Terrell Woods, who goes by the stage name of Carnage, the Executioner, took some time recently to reflect on his career as a beat box artist and rapper.
The Saint Paul musician has built a reputation for himself as a tireless performer who creates his performances around what is happening in the life around him.
“I started touring a lot from 2016 to 2019,” he said. “I was pushing to get out of Minnesota with a project I called ‘Minnesota Mean.’ In a nutshell, I was frustrated with the way I felt I was being received in Minnesota. I felt like I wasn’t getting my just due. I had done a lot of building of quality music and collaborating with people, and I thought I wasn’t getting the opportunities I should have gotten,” he said.
“When I look back at that time some years later, I think I was being a whiny little punk.” He said there are some barriers for an artist like him in Minnesota, and quite a few have to do with race. “But I think complaining about it doesn’t make the problem go away. I was always willing to do the work anyway, so why not do the work instead of complaining about obstacles?”
However, in 2016, he felt it was time to go and explore other places and see what people would say in other areas. He had toured before on the West Coast, the Midwest and even in France. This time he started with Wisconsin and the Dakotas. He did movements 1-5 of the “Minnesota Mean” show.
“‘Minnesota Mean’ was about addressing issues we had as Minnesotans expressing ourselves to one another,” Woods explained. “There are things being said that can hold artists like me back, and we weren’t talking about what is happening. I thought we should put things on the table and talk about what is happening. That was kind of the beginning of it.”
Woods said that before he went into the whole concept, he did some research. “I asked transplants and people who lived here for years about their thoughts. I checked the whole spectrum of Black and White and the concept of Minnesota Nice. A lot of people said it was on the surface and passive-aggressive.”
According to Woods, “Minnesota Mean” is being honest and sincere, a project in which he did specific music that addressed what he saw as disparities. “I challenged what the hierarchy was,” he stated. “It did not seem like there were opportunities for artists of color or acceptance for what we brought.”
Woods described his “Minnesota Mean” show as more of a rant, an examination of things, and of asking his audience: ‘What do you all think? If I’m wrong, prove me wrong.’ Nobody could.
Woods said all but one person had encouraged him to do this tour, and he was glad he did.“It allowed me to have a concept, and all my tours after that were conceptual. I brought something to the table that was original, a live show with a theme. It worked well.”
He did other theme performances, like “Show Stealer.” “I established myself as a force to be reckoned with, and I would steal the show.”
Then he chose to go vegan: ”That decision made me realize what a destructive relationship I had with food. It led me to think about over-consumption in general.” His next show was “Ravenous.”
“It was me looking at myself and at what I don’t want to be,” Woods said.
The demand for him to tour grew, and he booked 61 dates. Woods said that earlier in his career, he had been booked as an opening act. “That’s what people did for me, and I thought I needed to give back. So, I usually took another performer with me.” He chose performers who were not heavy drinkers or in day jobs they couldn’t leave and had strong enough relationships they could go on the road. “By the end of the touring, I was doing it by myself,” he said.
In 2018, Woods toured Vietnam. He said he had seen videos of the war and the jungles, but when he was there it was one of the most beautiful places he had ever seen. “Water as far as you could see, buildings and green trees. I was very impressed.
“I felt like I cracked the touring code on my own terms,” Woods continued. “When 2020 hit, I was poised to keep the movement going by doing some East Coast stuff. I was in New England when COVID hit. We had started planning to come back out there and do another two weeks. I remember being on the road when flights were being canceled. As soon as I got home, I had to start canceling because of COVID. I had to restructure how I did things to make money.
“I started teaching beats more, doing online teaching. I began teaching all the time and doing live streams. I would do a show in a room. I stayed really busy during COVID.”
Minnesota mean racism
Woods was in Minnesota when George Floyd was killed. “That really hit me hard,” he recalled. “I was not really surprised. I was starting to be aware of how nasty our police department was. Everybody’s so nice in Minnesota, it’s so clean and everybody gets along. But it kind of went along with what I did with Minnesota Mean: the underground racism, stuff you don’t see outright all the time.”
Woods said he did a lot of streaming and live panel discussions on police brutality after the George Floyd tragedy. “There’s this veil we have over our eyes about the police department being there to help us. They are here to protect White property and capitalism.”
What’s ahead for woods
Whatever is happening in Woods’ life, he said he can figure out how to conceptualize it and do a project around it. “It has to be more than just me being a bad-ass rapper.”
Woods said with the help of Johnny Pain and DJ Maddox, two friends from Nebraska, he put out his first album in 2021, right after the Jan. 6 insurrection. It featured “Minnesota Mean” and “Attack of the Show Stealer Live.” He recently received a grant from Springboard for the Arts to build a mobile stage. “It is a trailer that can be towed to whatever location I am at. It folds open, and I can perform on it as a stage,” Woods said. Readygoart.com built the stage.
“I also received a $10,000 grant from the Minnesota Arts Board to present a show at the Grey Theater in St. Cloud,” Woods added. “Carnage the Executioner Presents Transformation to Terrell X” is the show.
“My name is Maynard Terrell Woods,” he said. “My first name is from my dad and my last name from my mother. Terrell is the only name I have that is my own. I am getting rid of baggage and all the things I have gone through as a young boy that were not my fault, and that I hold my parents responsible for. It is important for me to restructure myself. The X is for X’Avion, which means intelligent, spiritual, warrior and survivor. This project will have me exploring the aspects around Terrell X that were always there. I am taking my identity back.”
Besides his other projects, Woods does a monthly series at the White Squirrel Bar in Saint Paul. He will celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hechatomb, his record label, in February.
Woods said that he hopes his work will be an inspiration to others. He was a social worker when he graduated from Hamline University. “I am still a social worker, just in a different form,” he noted. “I still work with people, and try to deliver a positive message that allows people to see their strengths. I just do it on my own terms now.”