The Sound of Bad Habit

The Sound of Bad Habit

Baby Keem’s debut mixtape, The Sound of Bad Habit, ranks as one of the most streamlined statements of purpose to have arrived in the late 2010s from a new hip-hop talent. Packing 12 songs into 22 minutes, the release from the pugnacious 18-year-old rapper and producer aligned him firmly with the trademark production sound of his L.A. home base and sustains a breathless energy recalling his cousin Kendrick Lamar. Subsequent releases and singles would posit Keem as a star in the making and lead his TDE family to put him more front and center in the label's ranks. Bad Habit, though, made the rap community take notice of his upstart attitude, and take it seriously. The artist born Hykeem Carter Jr. was raised in Las Vegas, where he began rapping and experimenting with beatmaking at the age of 13. After moving to Los Angeles in his mid-teens, Lamar gave him production opportunities within the Top Dawg Entertainment family. Keem contributed beats to Lamar’s groundbreaking Black Panther: The Album and labelmate Jay Rock’s Redemption. Meanwhile, Keem was announcing himself as a solo artist with a collection of independent EPs under his birth name. Hearts and Darts (2018) led off with his first essential anthem, “Baby Keem,” unveiling his new moniker and beginning an enduring trend of cheeky third-person references in his music. The Sound of Bad Habit was the culmination of this period of exploration, largely produced by regular collaborator Cardo, the Midwest-born producer whose sound possesses a distinctly West Coast, post-hyphy knock. Closed out by a repackaged “Baby Keem”—the pair's first collaboration—the tape was structured like a crash course in Keem’s non sequitur–studded verses and constantly pivoting beats. It also stands as the most stylistically focused of Keem’s turn-of-the-2020s releases, sticking to bubbly, lo-fi–sounding street-rap beats and defiant sing-song vocal cadences splitting the difference between his cousin’s imaginatively manic style and Southern and West Coast “mumble rap” contemporaries. Melodic and soul-infused tracks like “Opinions” and “Miss Charlotte” pointed to more genre-defying experiments to come, betraying the influence of millennial rap crooners like Kid Cudi and Drake.

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