Here's what fascinates me about Baby Keem and is why I've been listening to him (quite disproportionately to the size of his discography) so much recently. I was thinking about it the other night as I went to bed and I grabbed my phone and to jot a few notes down. I wrote one word first: infectious.
His beats are spontaneous yet precise, superabundant with energy; adjacent to Playboi Carti, whom my dad accused him of aping literally the moment I played "ORANGE SODA" for him, but with less a focus on psychedelia, soundscape, and above all, mumbling. Baby Keem is altogether more focused and punchy, yet delivers the same ethereal, alienlike quality which I find so compelling in Carti. The same delectable synth leads, video-gamey instrumentals, but composed with seemingly harder intent, 'graver' consequences.
I've seen Keem compared to Kendrick Lamar in some aspects (not least because of his ad-libs: the defiant commands and vibrating, echoing hol-ups) and I'd have to agree. He has a sharp, fierce vocal delivery with idiosyncratic word enunciations, and, like Kendrick, the tendency to burst into instrumental breaks with an impassioned one-liner ("Baby Keem just humbled a model!" on "STATS," for example). Interestingly, some of his beats also, despite their one-notedness, coalesce into jazzy refrains or short diversions. And of course some entire instrumentals abscond bass for more R&B-style romantic fuzziness, like "HONEST."
I had no idea up until this point that I would enjoy a "SoundCloud rapper" (if you can call him that - not sure if he's even on SoundCloud, probably better to call him sumtin else) who completely ditches mumbling, the style so iconic, even ubiquitous, in today's landscape. His laconic, sometimes vicious flow, like on "BUSS HER UP," sounds fucking mental over the shiny, splattery, metallic bassline, which reeks of post-pop XXXTentacion ("Moonlight") yet without the commercial concessions. Keem rides the beat like crazy, and the instrumental is spectacular in the way that it splits between hard sections of riveting bass and spacier, slower sections, which only build up anticipation for another all-out section.
At this point, he's released two albums. The Sound of Bad Habit in 2018 and DIE FOR MY BITCH in 2019. Given the close release dates, it's no surprise the two are quite similar in sound - however I find the second one far more concise and engaging. His tracks sound a lot 'fuller' in this second album.
My favorite track of his is "MOSHPIT" from his second album. The song captures every aspect of him I'm in love with. He sprints into the track like DaBaby - a scream and then the beat drops. The first half is fantastic, with a distorted, otherworldly texture, Keem rolling with electric lines and psychedelic ad-libs. And then you have one of the best beat transitions I've heard in modern rap, which sounds like strings pulled from a classic Hollywood music, perfectly pitched and synced with the beat, making it altogether the more exciting and atmospheric because of the anachronisticity: bourgeois orchestra mixed with bombastic South Florida-style trap bass? This beat switch, itself, is like the release of a thousand clenched fists, a dam which has contained water for millions of years bursting and the current rushing out. Mosh pit is the perfect characterization - absolutely off-the-wall energy. Made all the better by Keem's playful lyrics, "I am 50 cent," repeated over and over again, perfectly recitable, perfectly infectious. It's almost like the sounds themselves are in a moshpit, jumping and jousting, bass notes bashing into each other and splattering on the walls.
Other highlights include "ORANGE SODA," the track which brought him into the spotlight (44 mil plays on Spotify as of now, compared to but 2 million for "HONEST" - most of which probably brought in because of the success of "ORANGE SODA"). This was the cut I showed my dad - the beat is simple, fantastically atomized, every particle sounds great. "BUSS HER UP" is probably my third favorite, feverish with rubbery, springy bass.
For non-SoundCloud/mumble/trap obsessives, Baby Keem no doubt sounds like one among many - a young rapper spitting 'simplistic' bars over one-note, bass-driven trap beats. But I think he's one of the best right now. His sound stands out in that he seems to capture, and manifest, the best components of other, bigger musicians of the moment - he has the urgency of Kendrick Lamar, street-brawl spirit of DaBaby, lean-guzzling lilt of Carti, atmospheric range of Denzel Curry (or Kendrick again); and the fact that he's gone relatively under-the-radar leaves me interested. Many people see him only for "ORANGE SODA" but I think he's got some crazy stuff in the works. Anyway, I'd love to see him in concert. Shit would be wild indeed !