Baby Keem Has Arrived
Baby Keem has arrived at the Complex office in Manhattan, accompanied by a publicist, a product manager, a road manager, and “the Winston Wolfe of music”: Schoolboy Q golfing partner Brock “Brocky Marciano” Korsan, who is part of Keem’s management team.
Hykeem “Baby Keem” Carter is just 18 years old, but he has already made enough waves as both a rapper and a producer that such an entourage is necessary. When the Las Vegas-raised but currently L.A.-living Keem first started releasing his distinctive, funny, undeniably catchy songs under his given name, he kept his face hidden from the public. But not long afterwards, he emerged as Baby Keem and started releasing videos revealing his identity, including one directed by Shia LaBeouf. Around the same time, Keem began racking up production and songwriting credits on projects like Black Panther The Album, Jay Rock’s Redemption, and Schoolboy Q’s CrasH Talk.
But Baby Keem puts all associates to the side and goes for self on his new project Die for My Bitch. The project features production from heavy hitters like Sounwave, DJ Dahi, Cardo, and CuBeatz, and it’s a perfectly varied, strange, emotional, often hysterical, and ultimately unforgettable introduction to the wild world of Baby Keem. So when we got the opportunity to sit down with Keem to find out how he managed to form such a distinctive style in such a short time, we had to do it. Baby Keem has arrived. The conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length, is below.
Why did you leave Vegas when you were a teenager?
It’s small. It’s nothing, no music scene. Do you know any artists from Vegas?
The Killers, right? That’s about it.
I never even heard of them. Now there’s me, and I had to leave.
What was Vegas like when you were growing up?
Boring, dry, small. Everybody knows everybody.
Did you ever try to sneak into a casino?
Nah. I snuck into one lounge, one time. That was it for me. After like 10 minutes I got kicked out because I tried to act cool.
How’d you get started with music?
My whole life was just music. I knew I was going to rap, but I never knew when. I never knew when I would have the voice. So I waited until I had the voice, when I was like 15. Because at the time, I used to think a deep voice was cool. I waited until my voice got deep enough, then I started rapping.
Were you writing that whole time?
Yeah. I would write songs, but never tell nobody. I’ve been doing this for a long time.
What were your early songs about?
Same thing as now. It’s just developed. But I used to write everything. I analyze a lot.
What were some early song titles?
I wouldn’t even title them. They would just be written to YouTube beats. I would never record them or title them. I would just write them in my Notes [app] or on a notepad or something. This is when I used to actually write on stuff, with a pen. I don’t do that no more.
Tell me about the day you realized you had the voice you were looking for.
I made my first song. It was crazy. I was in high school, I was a freshman. Everybody was surprised. Nobody knew I was going to do that. It was random because I was always playing basketball and stuff. Nobody knew I always wanted to rap, but I just never knew the right time. It was cool, though. I’m like, “Damn, I’m kind of hard.” But that’s everybody with their first song.
Are you going to give me some bars from that first song?
I don’t even remember them. The song’s somewhere. It’s not on the internet, but it’s somewhere on an old hard drive or something like that. I don’t think you’ll ever find it.
What did those early songs sound like? Would we hear them and be like, “This is Baby Keem. I recognize this”?
No. I used to rap low. Now I use my high voice. I used to whisper-rap, so it was crazy. It sounds like you’re recording in the bedroom and you don’t want to wake nobody up, because that’s what it was. I just wanted to hear myself on the mic, and I think that was important early on. It showed me what to do and what not to do.
It seems like you thought rappers should have low voices when you were starting out.
At first. That was really early on, though. That was like, 2011, 2010. Lil Wayne changed that. Young Thug changed that, too. So shout out to them. Shout out Chief Keef. All those guys.
What did you hear in your voice that made you say, “I’m ready to rap now”?
My flows. That was my whole thing. I didn’t want to be like the best lyricist. I wanted to be the best: the king of flows. I wanted to have crazy flows. That was my whole thing from when I was 12 years old. I was inspired by Cudi’s cadences and shit like that. Kid Cudi’s one of my favorite artists.
