Desdamona on Ill Chemistry, her hip hop collaboration with Carnage
Carnage the Executioner, this week's cover story, in his own words
Cover Story: Carnage the Executioner comes into his own
Slideshow: Carnage the Executioner
Yesterday's cover story profiling local rapper and beatboxer Carnage the Executioner delved deeply into his past, as well as his career as a musician. But, while its focus was primarily on his work as a solo artist, Carnage keeps himself busy with a variety of different projects. Most notably there's Saltee, an instrumental, improv-based trio, and Ill Chemistry, a hip-hop duo with Desdamona, where Carnage creates all of the instrumentation with his beatboxing.
In fact, Desdamona herself has a story that could probably fill its own feature story. She's been active player in Minnesota hip hop for about as long as Carnage -- her own talents and contributions similarly under-appreciated even if respected by her fellow MCs -- while also spending the last ten years working in schools, such as with the poetry and beatboxing class she and Carnage teach together. Below the break, Gimme Noise speaks with her about her work with Carnage, both onstage and in the classroom.
Gimme Noise: How long have you guys been collaborating?
Desdamona: It was [in] 2005 when I released my CD The Ledge. I knew some DJs but I wasn't comfortable yet so instead of using a track or a CD I said, "Would you be interested in beatboxing with me?" And I didn't even really think that he would, and I didn't even really know how that would work anyway, but he said yes. The name Ill Chemistry came later down the line because he was really backing me up initially.
Had he done anything like that before?
I mean he had beat boxed for people before at shows but it was the novelty of there's a beat boxer here and why don't you beat box and we'll free style type of thing. But I don't believe that he had done any duet thing like that until the two of us got together.
And that just jelled well enough that you decided to further with it?
Yeah, and I feel like it opened us both up to new audiences. Hip-hop is definitely still male dominated and driven by the male voice, and I think that it's too bad, but me being onstage with a male sort of gives me some validity for people who wouldn't have given me that before. And then on the other side of things, I brought him into situations with the teaching stuff.
From the standpoint of being a female performer, did he treat you in a way that was maybe more open than usual?
He's pretty open. That's the interesting thing... I think just being willing to work with another act that's a female and do it in this way where you're equals and it's not about him and it's not about me it's about us. I think that's hard for people sometimes, not just men. But in a performance situation it's hard for people to let go of ego and be like, "We're actually better together, and we do something together that we cannot make individually."
What exactly do can you do in Ill Chemistry that you couldn't otherwise do?
I think just the male-female aspect of it, and the exchange that happens between us. We create slightly different material together than we do when we're apart. Even the combination of the beats of Ill Chemistry, sometimes it's both of us contributing to that situation and giving ideas to that situation.
So basically the collaborative aspect of it.
What's it been like for you to work with someone who's beatboxing?
Well, it's because we're all apart of the process and it's not like someone gave me a track and "Here it is," because we actually build the tracks, not all the time but a lot of the time... So it's a process of really producing and then adding some of those vocal textures on top of the beat boxing that isn't technically beat boxing. I've learned to beat box in the process... So I feel like it has pushed us both. I think he's known as a more aggressive MC and within Ill Chemistry he's found a place where he can still be that, but the topics are different than what he does in his own material.
Do you feel you rap any differently because of that exchange?
I don't know if I can point to specific songs that we do. But on "Fanama Mama," he says some things, and so when I'm writing that stuff I'm thinking about how to incorporate him into those situations. Not with beat boxing, but with vocals too... Right now, where we're at, I'm loving the stuff that we do that has the more balanced thing because I think it's interesting, the perspectives and stuff to hear two perspectives in one song.
Of course, outside Ill Chemistry, you and Carnage also work together in schools. How do those two play off each other?
That was the kind of thing that I was already kind of involved in. I've done some work in prisons, I've done a lot of work in schools, after school programs, and camps. I noticed that he was really wanting to take the music to the next step, and it seemed like he wasn't exactly sure how he was going to try to do that. And I suggested to him that maybe he try to teach beat boxing, and I knew it was going to be like, "What? How am I supposed to teach beat boxing?" So we just sat down and talked about some of the different ways he could approach it.
So you decided to mix the beat boxing with the poetry, to balance things out a bit.
Right... But he already kind of knew how to do some teaching because he would lead these workshops through his social work. But I think it was translating that knowledge into what he does artistically and then how do you present that.
And that work with kids, as you said, has had a big effect on the music you do in Ill Chemistry--fostered a certain sense of responsibility, maybe.
I feel like because I work in schools all the time, and I work with kids, I see what's going on and I know the importance of [being a role model]. I think that a lot of people want to say, "I'm an artist and I'm not a role model. I'm a whatever and I'm not a role model." And I'm like, you can choose to be a role model, but you don't really get to choose who chooses you as their role model... So for me, it's always something I'm thinking about, whether it's Ill Chemistry or my solo stuff. Maybe it's because I'm a woman, maybe it's because I'm the child of a teacher; I don't know what it is exactly. But I definitely feel that way--pretty strongly--about that all the time.
Carnage's Respect the Name album release show is Friday, September 7 at Triple Rock Social Club. More info here.
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