X isn’t close to a successful record, but it does prove that Ken Carson has tapped into an enticing sound that could lead to a more potent project down the line.
Ken Carson’s X — his debut album for Playboi Carti’s Opium label — is a difficult record to recommend, but an easy one to enjoy. The musical pleasures this project provides can be seen as the equivalent of a sugar rush: a small burst of euphoria with no real game plan or substance outside of instant gratification. The beats are glitzy and glitched-out, with plenty of blown-out bass thrown in to make it easier to mosh to when Carson eventually tours with this material; they’re admittedly fun to listen to in the moment, but they hardly register much after the fact. “MDMA,” with its massive, jagged-sounding production, is pure delirium from the second the track starts till the second it ends. But the song also doesn’t have much texture or discernable character outside of those few descriptors; it’s this big, lurching beat in search of an actual melody or song around it. In fact, consistently across the album, Carson struggles to maintain much lyrical interest outside of a few pretty neat adlibs (“Fuk 12” has him bouncing around with a whole slew of them) and some catchy choruses. At his worst, he’s way too gross for music this slick (there’s one particularly nasty bit about making his girl take a Plan B because her “Plan A was to keep it”), while at his best… well, he keeps a vibe going, which is plenty enough for music that could be charitably described as “plenty enough.” But even that meager of an accomplishment is undercut once put in comparison with his contemporaries (Yeat, even for all of his deficiencies, at least sounds like he’s having fun most of the time). If the Carti connection wasn’t obvious, X is basically a watered-down version of Whole Lotta Red, and not a particularly inviting one at that. Carti was a rockstar vampire, which is exciting and cool; Carson is a VLone soldier who sounds like he’s about to fall asleep, which decidedly isn’t.
Still, it’s tough not to go back — and back again — to these brief tracks that immediately hit and smartly wrap up shortly thereafter; it’s as if the base formula of Red’s tracks were stripped even further of conventional structuring elements, sounding even more debased in the process. To hammer this point home, there are two cuts here, “Freestyle 1” and “Freestyle 2,” that quite honestly both sound more polished than the rest of the “traditional” tracks. This might be indicative of why X doesn’t make for a cohesive (or even enjoyable) album listening experience on the whole — the sequencing here is also all over the place in terms of pacing and mood — but the small pumps of pleasure along the way are devilishly enjoyable. It may be most appropriate to label X as a mere whiff at the moment, but it’s also perhaps the first big fumble that’s needed to spur Carson on to something greater. He’s clearly tapped into a particularly enticing sound, if only intermittently, but it’s one that could easily lead to a far more potent project down the line.
Published as part of Album Roundup — July 2022 | Part 1.