Our Take: 4 Stars
Following a sporadic run of singles, California rapper Baby Keem released his debut studio album, “The Melodic Blue,” on Sept. 10. Baby Keem either co-produced or solo-produced all but two of the album’s tracks. “The Melodic Blue” as a whole is Baby Keem’s statement that he is vying for and deserves a seat at the table among the greats of hip hop.
Preceding “The Melodic Blue,” Baby Keem saw multiple pivotal co-signs that hyped up his name and gave it cultural stock. After writing for Kendrick Lamar on the “Black Panther” soundtrack, Lamar signed Baby Keem to his label pgLang in 2020, and the two publicly shared that they were cousins.
This past April, Baby Keem teamed up with Travis Scott on the low-key and skeletally-produced “Durag Activity,” although 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-signs are extremely important to “The Melodic Blue” because they qualify Baby Keem’s biggest statement on the album that he “took the torch.”
For context, “the torch” is symbolically held by the greatest rapper of a generation of hip hop, and the expression is especially significant in West Coast hip hop. Baby Keem’s assertion that he “took the torch,” on the album’s opener, “trademark usa,” is quite the standalone statement, and “The Melodic Blue” sees Baby Keem attempting to live up to this self-proclaimed greatness.
To set the foundation for the album, “The Melodic Blue’s” production style is incredible. There is a vast amount of versatility in Baby Keem’s choices, and his style remains interesting through its strong beat switches and sampling. While some rappers struggle to keep both sides of a song with a beat switch interesting, Baby Keem thrives on each side of his beat switches. On his sampling, Baby Keem flipped instrumentals from Kanye West’s “808s & Heartbreak” on “issues” and “scars,” both standout tracks on the album. Thirteen years later, Baby Keem’s take on the emo-rap sound that West pioneered on “808s & Heartbreak” highlights his vast range of ability.
Throughout “The Melodic Blue,” Baby Keem showcased this vast range of ability by dabbling in a wide range of sounds, cadences, and flows throughout the album. While the album offered trap anthems such as “Family Ties” with Kendrick Lamar, Baby Keem also strayed far away from this sound with tracks like the Latin-influenced “Booman.”
Although fans appreciated this experimentation, many felt the album attempted to do too much at once. “The Melodic Blue” sometimes feels sonically muddied because it lacks a cohesive vision. While Baby Keem’s takes on different subgenres in hip hop are often interesting, he may have benefited from a smaller soundscape on his debut.
Despite criticisms that the album attempted to do too much, many admired that Baby Keem kept it small by only featuring three artists, because this showed that he could hold his own rather than needing to use features as a crutch.
Fans’ most common critique of the album was that Baby Keem’s lyrics lacked meaningful content. Baby Keem seemingly does not have as much to rap about as his contemporaries, so while tracks such as “issues” stand out because of their heartfelt subject matter, the album’s otherwise repetitive club and cookie-cutter rap lyrics can become stale. The album’s standout tracks are the ones in which Baby Keem’s lyrics are the most hard-hitting. These standouts include “trademark usa,” “range brothers,” “issues,” “south africa,” family ties,” scars,” and “16.”
Overall, while Baby Keem may have jumped the gun on trying to “take the torch” with “The Melodic Blue,” the album sets a strong foundation for him moving forward. While some tracks fall short, Baby Keem’s debut studio album is captivating and sets the stage for a fruitful career.