Fresh off cosigns from Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, Baby Keem is poised to make his mark on the rap industry. His childlike voice and bouncy production make him one of the most fun artists on the rise, and his intimate, eclectic lyrics help him stand out among his contemporaries. Although Keem planned to cement his status with his debut album The Melodic Blue released Sept. 10, it’s unlikely that this messy, underwhelming project will do him any favors.
Most of the record’s songs lack a certain fire, bereft of anything to grab the listener and make them pay attention. Dull tracks such as “Pink Panties” and “Cocoa” have forgettable lyrics (“Huh? Ugh, you toxic / Ah-ha-ha-ha, you toxic”) and beats that are so overproduced they’re downright confusing. Other songs, such as “Gorgeous” and “Lost Souls,” oddly have the opposite issue, struggling with simplistic production that goes in one ear and out the other. Keem typically doesn’t shy away from experimentation, but here, his misses far outnumber his hits.
What The Melodic Blue desperately needs is consistency. No song is outright awful, but few songs go without noticeable problems. “Trademark USA” features a menacing, instantly iconic beat drop, but the song’s second half drags on past the point of comfort. “Scapegoats” comes and goes with little fanfare, yet the spoken word ending is a rare moment of calm beauty among chaos. The final minute of “Range Brothers” is somehow wonderful and embarrassing at the same time, featuring his cousin Kendrick Lamar’s infamous “top of the morning” mantra and hilariously matter-of-fact ad-libs (“he is Baby Keem,” Lamar raps). There are more than a few diamonds in the rough here.
Even on The Melodic Blue’s worst songs, however, there’s still something worthy of appreciation. “South Africa” features a mind-numbing chorus that feels like a chore to sit through, but Keem’s flow on the second verse makes exemplary use of his expressive voice as it cracks, bends and wavers intensely. “Scars,” an otherwise overly long and repetitive track, also makes great use of Keem’s passionate, vulnerable delivery. In fact, Keem’s voice is one of the best parts of The Melodic Blue: Barebones tracks such as “Booman” and “First Order of Business” shouldn’t be interesting on paper, but Keem’s vocals transform them into fascinating oddities.
The Melodic Blue reaches its highest peak on “Family Ties.” Unlike other tracks, the song’s energetic instrumental perfectly connects disparate samples like interlocking puzzle pieces. Keem delivers an electrifying verse that reflects on his career, desperately rapping “What’s the pros and the cons of this next check?” In the song’s second half, Lamar lends a furious verse about “smoking on top fives” — not just asserting himself as one of rap’s greatest artists, but proving it. The song glows as a symbolic moment of passing the torch, and, if anything, “Family Ties” shows how stunning The Melodic Blue could have been.
Roughly a year ago, the viral success of Keem’s infectious hit “Orange Soda” not only helped propel Keem to a higher stage of popularity, but also served as his artistic manifesto. Over the song’s glittery keyboard loop, Keem makes it clear he doesn’t plan on falling off: “Baby Keem not a wave, I’m a vibe, ho.” Yet for an artist who wants his work to make an impact, Keem falters on The Melodic Blue, trying to include countless ideas without giving thought to how they ultimately coalesce. Fans could have received a thoroughly inventive project from a rapper on the cusp of mainstream attention, but instead, they were left with a tame, half-baked mess.