Review: Baby Keem, ‘The Melodic Blue’

Baby Keem’s debut album is ambitious and strives to convey personality, funnelling through a burdening number of ideas.

The mystery behind Baby Keem has slowly been lifted. His 2019 mixtape Die for My Bitch marked him as the internet’s next hot topic, speared by the viral track “Orange Soda”. A 2020 XXL Freshman and cousin to none other than Kendrick Lamar are further credentials to live up to. Now signed to Lamar’s pgLang imprint, he is publicly aiming to become a household name in modern hip hop.

The Melodic Blue continues to frame Baby Keem as an entertaining artist. Though the record’s various avenues makes it a hard experience to absorb.

In its now-expanded format of 18 tracks (not including a remix), The Melodic Blue is an album full of ambition. In many senses, Baby Keem wants to push the trap genre further, whether that is structurally or vocally. He trots through the album with panache, careless of how the listener will perceive his execution. It matches the album’s intention to be big, and it certainly is. Various tracks take the listener on a rollercoaster, whether that’s with opening track “Trademark USA” or one of the three songs with Kendrick Lamar (“Range Brothers”). Both mid-sections carry out the best moments of the album, whereas “Family Ties” exceeds front to back in its “Sicko Mode”-esque execution.

The 2020 singles “Hooligans” and “No Sense” were wisely added to the album a few days later. “Hooligans” is an example of The Melodic Blue excelling through minimals, carried by simple piano keys and a whistling melody. “No Sense” comes close to crooning trap&B through its memorable hook and plain-toned verses. Though they are yet to be sequenced into the album correctly, the record is better off with them than without.

There are further tracks that carry out the bank of ideas at Keem’s disposal (“Gorgeous”, “Scars”). But the main issue with The Melodic Blue is that it struggles to come together. Plenty ambition exists, but the execution is often shoddy, unable to pinpoint ideas that can gel. There is a lot going on, with Keem eager to tackle as many beats as possible.

The album bounces from being frantically urgent (“Range Brothers”, “Trademark USA”) to 808s & Heartbreak knockoffs (“Issues”, “Scars”) or are morbidly monotone (“Durag Activity”, “First Order of Business”). The track “Scapegoats” has a bank of potential but runs for a mere minute, losing out on the opportunity to be a real highlight. Albums with a range of styles can work, but Baby Keem’s ability to pivot efficiently at this stage of his career is juvenile.

The Melodic Blue tends to focus more on production rather than compelling performances. Baby Keem’s name is plastered all over the production credits, alongside contributions from Cardo, Frank Dukes, DJ Dahi, 30 Roc and Jahaan Sweet. His nasal delivery dominates the majority of the record, a delivery that’s been popularised by Playboi Carti. Rarely does Keem’s performance outshine or even compliment the production, which makes his desire to experiment admirable but results in plenty songs not sticking their landing (“Booman”, “Cocoa”, “Lost Souls”).

There is a clear foundation Baby Keem sets to work with. For the most part, it is able to keep the album afloat. He succeeds in having fun, particularly on the collaborative tracks and Che Ecru-sampling “Pink Panties”. In small doses, these approaches work well. However, The Melodic Blue makes the mistake of overindulging in its ingredients to cook a rather messy dish.

In its best moments, The Melodic Blue is an entertaining trap record that makes attempts to be unique. At its worst, it is unable to mesh its myriad of ideas. There is enough firewood to start a fire but the spark is tame.

6.5 / 10

Best tracks: “Family Ties”, “Range Brothers”, “Hooligans”, “Scapegoats”