Thursday, July 25, 2013

Erica Rivera Interviews Desdamona and Carnage

Q&A: Carnage and Desdamona

Carnage and Desdamona are two of the most hard-working, yet humble, artists on the hip-hop scene. Known offstage as Terrell Woods and Heather Ross, respectively, these fellow artists, teachers, and best friends have been collaborating since 2004, most recently as Ill Chemistry, and have planned a dual release show dubbed Double Dysfunction to celebrate their new solo albums.

Desdamona, a fearless wordsmith who has won multiple Minnesota Music Awards, drops DigiPhenom while Carnage follows up 2012’s hard-hitting Respect The Name with …Not Just A Name. Free digital downloads of both albums will be available to all in attendance.

I met up with Carnage and Desdamona at Blue Moon Café to discuss the state of the Twin Cities music community and the hot topic of relationships—to each other and their fans.

Q: Who were your mentors and do you feel mentoring is an essential part of being a musician?

Desdamona: There have been so many. My first mentors were really my family. When I moved here in 1996, there was a guy named Black Powae who embraced me. Teresa Sweetland who is the executive director of Intermedia Arts helped me write the first couple of grants and kind of broke it down for me. And this guy right here. There’s lots of things that I could say. [Laughs] We’ve mentored each other in a variety of ways, whether it’s personal or artistic; I think that our experiences have informed each other on a pretty deep level.

Carnage: I’ll hit her up on anything from where to put posters to the name of the songs. There’s really nothing I can’t ask her about. One time I was like, “How did you know it was time [to be a full-time artist]? How did you sustain?” and she brought me into a couple of classes. Then I started getting more attention as a local artist and I got to a point where I was at work, not working, but doing music stuff, so I was like, “Maybe it’s that time now.” I hit Des up like, “All right. I’m about to step off the bridge—”

Desdamona: The cliff.

Carnage: The cliff. And I remember being like, “Oh, okay, she’s actually going to help me through this.”

Desdamona: I knew that if he got into a couple [of classes], that it would snowball. Because that is how it happened with me. And I knew he had such a unique thing. There’s a lot of MCs in town, there’s a few beat-boxers, but nobody’s teaching it.

Carnage: She was like, “You’re going to teach beat-boxing classes,” and I was like, “How? Nobody taught me to beat-box.” I saw the first couple times I did the class, people were being shy. I became obsessed with how to incorporate the body as an instrument in the teachings.

Desdamona: It teaches listening, it teaches community, it could teach math, it could teach composition, and also he does a lot of things that are physical. Even that activity—it may seem minimal, but it takes a lot of energy to beat-box.

Carnage: The kids love it. And I love the fact that they love it. That’s a deep thing. That is mentoring to me.

Q: Let’s talk about the local hip-hop scene. Do you feel like it’s inclusive enough?

Desdamona: When I started, it was not as inclusive. It has grown to be more inclusive because there has been more access to people. In some ways, that can be bad, because then it’s easy to get a show.

Carnage: The quality control is really low.

Desdamona: I do think that local radio only picks up the local successes. I don’t think that’s wrong, but as a local community, there are many amazingly talented writers, MCs, and musicians in this town, and they should be heard.

Carnage: The artists who are being supported on these labels started where the people who are not being represented started. There are a lot of MCs out there that never get played on the radio, or that don’t get played that much no matter how much press they get. I got a lot of press in the last year-and-a-half, and they don’t play me on The Current.

Desdamona: It really starts to feel like a situation of the privileged and the under-privileged in a lot of ways. Of access and no access. It’s—

Carnage: Discouraging.

Desdamona: To say the least.

Carnage: But it made me focus on how to write a catchier single. This time around, I made it easier for them. Nobody has to hit me up to ask for a radio single. It’s already there. I don’t know that I’ll necessarily be kissing anybody’s ass…

Desdamona: People know the big players, but they don’t see that there are other people that have been around just as long. I’ve experienced people who are like, “Who are you?” and I’m like, “Who are you?!”

Carnage: It just makes me remember why I’m doing this in the first place. I tell myself, “Terrell, you cannot forget to have fun.” But I can’t do it for fun if it’s not paying my bills, either. I’m just blunt now. If you wouldn’t ask Brother Ali to do your show for $100, don’t ask me. ‘Cause if you called Brother Ali to ask about me, he’d say, “Terrell is dope. Pay him!”

Q: How do you handle hecklers when you’re onstage or fans who come onto you after a show?

Carnage: Sometimes they’re fun to deal with. Sometimes they throw you off. I don’t ever go into a show expecting or demanding that people like it, but I will be respected. You’re not going to come up here and tell me that everything I did needs to be re-worked, ‘cause I don’t come to Wendy’s and tell you how to put the pickles on the burger. This is what I do. It’s like, “So how long have you been rapping?”

Desdamona: To answer the second part of your question, I’ve learned over the years from other people that I’m scary. [Laughs]

Carnage: No, no. I’m scary. You’re intimidating.

Desdamona: But they’ll come talk to you and not to me!

Carnage: And they’ll say, “You look like you’d eat my kids with gravy!”

Desdamona: There’s some kind of fear factor with me. I’m not a super out-going person, which I’m sure it’s hard for people to understand as a performer. But I’m pretty introverted. I don’t like small talk, and I also have a hard time hearing in loud spaces. Those environments are not really conducive to me having a good conversation with somebody else. The times I run into issues with being hit on is when people are saying they want to work with me and they really want something else. It can be really frustrating as a female artist because you’re like, “Is there anybody who values what I do creatively? As opposed to how I look or how I’m supposed to look?” As a female, if you get up onstage with a male, there’s almost an automatic assumption that you’re in a romantic relationship with him.

Carnage: Oh, God.

Desdamona: It pisses me off. Why is it that I can’t be up here just because I’m an artist? I got here because I walked my ass over here and did the work. It’s insane that that’s still the way that we think.

Carnage: Friends of mine are like, “Yo, so…did you smash?” And I’m like, “We smashed onstage!”

Desdamona: If the answer is “no,” then they question his manhood. It’s so fucked up.

Carnage: And then there’s the girls. There are some girls that come up and are all up in your face. If you’re dating somebody at the time—

Desdamona: Problems!

Carnage: Then you hear about it in the car. And I’m just like, “I’m just doing my job! I didn’t bring her home with us!” Finding a happy medium with how to interact with fans is something that I’ve learned to do in the past couple of years.

Q: I feel like you’re both very compassionate people and aware of what kind of social change needs to happen in the community. If you were going to do a PSA for something, what would it be?

Carnage: Embrace everybody for what they can bring to the table. Give someone you don’t know the same consideration you would give someone you grew up with.

Desdamona: I can’t think of just one. There are so many. I feel like some of my Facebook posts are PSAs. I get so many comments on the things I bring up on Facebook. It’s amazing! I’m a connector. I’ve realized how much power I can wield.

Carnage: Influencing people is part of the fuel that keeps me going. 

Originally published on in July 2013.