It’s hard to believe that, after 23 years of inventive, uncompromising hip-hop, Carnage the Executioner is still an underdog in the Twin Cities. But that’s indeed the case, and the bruising Minneapolis emcee is done being polite about it.
Carnage’s latest album, The MN Mean Movement — out May 6 in conjunction with Crushkill Recordings — attempts to get at the root of why the beatboxer/MC/producer dynamo still feels like a misfit in a scene he helped develop decades ago. His show at 7th St. Entry this Friday — where he'll premiere two videos from The MN Mean Movement — is his first ever gig atop the bill at that First Ave's sister venue.
But The MN Mean Movement is not just the ranting of a lifetime undergrounder. Nor is it a debasement of Minnesota culture. It’s not about being mean at all. Carnage is just asking question in hopes of creating a dialogue. It’s the type of statement only someone that truly loves Minnesota would have the guts to make.
“The amount of work I, as a Minnesota hip-hop musician and mainstay, have put in, I feel like I’m treated like I don’t bring what I bring to the table,” Carnage says. “When you put in the work I have, and you don’t get the recognition and opportunities as someone hasn’t been doing it as long or isn’t as skilled, then I believe it’s time to start asking some questions.”
The album’s intent is laid out clearly in the opener “Full Disclosure,” and it only builds from there. In tangents, Carnage takes on different facts of Minnesota Niceness — from the way it’s hampered his booking to the way it's neutered sincerity to the way it divides races along line of faux politeness. What makes Carnage qualified to make such a contentious proclamation? The MN Mean Movement provides the evidence in stacks.
“Hecatomb Cometh” provides a statement for those uninitiated to Carnage’s brutal rap supercollective. “Coaches” revisits his come-up alongside Eyedea, giving an obvious hat-tip to the pair’s collaborative track from The Many Faces of Oliver Hart.
The penultimate track, “Hustle the Struggle,” is a live version of an Ill Chemistry classic that’s become Carnage's most requested live number that’s designed to verse first-timers in not only his lyrical acrobatics but also his sloganeering power among the people.
“[Toki Wright] asked me, ‘When does it stop being you asking question and become you complaining?’” Carnage says. “And I said, ‘When you put in the work.’”
While it may ruffle the feathers of the Scandinavian-minded self-effacers in the Gopher State, the 10-song album is actually predicated on demand from Carnage's peers.
After he dropped the video for “Minnesota Mean” in January, people clamored for more of the honest, straightforward communication he was calling for over the song’s three verses. After hearing so many reach out and profess that they’d felt the chill of Minnesota Nice in both music and culture, Carnage realized he had a concept album on his hands.
“I’ve had the ‘Minnesota Mean’ song for a while, and I’ve kinda sat on it because people told me, ‘You know, people are gonna think you’re bashing Minnesota,’” he says. “Then, I asked some other people outside of my camp, and they were like, ‘No, what you’re saying needs to be said.’ So I was like, ‘Alright, let’s put it out and see what happens.’ And the reception was good. So, I built a whole album around that idea.”
Carnage believes that Minnesota Nice has been especially damaging in the wake of all the controversy surrounding the Black Lives Matter protesting. He sees the divide between the white majority and the black minority widening, with ignorance triumphing over empathy.
He brings his tour back to Minneapolis on May 6 with a release show at Fifth Element. After that, he plans on turning the Minnesota Mean Movement into just that — a veritable social movement.
“I wanna start having sit-down conversations where a group of people sit down and talk about these things candidly and openly,” Carnage says of his plans to turn the album into a real-life phenomenon. “I wanna talk about how we get to know each other better and how we relate to each other better. Get off the internet, let’s sit down and talk. That’s the humanitarian in me.”
The transformative power of honest conversation is something Carnage has seen before in his career. He gladly recalls an interaction he had where Eyedea challenged him to be more conscious of the homophobic language he was using in his verses.
“Eyedea made me talk about why I made so many homophobic references in my hip-hop but I claimed to not be against homosexauality,” he says. “I didn’t think I was being homophobic, I thought I was just being a hardcore rapper. And he was like, ‘No, you’re turning your back to a whole audience, and you’re not being true to yourself if you’re making those statements and you don’t believe it.’”
He immediately changed up his style and started thinking critically about the intent behind his words. Decades later, he’s trying to push people to go through the same conversion. “How many other people can be changed if we just sit down and have a conversation?,” he says.
To help facilitate that conversation, Carnage has toned down the spellbinding tongue twisters he’s known for. The MN Mean Movement is not only the most comprehensive statement as an artist, but it’s also his most direct.
“People won’t have to rewind 30 times to get some of the cryptic references I’m spitting,” Carnage says. “It’s getting people prepped for my next album, Ravenous, which is even more deliberate. That’s the style I’m going for now. I want more people to relate to what I’m saying.”
Carnage the Executioner
With: Katana Da Don, Andre Mariette, and many more.
When: 8 p.m. Fri., April 15.
Where: 7th St. Entry.
Tickets: $8-$10; more info here.