Until recently, Baby Keem chose to be an enigma. His mic voice is distinctive, a high-pitched moan well suited to jokes and bluster, but Hykeem Carter, the man behind the character, often strayed from sight. Personal details in his music and interviews were scarce, and Keem hid his face outright until he started promoting his 2018 project, The sound of bad habit. Even after revealing himself, he was speechless, but that didn’t stop eagle-eyed fans from noticing his name in the writing and production credits of Top Dawg Entertainment albums like the Disney collaboration. 2018 Black Panther album and Jay Rock’s Redemption. Rumors circulated that Keem was in fact Kendrick Lamar’s cousin and only benefited from rap nepotism, but as Keem’s popularity and mystique increased in the wake of his breakout project in 2019. Die for my bitch, he kept his distance and above all let his frenzied music speak for itself.
Nepotism or not, the deployment (or, according to former TDE president Dave Free, the “well executed plan”) For Keem’s first studio album The melodic blue telegraphed a more personal, or at least less secret, direction to him. He publicly embraced his relationship with Lamar, signing with the pgLang collective of Lamar and Dave Free and releasing the team track “Family Ties”. The album trailer is made up of “scapegoats,” a brief but somber reflection on the family that strikes a little closer to home (“Flowers at my uncle’s grave, thousands at my aunt too / I used to take back alleys, last week was nothing new ”) before pulling the curtain again. While The melodic blue is indeed dotted with a more intimate writing than usual, it is not exactly a confessional. Instead, Keem takes the opportunity to extend his well-established fascination with trap and melody to the feature film, with mixed results.
On previous projects, Keem has shown an ability to jump between rap and vocals, sometimes in the same song. If he shouted “Baby Keem has just humiliated a model!” On “STATS” or cooing about his indifference to anyone’s opinions on “Opinions”, it felt like a natural progression, with the same artist coming up with a different approach. Part of this synergy remains on The Melodic blue, and the tops are exhilarating. His opening verse on “family ties” is easily among the best of his career. Keem triumphantly jumps to the horns and thud of the 808s with a handful of streams and memories of childhood Popeyes’ travels while bulging out his chest (“It’s a red dot, don’t be fooled with red eyes” ). Both ‘pink panties’ and ‘first order of the day’ see Keem effortlessly switch between melody and bars to foot the lacy front and thank his mother for her love and support. When he sticks to what initially made Two Phone Baby Keem so successful, it’s easy to understand the initial hype.
The core of what made Keem so attractive when no one knew what he looked like exists in pieces here, but The melodic blue collapses when he begins to experiment. It’s more often aimed at pop and R&B, sometimes landing on something fun and propulsive (“cocoa”) and other times sounding jarring. The cooings of “issues” and “16” sound like Drake’s reference tracks Boy in love certified sessions, while “Range Brothers” is a Travis Scott-style bomb stab – with multiple rhythm switches and a brilliant mix. The latter starts off decently but dissolves into a memorable mess as Keem and Lamar swap quotes with playful accents like kids at a family barbecue.
Keem’s collaborations with Lamar are some of the album’s most confusing moments. The chemistry in their hot potato swap at the end of “family ties” is undeniable, offsetting Lamar’s earlier choice to use a flow and vocal tone that sounds like Hulk Hogan on helium. Compare that to the end of the ‘Range Brothers’, where Keem and Lamar negotiate short, breathless exchanges and goofy adlibs to a hard-hitting pace. (I can’t decide if “top o ‘the mornin'” or “Rollie gang, Rollie gang, Rollie gang” is more ridiculous.) The duo are clearly having fun, with Lamar in particular relishing rap in a concept looser. -free settings, but that energy can’t always keep those spectacular moments from looking incredibly silly. Neither is as inexplicable as Keem’s left turn to acoustic emo-rock on “MY EX,” but it’s hard to tell if they’re kidding or not, which isn’t. always a good thing.
It’s strange because Baby Keem has always had a strong sense of identity. Whether he’s pretending to be 50 Cent or playing the clown on his lover’s ex, it’s easy to tell when you listen to a Baby Keem song. A lot of The melodic blue is devoted to trying other artists’ sounds when he would have benefited from more Keem to refine what was already working on his. Such a theatrical and expansive album suggests that Keem is aiming for the next level. He doesn’t have to open his mind and heart completely to be a great artist, but he does need to retain his own voice.
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