What’s something you heard Cudi do where you were like, “I want to do my version of that”?
“Immortal.” His cadence. Everything. He makes you feel how he really feels the song, what it’s about.
When did beatmaking come into the picture?
I just dabble in it a little bit. Nothing too serious.
I’M GOING TO BE HERE FOR A LONG TIME. I’M HERE FOR 20 YEARS. THEN WHEN I’M 35, IT’S OVER.
The first projects you released weren’t that long ago. Tell me about getting to the point where you’re like, “I want to put music out in the world.”
Yeah, I thought my music was really good back then. I was like, “I’m like 16 years old and I’m doing this and I’m recording myself.” I thought I was crazy. It was just bedroom music, all my ideas. Going to school, coming home every day, penning my ideas, expressing myself. That’s the best way I can put it.
When you go back to the very early stuff, what do you hear now?
I hear the way I deliver. There were melodies and stuff in my old music. But that’s just early on music. That’s music that should have never came out. But now it’s my voice, it’s the way I deliver, and how confident I am on the mic.
You’re singing more on this record than on some of the past stuff.
Yeah, it’s confidence knowing that I practice every day and that this is the thing I want to do.
Everything. I do a song every day. I finish it top to bottom. It’s like if you’re a basketball player, you just play every day and then you’re like, “Okay, I shouldn’t be playing with these kids no more. I should be [with] these kids.” I feel I could be in the studio with anyone. I feel like I can get a song with anybody, sing with somebody. I can do anything.
Do you finish a song even if it’s not good?
Yeah, all the time. Because I tape my verses and I reuse them. There’s some songs you’ve never heard. The song may be trash, but I’m going to finish it all the way through. Some beats are just beats that you use to get ideas, and not necessarily beats that you would like to release. So once you get the idea out, you can take the idea and put it on a different beat and it’ll be a crazy song.
It seems like you’re always fiddling with stuff. I heard an early version of the album that had like four or five different songs.
Yeah. It’s a crazy process. I wanted to show more of a creative side this project. I didn’t want to make a Bad Habit two. That’s boring. I wanted to be more creative.
How do you know when you’re done?
I don’t think I’m ever done. When it comes out, that’s when I’m done. I turned in the last song a week before it came out. You make your final changes. I don’t think it’s ever really done until [the deadline].
I WAS INSPIRED BY CUDI’S CADENCES AND SH*T LIKE THAT. KID CUDI’S ONE OF MY FAVORITE ARTISTS.
On “Bullies,” you say, “Don’t talk fake deep/I don’t like it.” Who was the last person who talked fake deep to you? What’d they say?
Man, I just hate it. People do things for the internet rather than for their own good. I just don’t like people acting like they know stuff when they don’t. Anybody who acts like they know something when they don’t have it 100%, that’s what I mean. Don’t talk fake deep. You faking. You just want to seem smart. I don’t like that. Hate fake smart. I like real smart.
Your grandmother comes up on “Moshpit,” and you also mention her on Twitter. Can you tell me about her?
She raised me from the point where I was like 8 years old. That’s my grandma. She’s just part of my life every day. It was like my second mom. [I’ve] got to mention her.
What did she say when she heard “Moshpit”?
Man, you know what? I don’t think she’s heard it yet. I got to go over there. My grandma, she just now learned how to use Netflix. I’ll send send her a link, she’ll figure it out, and then somebody will call her and it will mess her whole thing up and I’m not there to tell her, “Oh, this is how you got to do it.” So yeah, I got to go over there.
How was she when you got deeper into music and turned it into a profession?
She loves it. She bought me my first microphone, actually.
“Invented It” is one of my favorite records on the album. What did you invent? What’s the “it”?
That’s the thing. You got to figure it out. I can’t give it away.
Have you ever actually put tissues in your insoles when you’re around a woman who’s tall? [On “Rockstar P,” Keem raps, “Bitch tall, put tissues in my insoles”.]
