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It’s been a long time coming for singer, rapper, songwriter and producer Hykeem “Baby Keem” Carter Jr. At just 20 years old, Keem already has an appearance on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, was an XXL Freshman in 2020 and has production credits for Kendrick Lamar’s “Black Panther” soundtrack, Jay Rock’s “Redemption,” ScHoolboy Q’s “Crash Talk” and Beyonce’s “The Lion King” soundtrack. All of a sudden I feel pretty bad about myself.

Despite his immense early success, Keem hadn’t yet produced a studio album until this month’s “The Melodic Blue.” The long wait since his most recent mixtape, 2019’s “Die for My B----,” was well worth it, as TMB has quickly solidified itself as one of the best albums of the year — point blank, period.

The hype for “The Melodic Blue” quickly picked up in August with the release of the incredibly hard “family ties” featuring none other than Lamar, Keem’s cousin. Before delving into the content of both the song and the album, it’s important to look into the duo’s rock-solid relationship.

When he was breaking into the industry, Keem didn’t tell people he was related to the record-breaking, legendary Lamar. In the rapper’s own words, he wanted to “earn things on his own merit.” Part of what makes Keem such an interesting talent is his humbleness in relation to his come-up, but he manages to complete a 180 for some banging braggadocious bars. Despite keeping his relationship with Lamar on the low, Keem commends Lamar as the one who helped him stay in school and eventually graduate.

Lamar and Keem are also both cousins to former NBA player Nick “Swaggy P” Young. Talk about a talented bloodline.

Anyways, the duo’s relationship is in full force on TMB, headlined by the aforementioned “family ties.” The lead single built hype on Twitter and TikTok alike and, as of the time this article was written, had 30,768,185 streams on Spotify in just a handful of weeks. It’s a true contender for song and music video of the year, with the latter featuring striking visuals that accompany the hardest bar of the year thus far.

“family ties” is just one of three Lamar features on the project, with the cousins teaming up for “range brothers” and “vent.” It’s evident from the three songs that both are going toward yet-to-be-treaded, experimental territory. Lamar’s feature on “range brothers' ' has been the subject of controversy, and while it is a strange sound, it’s hard to get the “top of the mornin’” verse out of your head. According to both Lamar and Keem, the duo created “four new languages” on TMB, and neither expects every bar to connect immediately.

Make no mistake, though, Kendrick Lamar is definitely back. It’s been all but radio silence from Kung-Fu Kenny, who hasn’t released a solo studio album since 2017’s “DAMN.” Lamar’s line delivery and features on TMB are so damn good, it’s hard not to get emotional. As one of the greatest rappers to ever do it, Lamar makes sure to remind listeners “don’t address me unless it’s with four letters.”

Lamar isn’t the only mainstream star to feature on the project, with a previously released Travis Scott feature on “durag activity” and a Don Toliver feature on “cocoa.” Both are certified bangers that should be must-plays on the aux.

But it isn’t the features that make this project so special; Keem produced most of the album himself, and it’s great to see him play with such experimental sounds, even if it doesn’t always click, though most of the time it does. “range brothers,” “south africa,” “pink panties” and “gorgeous” are the biggest beneficiaries of Keem playing around with sound, but it’s evident throughout the entire project, and even bleeds over into Kendrick Lamar’s verses as he takes on a new persona, Oklama.

It’s also evident on the project’s intro, which may be one of the hardest intros of the year in “trademark usa.” It’s a great tone-setting track that features lyrics from ROSALíA, and one of the better beat switches in recent hip-hop memory.

It’s also extremely satisfying to see Keem pay homage to Kanye West’s “808s & Heartbreaks,” which he attributes as the album that inspires him the most as an artist. In an excellent moment of production, Keem samples 808s’ “Love Lockdown” on the track “scars,” which perfectly fits the themes of confrontation with his own religion in terms of finding someone to love. “I ask God (God)/Why this life you gave so hard?/Why all the choices that I make leave me with scars?”

Keem’s lyricism is on point throughout the entire project, but it’s most apparent in the tracks “issues” and “first order of business.” On “issues,” Keem talks about his lack of trust in others and strifes with personal demons, as apparent in the opening line “I've been duckin' my friends, I've been stuck on my ends/Memories about people all in my head.” And on “first order of business,” Keem talks about how he can right his own wrongs and focus on himself first and foremost.

The project’s 16th and final track, aptly titled “16,” is especially superb, with a catchy, synthy beat and includes Keem talking about his relationship struggles with a woman who comes from a rough background. “Won't you think about you and I?/Just grab my hand and look me in the eye/But this ain't something you should decide/This ain't something that you should decide,” the artist pleads. It’s a beautiful song and a perfect outro.

“The Melodic Blue” should be a strong contender for album of the year. Keem has quickly come full circle to his upbringing and inspirations and already has some of the most impressive collection of features in all of rap right now. His passion and fierceness oozes from pen to paper, from song to listener, and it’s one of the best straight listens of the year. While the rest of the world debates between “Donda” and “Certified Lover Boy,” Keem is here to remind everyone that he’s here to stay, and he’ll pop out and do it again and do it again and do it again.

Managing Editor

I'm Tristan Tucker, managing editor in the class of 2022 studying Communication Media and Statistics. I joined Technician in Fall 2018 and am a credentialed NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and SB Nation.