Baby Keem – The Melodic Blue [Review]

Ladies and restless men, one of Kendrick Lamar’s many voices has attached a name to itself and has released an album, under the name Baby Keem.

On a serious note, Baby Keem has been around for a minute; 2018 to be exact. It was that year where he would get songwriting and production credits on his cousin Kendrick’s Black Panther soundtrack and release his first two projects, Hearts and Darts, and The Sound of Bad Habit. He would continue working with the likes of Jay Rock, ScHoolboy Q, and even Beyonce en route to his breakthrough effort in 2019, DIE FOR MY BITCH.

DIE FOR MY BITCH spawned three singles in “FRANCE FREESTYLE”, “INVENTED IT”, and “ORANGE SODA”. In 2020 he appeared on the XXL Freshman Class and he released two songs, but it was 2021 that saw him really start to blossom. He released “durag activity” with Travis Scott, and a legitimate song of the year candidate in “family ties” with Kendrick Lamar, his aforementioned cousin. He even made an appearance on Kanye West’s latest album, Donda.

If there was a perfect time for Keem to drop an album, it would be now, when his stock is at an all-time high. And when we’re in an age of effortless album covers (I’m looking at you Donda and Certified Lover Boy), this is really refreshing. So without further ado, let’s get into The Melodic Blue by Baby Keem, the first studio album to be released under pgLang.

1. trademark usa
Produced by Scott Bridgeway, Rogét Chahayed, Teo Halm, Frank Dukes, & Baby Keem
The first thing we hear on this album is a segment from his XXL freestyle. Then the beat drops and he gives us solid energy at the beginning of the song.

LLC the Glock and I LLC my bitch, huh

Interesting way to say you’re not responsible for your girl’s actions. The first half of the track is great and a part of me wishes that he did more than he did with it, but the second half is just as good.

And check the surveillance camera at the cemetery
See me dancin’ on all of your corpse, go

This hard-hitting line serves as the transition into a slow but still hard-hitting beat. We hear background vocals from Rosalia before Keem delivers his second verse in the same manner that he did on “family ties” and “Praise God”. I like this more aggressive, reckless sound way more than his dead, emotionless delivery. Great intro.

2. pink panties
Produced by Baby Keem
This has a new school west coast vibe to it. I could see this being played in a club in LA. Outside of that, I probably won’t be coming back to this one. The chorus samples “Fuck… Instagram” by Che Ecru and the song features a version of Keem that sounds a little reminiscent of Playboi Ca- not even gonna finish that thought. Song’s alright, chorus sucks.

3. scapegoats
Produced by Johnny Kosich, Baby Keem, DJ Dahi, & FnZ
This song was featured in the trailer for the album and it samples “redemption” by serpentwithfeet. With a one-minute and sixteen-second runtime, it’s more like an interlude, but it still makes its presence felt. Keem gets more on the personal side here, referencing his deals, why he’s not that active on social media, his uncle and aunt’s deaths

I tell the story two years later, for now, the case closed

…ookay I guess he’ll elaborate later. Wish he did more with this, but this is a good interlude.

4. range brothers
Featuring Kendrick Lamar; Produced by Ricky Polo, Jahaan Sweet, Dez Wright, Scott Bridgeway, 30 Roc, & Baby Keem
I’m really trying not to judge this song based on how good “family ties” is. That being said, it’s good when it’s by itself. Not really a fan of the Auto-Tuned Keem or the squeaky voice in the first part, but he gets rid of it as the beat switches. The strings in the background of the second beat are GREAT as Kendrick uses his second spot on the album to reflect on how his view of money has changed over the years.

Everybody wanna be great but the work don’t relate him to life Be mistakin’ the truth, nigga
I remember bankin’ with Chase, like four-hundred K
Starin’ at it, I don’t know what to do, nigga
Now I look at money like a resource
Every contract gotta put my kid’s family in school
Health and wealth, goin’ deep for it, do right for my next life

He and Keem also go back and forth about Keem’s previous lack of status and financial freedom:

I remember roaches, momma lost focus
I was at home, no lights, no food
Heard that the joke is, “Hykeem broken”
Head to the ground when I walk in school
Goin’ through the motions, mad impulsive
Granny, I won’t abide by the rules

Kendrick responds by letting his little cousin know there’s more to life than the popularity, hoes, and money that everyone seems to desire.

Fuck that, booman, let me get some too
Life ain’t always about your name in they mouth
And the cars and the clothes and the jewels
Every lil’ bitch that’s born looking like soft porn
Only meant for your ego to bruise
Bet when the hoes get bored and the points ain’t score
You gone live in this world confused
Every day the hate restored and the faith get short

I LOVE this part of the song. Everything from the beat, both kings going back and forth about something meaningful, everything about this part just really works. I wish it ended there, but the self-proclaimed Range Brothers go into part three carefree and unfocused. They do a caucasian sounding voice which is kinda funny

Top of the mornin’, top of the mornin’, top of the mornin’
Top of the mornin’, top of the mornin’
Top of the mornin’, top of the mornin’

…and Kendrick suddenly feels the need to greet me seven times. I can’t think of another reason why this is here other than them thinking it was funny. And while it was, for the most part, it also wasn’t really needed in such a serious song. MAYBE they can win me over with it, but for now, I’m not really feeling it.