I used to. Growing up, too, I used to put tissues in my shoes whether it’s in my bottoms or in the front, just to make the shoe fit. We’d do that a lot growing up. I don’t do that no more. I’m too old for that.
Prior to this project, you worked extensively with Cardo. How did that relationship start?
I’ve known Cardo for a minute, actually. I’ve been hitting him up on Twitter. I would hit him up like, “Yo, Cardo. Let’s work.” So, one day I just sent him one of my records. It never came out, and he was like, “Oh, it’s fire.” He sent me a [beat] pack like, “Here, let’s see what you do.”
And the “Baby Keem” record was the first beat I heard. I went right in the booth. That was the moment where I had to really prove myself. That was my turning point. Because if the song wasn’t fire, we wouldn’t have done the other project [2018’s The Sound of Bad Habit, which Cardo executive produced], then we wouldn’t be on this project. It was a big moment for me, doing that record.
IT’S NOT JUST ONE TYPE OF SONG. IT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE THAT. IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE EVERYWHERE. IT’S NOT AN ALBUM. IT’S A MIXTAPE.
Your early stuff, you weren’t showing your face at all. Why?
I was a little kid, you know? Simple like that. I know as a little kid, you change a lot. You wear certain stuff at 15, you’ll never wear again. I didn’t want to come out until it was the right time.
How did you know it was the right time?
I got some confidence. My music got better, so I’m like, “All right, it might be time to do this.” And then I did the “Baby Keem” record and I’m like, “Okay, it’s lit.” Once I got the “Baby Keem” record, everything changed.
Why is calling yourself Baby Keem as opposed to Hykeem Carter important?
Because it’s me being a real artist instead of a bedroom rapper. It’s me finally turning that curve, which is cool. It’s like I grew up.
You had this tweet where you said that Hykeem Carter and Baby Keem are two different people. What did you mean by that?
Baby Keem is fun, crazy, go to the club, turn up. Hykeem, I like my personal space. I value it a lot. I’m very sheltered. I don’t leave the house. When I do, I’m Baby Keem. Right now I got to be Baby Keem. But I value my personal space a lot, so it’s cool separating the two.
Baby Keem press photo
Photo by Bryan Blue
If your career blows up to the extent you want, you may not be able to turn off Baby Keem. Is that a scary prospect?
I’ll turn off Baby Keem. I’ll stay in the house. I do it all the time. I don’t leave the house unless I got to get some food. Food and studio, that’s all I’m ever at.
What’s your favorite story from making this project?
There was such a weird process to this project. It’s eye-opening because the process of creating my last project was more like, I’m in the bedroom recording myself. This one’s kind of the same, but I’m in the scene now. I had records from November, right after Bad Habit, all the way until July. I think the second half of “Moshpit” was my funniest process.
That’s the one where you say, “I’m 50 Cent, I’m 50 Cent.”
Yeah. It’s having fun. That’s what it’s about. It was a fun process just randomly saying that. I was like, “I’m going to make this the hook.” I really trust my ears, so I’m able to drop a record like that. I know at least my core would love it, and that’s all I care about.
I wanted to get into “My Ex,” because that’s musically so different than everything else in the record. Take me through the process creating that song.
It was a random night in the studio and I just got bored with trap. I hear this one beat my homie Lyle [Leduff] sent it in. It was a crazy guitar but it was a trap beat. It was an electric guitar. But I loved how the music was, the melody. So I told my guys Matt and Johnny, “Could you guys replay this but in acoustic? No drums, no nothing. Just let it go.” It was a feeling song. How I really felt.
Where’d the words come from?
I always wanted to have a song like that because I always felt like that in high school and stuff. Like, “Man, I hate my ex.” I just never knew how it was going to come, in what form. I didn’t know if it was going to come in a song like “Gang Activities.” I don’t force it. So whenever it comes in, it comes in, but I always knew I wanted a song like that.
Were you a class clown in school?
Yeah, a little bit. And then I’ll have my reserved days. But as high school went on, I came with the headphones in like, “Stop talking to me.”
