The Melodic Blue (Deluxe)

The Melodic Blue (Deluxe)

Following up a promising run of singles, mixtapes, and increasingly high-profile production turns and features, Baby Keem’s 2021 debut album, The Melodic Blue, served as a showcase for everything the prankish rapper and beatmaker was capable of when given time and a budget. It is also one of the most adventurous debut hip-hop albums of its era, juggling and juxtaposing styles and characterized by inspired, willfully bizarre turns of phrase and delivery. The record was preceded by hype-building singles featuring two of the hottest rap stars in the industry. The minimal and uncanny Travis Scott duet “durag activity” finds Keem transitioning between a murmuring, Valee-reminiscent flow and high, burbling Auto-Tune. The more pyrotechnic rhymes on “family ties,” Keem’s first major collaboration with his cousin Kendrick Lamar, won the young rapper not only a Top 20 hit but, later, a Grammy Award. With these two prestige tracks gaining momentum before album release day, anticipation was high for The Melodic Blue being one of the most significant hip-hop studio albums in recent years. Unlike on his previous mixtapes—whose production duties were often handled by other affiliates—Keem co-produced all but two songs on the album. Having grown up idealizing producer-rappers like Kanye West (the two collaborated on the Donda track “Praise God” in 2021), the 20-year-old seemed to be aiming to paint a holistic picture of his artistry and, like his hero, get weird and push buttons while doing it. On tracks like “gorgeous” and “scars,” he takes direct stylistic influence from Kanye’s brand of melodic, cinematic hip-hop. Elsewhere—as he did on his formative releases—Keem most directly channels the ethos of freewheeling contemporary stylists in the Young Thug tradition. (See the unpredictable melodicism and jagged phrasing of “lost souls.”) But the album’s most adventurous and divisive moments come on its three collaborations with Lamar. Most notable is the heavily memed “range brothers,” which features repetitive lines within verses—“Top o’ the morning” ad infinitum—and abrupt production shifts. Debuting at No. 5 on the Billboard 200, The Melodic Blue proved to be the culturally trenchant and creatively daring statement Keem seemed to be angling for. Thriving on excess, it finds Keem applying his youthful, insouciant lyrical style and unfettered production talents to the stylistic modes that shaped him, pointing toward the possibility of even more individualistic efforts to come.

Disc 1

Disc 2

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