“Fuck,” Ken Carson mutters on “Jennifer’s Body,” as KP Beatz and Lucian’s cybernetic beat starts, stops, starts, stops, like a heaving spacecraft that just needs a good kick. (He said it’s a Green Day reference.) Strange, gleeful moments like this signal his considered approach to curating his new album, A Great Chaos, designed with restless attention to damage—on loop, it could soundtrack a never-ending moshpit. The beats are some of the hardest Ken’s ever rapped on, but A Great Chaos transcends via its details—in the folds of its rich, Atlantan production, in Ken’s vastly expanded arsenal of vocal stunts and inflections—fleshing out the world of an artist who previously hinted at this promise in fits and starts.
Ken Carson is a lot of things: Playboi Carti protégé turned star in his own right, excellent beat selector, style and swag influence to lots of young people. Somehow, still, the last thing I’d call him is “a good rapper.” Infusing Future and Thug’s straight-line flows and restless chants—and almost none of their personality or writing—with the artificial cool of a Mentos, he tends to lapse into wallpaper rage rap, the kind his young fans will pay money to see live because Carti hasn’t dropped in almost three years. They can barely explain what they like about his music.
Well, something shifted on A Great Chaos. Within the churn of these outrageous beats, Ken sounds alive, funneling his hedonistic tendencies into joyously unholy music. Just a couple minutes shorter than his last album, the limp X (which sounds even more lifeless now), Chaos feels brisker due to its more calculated sequencing. As in the past, production is handled collaboratively by a familiar cadre of artists: Dutch producers Starboy and Outtatown, Working on Dying’s F1LTHY, Lucian, Ssor.t, Lukrative of the collective Neilaworld, to name a few. Refreshingly, instead of copy-pasting rage beats or trying to chase after an abstract notion of punk, this album achieves some of its most monstrous moments by flipping the script on Atlanta rap for a new generation. Check the tumbling keys and organ glissando on the epic “Me N My Kup,” or how the descending, Lex Luger-esque snare roll on “Singapore” introduces an icy duet with Opium labelmate Destroy Lonely. That transitions into the thrillingly blown-out “Lose It” (which asks, What if Ken Carson dropped a late-2000s Gucci Mane tape?) and then into the bludgeoning “Hardcore,” where Ken pulls a WIZRD-era Future, repeating the same four words so that their shape and texture is pulled apart and reconfigured like clay.
Like Carti’s marble-mouthed verse on UTOPIA standout “FEIN,” Ken opts for a radically blunt approach, both in the delivery and the vocals-up-front mix. He sounds totally fried in the best way over Clif Shayne and Lucian’s rolling beat for “Pots” (imagine a swarm of those robot spiders from Spy Kids 2). On “Succubus,” which cranks up its heaviest bass frequencies into a blinding fog, he numbly croaks and croons through a bender while obsessing about an ex. He still sometimes reverts to uninspired clunkers and basic, Opium-core angst. (How many times do we need to hear about an “emo bitch” who “slit her wrists”?) And don’t get me started on this unforgivable get it? moment in “Vampire Hour”: “Everywhere I go, I keep a letter after J/Don’t let that shit go over your head, I keep a K.”
But cloaked in this album’s alluring packaging, a lot more of this strange, “bad” writing works because of how amped up everything is. Sometimes, he’ll do Wayne-like free association to land on future fan art: On the squelching “Nightcore 2,” he says he’s fly, then asks you to look up in the sky: “It’s not a plane, it’s not a bird/It’s X-Man, bitch, fuck what you heard!” It’s so dumb that you can’t help but crack a smile.
At a Brooklyn listening party for A Great Chaos last week, Ken moped around stage, lost in his own music, while a crowd of mostly high schoolers thrashed around and belted songs that had already leaked. At one point, he brought out Destroy Lonely; at another, his boss Playboi Carti, white diamonds embedded in his face like a Hindu god. Phones were whipped out, but Carti didn’t say a word, quickly retreating stage left to his posse and ceding attention back to Ken. It was no “Dre passing the torch to Kendrick” moment—they’re too cool for that—but the exhilarating music, experienced in unison by the Opium crew, indicated this was a coronation.
Rap since Whole Lotta Red, and since Yeat’s breakthrough records, has gotten brasher, bolder, more fiery. But Ken’s sound is now its own branch from that tree. The buzzing rapper OsamaSon, for example, seems to take influence from Ken’s sweltering production, meted-out flows, and flattened cadence. If Red is the Rosetta Stone for Rage 1.0, vast and colorful and dynamic, then A Great Chaos may well be the next crucial LP in this wave, capturing its own mind-numbing senselessness. It argues that maybe the doubters were just listening to Ken the wrong way. As for his longtime fans: This is the future those Rick-obsessed Opium disciples deserve: Something genuinely cool, risky, and relentless.