5. issues
Produced by Jahaan Sweet & Baby Keem
I think the first verse and chorus of this song are dedicated to his mom. What I make of this is that she wasn’t around for part of his life, battling drug addiction. She’s been in and out of rehab since he was a kid, and from the looks of it, she’s still kind of struggling with her addiction, because in the chorus Keem is begging her to keep pushing through it.

How could I resent you? Demons, they test you
Grandma and I missed you
You don’t know what we been through
Don’t let the wolves come get you

I’m glad I can give him his flowers for the subject matter, because I know he said this song means a lot to him, but this song is on the cusp of being… boring. Even his performance on The Tonight Show was on the boring side. But at the same time, you can see that it means a lot to him, so I give it a pass. I’m also getting the same hint of Carti sound that I heard on “pink panties”.

6. gorgeous
Produced by Cardo, Jahaan Sweet, & Baby Keem
This song is cool and I really like the production here, but it reminds me of something I’ve heard from other artists. The background vocals, in the beginning, give me Travis Scott and Swae Lee vibes. There’s a segment in his verse where Keem kinda sounds like a better version of Carti, specifically the part where he’s doing his imitation of the baby voice. I still like the track though, just not one of the best. And what’s this dude’s fascination with Tame Impala?

7. south africa
Produced by Baby Keem & Bēkon
Pretty cookie-cutter turnup song, but I still like it up until the second verse. He does this thing where he moans out the last part of the rhyme that I probably won’t care about later on, but it just sounds weird. One thing that I’ll give him is this sounds like Baby Keem and no one else. Okay fine the moaning part does give me Kendrick vibes. But he’s still on the precipice of finding his own sound though.

8. lost souls
Produced by Jahaan Sweet, Scott Bridgeway, & Baby Keem
I wish he rapped on this entire track the way he did on the first part and kept the Auto-Tune exclusive to the chorus because he sounds like a better Carti again. But if you’re gonna sound like someone, at least sound like an upgrade. So I won’t knock him for that. The beat has nice space-ish pads and… not much else. That’s the downfall here. Despite Keem injecting some energy into the record. Nice ending, but I think I’m good on this one. Not trash though.

9. cocoa
Featuring Don Toliver; Produced by Scott Bridgeway, Jahaan Sweet, & Baby Keem
I have to give a LOT of credit to the producers on this track because the use of Kanye’s “Coldest Winter” was great. If Keem didn’t change up his flow throughout his verse, I’d say the beat overpowers him. A part of me kinda thinks that still, since he didn’t really finish his verse. Don Toliver has a lot of reverb on his segment, which makes for a kind of ghostly sound.

Xannies got me goin’ down, put me in my mode

So he took some Xanax pills and they caused him to transcend into the astral plane from Doctor Strange? Interesting. Makes for a good sound. Keem has the third verse and he adds some more life and personality to the song (not that it needs any), which was cool. But the beat is what’s going to keep me coming back to this song.

10. family ties
Featuring Kendrick Lamar; Produced by Kendrick Lamar, Baby Keem, Cardo, Outtatown, Roselilah, Deats, Jasper Harris, & Frankie Bash
Tell Anthony Fantano he can suck it. This is one of the best songs of this year. This was the first time in what feels like a long time Keem comes on a track aggressively and bodies his verse. The beat switches seamlessly in the middle of his verse for a part that’s so short that I question the inclusion of it, but it almost feels like nothing before the third beat switch matters as we finally get to hear Kendrick Lamar not only to rap, but smoke our top 5s for 20 bars after FOUR LONG years. That beat switch is my favorite five seconds of music this year. And hearing them go back and forth showcased a kind of chemistry that I haven’t heard in a long time. What a great song.

11. scars
Produced by Beach Noise, Scott Bridgeway, Jahaan Sweet, & Baby Keem
The production on this reminds me of “Love Lockdown” from 808s and Heartbreak. It features a harsh sounding piano which adds to the emotional depth of the song and drums that sound like they were recorded from an African tribe. Everything (except for Keem using Auto-Tune) sounds soulful and passionate.

I ask God (God)
Why this life you gave so hard?
Why all the choices that I make leave me with scars?
I feel like everyone I meet confuse my heart

Powerful chorus. During both verses he expands on it, talking about his religion and the negative effects the people he loves have on him, questioning why it seems like no matter what he does he still gets hurt in the end. Great song; one of my favorites on this album.

12. durag activity
Featuring Travis Scott; Produced by SuperDuperBrick
This was the other single that dropped earlier this year, and it’s kinda mid. Travis goes first on this version which would work towards the track’s advantage if Baby Keem’s segment was good. This is the version of him that I don’t like and would be happy if I never heard again. What’s good about Flame’s verse is that he has some cool punchlines and a more animated delivery towards the end of the song that we don’t have to wait for anymore. Travis carried. Next.

