Carnage the Executioner comes into his own

The best rapper from Minnesota you've never heard

The album's crucial turn is the sharp satire of hip hop's hyper-masculine culture, "God's Gift to the World." After a delusional rapper spits self-aggrandizing, sexist game to a female audience member, the woman turns it around, belittling his mic skills and his sexual prowess. "Why would I want a man who I don't want to see with his shirt off?" she mocks. "Leave with you? I'll regret it later." In one fell swoop, Carnage undercuts the facade he's spent half an album building up.

From there, Respect the Name heads inward, and demonstrates how self-aware his writing's become. He doesn't pull any punches, either, particularly on "Nigger-tivity" — its curiously carefree, borderline-self-help chorus admittedly a little out of place — and "My People," a pair of songs that unleash withering critiques of his fellow African-Americans and, in particular, the "hood mentality." The true heart of the album, however, is the bare-bones "Addict." In it, Carnage explains his lack of interest in alcohol and drugs, laying it squarely at his estranged mother Gale's doorstep. But in so doing, he realizes that if drugs were an escape for her, then over-eating was his vice.

Hate to feel like I'm not having something I really want.

Carnage the Executioner, aka Terrell Woods, at the Cabooze, August 2012
Sean Smuda
Carnage the Executioner, aka Terrell Woods, at the Cabooze, August 2012
Carnage opening for the WuTang Clan's RZA at the Cabooze
Sean Smuda
Carnage opening for the WuTang Clan's RZA at the Cabooze

Whatever the cause, I'm paying for it; tragic.

There's no excuse for my weight,

But I hope you have compassion for an addict.

Carnage's relationship with Gale remained a difficult one right up until her death. On "MTW," the funky, horn-laden song that closes Respect the Name, he says, "Mama died and I wonder why it barely hurt a bit." But his feelings toward her aren't as simple as that. "[Maybe] you start to think that physical abuse is the way that somebody shows you they love you," he suggests. "But you can love somebody even though shit is fucked-up about someone. We do that all the time."

It's late evening on a hot August night, and the sun is just barely in view outside the Cabooze. Off in the distance, downtown Minneapolis is in shadows, illuminated only by the wash of orange and purple colors smeared along the western horizon.

Inside the Cabooze, the house lights are up, casting a harsh, fluorescent light on the room. Carnage is onstage, trying to run through his sound check, but everything has been turned on its ear by the headliner, the Wu Tang Clan's RZA, who showed up late and then did an hour-long sound check.

After only a few minutes, the sound engineer cuts the PA, and Carnage looks bemused. "I got what I need from you," says the engineer, briskly, pacing in front of the stage. "Well, I need to make sure the sound's right on a couple other parts," Carnage replies. The engineer throws his hands up in the air. "We got to open doors," he says.

"Damn," Carnage deadpans into the mic, the feed suddenly kicking back in as he does so. "I can't wait till I don't have to open for people anymore." The small crowd of people in the room breaks out laughing — even the engineer.

When he reappears an hour later, shortly before his set starts, Carnage is jovial, laughing and stopping to shake hands with fans and old friends. With plans to go on tour with Atmosphere right as Respect the Name gets released, for Carnage the night feels a bit like a victory lap. "It's funny," he says, stopping for a moment alongside the bar. "Everyone wants a favor the day I'm playing a big show. When it's just a regular-ass show around town, my phone's quiet." He makes a cutting motion with his hand. "On a day like today, I'm annoyed when I get a call that's not about the show."

Then he hops onstage, and it's like he's flipped a switch: There's swagger in his walk, a sense of purpose, and there's plenty of attitude, too. When someone in the audience asks him for a "fast rap," Carnage shoots back, "Nah, I don't do fast raps anymore. Slow raps are fresh."

It's just Carnage onstage, alone with his loop pedals and a microphone cord slung around his neck. Many in the crowd, not familiar with his music, don't seem to know what to think, but as he starts laying down his first bass line, they're taken aback: It's a deep, reverberating sound; it shakes the walls. He kicks on the distortion pedal and suddenly his voice rips and snarls. And without any word of explanation, he proceeds to build up the layers — he's building a groove, and the crowd, beginning to understand, starts dancing.

It's not until the second song that Carnage starts rapping, but already he's in full control of the room. In fact, it's like a one-man variety show; one minute he beatboxes "Billie Jean," the next he does an a capella rap, and then it's right back to laying down a fat groove. Maximum carnage, he intones, rhythmically, emphasizing every other syllable. His face, dripping with sweat, wrinkles into a grin — sinister, grinch-like, downright ugly. We erect hell, doom is coming. Swallowing your area, useless running.

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