What’s one thing you want people to know about Baby Keem that they don’t know?
I’m going to be here for a long time. I’m here for 20 years. Then when I’m 35, it’s over.
What happens then?
I don’t know. I’m going to be around music, but I think that’s when it’s over. I started when I was 15, so that’s a good 20 years. Now it’s time to do something else.
It seems like you’re catching on with celebrities. I saw Tyler, the Creator and Kendall Jenner sharing your music on social media.
Yeah, it’s sick.
How did they find out about you?
I have no clue, but they love it and I love it. I think it just spreads. It’s crazy, though. Kendall tight. Kehlani’s tight. Everybody. Tyler. Sick.
You had an old Instagram page that isn’t around anymore. What was the most embarrassing picture on it?
I used to post strawberries and stuff. I was a little kid. I used to be eating strawberries. When I first discovered strawberries were good, I was like 12 and I was like, “Man, I’m eating strawberries. Nobody eating strawberries like me.” I just thought I was cool. I’m like, “People knew about these?” I thought strawberries was a rare thing. I never had strawberries before until I was like 12 years old. So I’m on Instagram posting like, “Yeah, I’m eating these strawberries.”
I saw a picture online of you when you were pretty young. It appeared to be around Christmas and there was a Razor scooter. Do you remember that Christmas?
Yeah, that’s crazy. I remember that. That was fun. That was probably one of my top three Christmases. I don’t even like Christmas no more. I like giving, the spirit, but it’s just not the same as when you’re a kid. I had some good Christmases growing up. But that was one of my favorite ones. I don’t remember if the box was just there the whole time. Or did they bring it out that day? I’m not sure. I think it was there the whole time and I always wanted to know what it was. It was a big box, and I was just wondering, “When do I open it?” It was crazy. That’s one of my favorite Christmases.
What else do you want people know about Die for My Bitch?
It’s not just one type of song. It’s not supposed to be like that. It’s supposed to be everywhere. It’s not an album. It’s a mixtape.
What do you mean?
It’s just a project. It’s my best project so far but I’m still 18. To find the space to create a cohesive album, it’s not fun to me right now doing that. I want to keep making music that I like and then when we get into the next project or the next project after that, we can access an album.
That’s what album means to you? Something that is cohesive?
Yeah, a cohesive body of work that tells a story. That’s an album to me. And Die for My Bitch is going back and forth too much between heartbreak and being angry. But it’s not telling the full story yet. Not yet.
What are some albums that meet that bar for you?
A lot of Kanye albums, those are my favorites. I love Kanye albums most. I love Cudi albums, of course.
You’re mostly living in L.A. right now. What neighborhood are you in?
I’m up in the valley. Deep in the valley.
How do you like it?
It’s cool. Ducked off. It’s how Hykeem Carter’s personality is.
When was the last time you were back in Vegas?
Earlier this month. I try to go back every month.
What do you think when you go back?
I get bored. I bring myself out so I see my grandma, go see my mama, my little brother and stuff. And then I come back.
Any favorite hangouts in Vegas?
I just get [Raising] Cane’s. Love Cane’s. It’s chicken finger place. Fire. But it’s only fried. You got to get your chicken right. I’m going to tell my order.
This is all my homies’, too. You don’t even know. And he’ll tell you [gestures to his road manager], I get mad when my order’s not right. I look forward to this every day in Vegas.
You got to get your chicken on eight minute burn. Otherwise, I won’t eat it. It’s not good. Then you got to get butter on both sides of the toast, and you can’t get coleslaw. You got to replace the coleslaw with an extra toast. So you get two toasts, and you put butter on both sides of the toast, and then you get hot sauce. That’s the key part there. They can do all of that but if they don’t have hot sauce, which they don’t sometimes, it’s all ruined and I won’t eat it. That’s the key. Then you put hot sauce on the fries, hot sauce on everything, and then it’s the best chicken ever. It’s better than Chick-fil-A. Better than everything. You got to do all that stuff to it, though.