he fights for and deserves a place at the table among hip hop’s greats.
Prior to “The Melodic Blue,” Baby Keem saw several essential co-signs that promoted his name and gave him cultural stock. After writing for Kendrick Lamar on the “Black Panther” soundtrack, Lamar signed Baby Keem to his pgLang label in 2020, and the two have publicly shared that they are cousins.
Back in April, Baby Keem teamed up with Travis Scott on low-key, skeletal “Durag Activity,” though reactions to Baby Keem’s verse were lukewarm. Baby Keem also worked with Kanye West on “Praise God”, a track from his album “Donda”. These co-signatures are extremely important to “The Melodic Blue” as they qualify Baby Keem’s biggest statement on the album that he “took up the torch”.
For context, “the torch” is symbolically held by the greatest rapper of a hip hop generation, and the expression is particularly significant in West Coast hip hop. Baby Keem’s claim that he “took the torch,” on the album’s opening, “trademark usa,” is quite the stand-alone statement, and “The Melodic Blue” sees Baby Keem attempting to to live up to this self-proclaimed greatness.
To lay the foundation for the album, the production style of “The Melodic Blue” is amazing. There is great versatility in Baby Keem’s choices, and his style remains interesting thanks to his powerful rhythm switches and sampling. While some rappers struggle to keep both sides of a song with a rhythm switch interesting, Baby Keem thrives on either side of his rhythm switches. On his sample, Baby Keem returned instrumentals from Kanye West’s “808s & Heartbreak” to “issues” and “scars”, two notable tracks from the album. Thirteen years later, Baby Keem’s rendition of the emo-rap sound West launched on “808s & Heartbreak” highlights his vast array of abilities.
Throughout “The Melodic Blue,” Baby Keem showcased this vast array of abilities by imbibing a wide range of sounds, cadences, and flow throughout the album. While the album featured trick hymns like “Family Ties” with Kendrick Lamar, Baby Keem also moved away from that sound with tracks like Latin influenced “Booman”.
While fans enjoyed the experimentation, many felt the album was trying to do too much at once. “The Melodic Blue” sometimes seems sonically blurred because it lacks a coherent vision. While Baby Keem’s renditions of different subgenres of hip hop are often interesting, he may have benefited from a smaller soundscape in his early days.
Despite criticism that the album was trying to do too much, many admired that Baby Keem kept it small by only featuring three artists, as it showed he could manage rather than need to. use features like a crutch.
The most common fan criticism of the album was that Baby Keem’s lyrics lacked meaningful content. Baby Keem apparently doesn’t have as much to rap as his contemporaries, so while tracks like “Problems” stand out for their heartfelt subject matter, the album’s rap club and cookie-cutter lyrics may become stale. The most striking tracks on the album are those in which Baby Keem’s lyrics are the most punchy. These highlights include “US registered trademark”, “line brothers”, “issues”, “South Africa”, family ties “, scars” and “16”.
Overall, while Baby Keem may have taken the plunge in trying to “take the torch” with “The Melodic Blue”, the album lays a solid foundation for it to move forward. While some tracks aren’t enough, Baby Keem’s debut studio album is captivating and sets the stage for a successful career.