13. booman
Produced by Baby Keem
Banger. The beat samples some kind of wind instrument that sounds like a sax and has a good groove to it. I like the deeper voice in the second verse as opposed to the higher-pitched voice. I don’t know what a “booman” is or what it means, but if it has something to do with being sexy and blessed like he says in the chorus, I’m here for it. Pretty straightforward song.

14. first order of business
Produced by Baby Keem & Jahaan Sweet
I… don’t know how I feel about this one. With this meaningful chorus:

First order of business, dawg, I gotta thank my mama
Second order of business, share the blessings, no more trauma Third order of business, do good deeds and get good karma First order of business, get this money to my shorty
Loyalty and gratitude, the only thing you swear me
Will you be the person that’s gon’ love me in my forties?

It kinda caught me off guard to hear:

Pussy taste like soul food, that’s why you’ve been my go-to

When I met your sister, she said, “This nigga’s obnoxious”
Why she speakin’ anyway? She fuckin’ her employees

Look, all I’m saying is if you’re questioning whether or not she’ll love you when you’re older, but 1. you just put her sister on blast, and 2. the only thing you said that you like about her so far is her pussy, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Maybe I’d like this a little more if there was more going on production-wise because Keem’s got a pretty good melody here and he’s doing his job. But this is ultimately on the forgettable side.

15. vent
Produced by Johnny Kosich, J.LBS, Sounwave, DJ Dahi, & Baby Keem
This song is what “south africa” SHOULD’VE been. It was on demon time as soon as it came on. I don’t know what that is in the beginning but it’s a GREAT buildup to a hard beat drop. There’s something disrespectful about Kendrick asking me if I’ve ever been punched in my face, and then the beat proceeds to do just that. From the flow changes, vocal inflections, to the alarm-sounding beat, this was made to be performed live. And Kendrick shouting “I want the fade” in the outro makes it a going-to-war song.

16. 16
Produced by DJ Dahi & Jeff Kleinman
Proof that a beat can be smooth and hard-hitting at the same time. I have no clue what this song is about, though.

Drown yourself in expensive fabrics
I think you picked up a lot of bad habits
Just appreciate yourself

Here’s a good message. But in the verse, however…

My mama mad at me, I know I fucked up big
My girl mad at me, I know I fucked up big
What’s love? I guess I’ll never understand
Every time I say sorry, I do that shit again
Check, check, check, I made a promise
That I would never leave you stressed, I would be honest
I should have never sent that text, I will be honest
I’m sorry for the things I said, I will be honest

Why would whoever you’re talking about believe your apology when you just pointed out that every time you do apologize you do it again? This song just raises a lot of questions that don’t have very clear answers. I’m torn because I like the beat but he’s confusing me. I will be honest. This should not have been the last track, either that or it should have been done better.

BOTTOM LINE

“Baby Keem dropped a better project than Drake” is a wild sentence to type in 2021. But as I like to say, here we are.

Since DIE FOR MY BITCH is a mixtape, The Melodic Blue will be considered his debut album. And it’s a pretty strong one. There are good things on just about every song here. This project is unpredictable, which at times is more of an advantage than a disadvantage. The beat switches on “trademark usa”, “family ties”, and the first one on “range brothers” are fire. I’m not sure exactly which tracks Keem produced himself, but the production side is another reason why this project shines. Unorthodox beats like “scars” and “issues” to the more traditional sounding but still creative cuts like “cocoa”, “vent”, and “booman” carry on his consistent theme of having great beat selection on his projects. Lastly, Keem’s performance is consistently full of energy, flow changes, and a wide selection of vocal inflections.

Which is the perfect transition into the negative. There are numerous moments where he sounds like someone else. I got Travis Scott and Swae Lee vibes from “gorgeous”, Carti vibes on a number of songs, and of course there’s the beginning of the review where I said that he was one of Kendrick’s voices with a name attached to it. I can cut him some slack in terms of sounding like Kendrick because there will always be comparisons between them due to the fact that they’re cousins. In terms of the other artists, he still has work to do when it comes to making his own path. I’m not sure if Auto-Tune and him really go together. Additionally, some of the overall decisions were a little baffling. I don’t know why they had to add a third segment to “range brothers” when there was so little room for error because of how good the second part was (which is one of the disadvantages of having such an unpredictable album). That’s actually something I can say about most of the songs; why did they need a segue? And what’s his fascination with Tame Impala? The world may never know.

All things considered, this project came pretty damn close to getting a 4/5 from me. But the fact that I think about other artists at times when listening to certain songs off this project prevents me from giving it that high of a score. The Melodic Blue has some really good tracks and lots of replay value, and I think as we learn more about Keem as a person most of these tracks will make a lot more sense, thus making the album better with time. But until that happens, Baby Keem’s official debut record will get a 3.75 from me (I can’t believe this has a higher score than Donda).

FAVORITE TRACKS
  • “trademark usa”
  • “vent”
  • “family ties” (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
  • “scars”
  • “range brothers” (feat. Kendrick Lamar) (until the “top o the morning” part)
  • “booman”
  • “cocoa” (feat. Don Toliver)
LEAST TRACKS
  • “pink panties”
  • “first order of business”

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