Controversy. It can be a musician's best friend if managed correctly or it can bring them down in a smoldering heap of tabloid headlines, failed PR missteps and half-baked apologies. However, for acts that are open and honest about their feelings and at times abrasive towards others, trying to keep this delicate balance can be nearly impossible. The fast rise of Nicaraguan born DJ Carnage, real name Diamante Blackmon, has been a whirlwind string of sold out shows, packed festival gigs, hit records and, most recently, a debut album Papi Gordo, which features hip-hop and EDM heavyweights like Rick Ross, Ty Dolla $ign, Migos, KSHMR and Makonnen.
Walking into Artichoke Pizza in New York City's suddenly glamorous meatpacking district on a cloudy Thursday afternoon, Carnage sat in the front booth opposite his two tour managers and press agent, attentively checking his phone, scrolling through the hundreds of mentions that flood his Twitter timeline. Rocking a plain black T and grey sweatpants (the sunglasses were left at home), Carnage greets me with a tired hello. It has been a long couple days of promo, having already had two meals before me and three more items on the menu later including a stop at a strip club. Being a superstar DJ isn't always glamorous.
Sitting down to the meal, Carnage had never been to this storied New York City pizza establishment and after being coached by his press manager and me, we order drinks and food. Carnage opted for a Shirley Temple, while his team went for scotches on the rocks. Seeing a large man sipping a drink for young kids at Bar Mizvahs out of a mason jar took the edge off of proceedings.
After talking about his recent schedule, which had been surprisingly light of late, our food arrives. Having already eaten quite a bit, Carnage goes for just the simple Margarita slice, a rookie move instead of their signature artichoke pizza. The slice quickly disappeared in between long draws of Shirley Temple from a straw. There was some buyer's remorse after tasting some "fuego" artichoke pizza. He will have a second chance to get things right during his New York City takeover next month, where Carnage performs four shows in three days at Pacha, Marquee and Webster Hall.
The last time Carnage was at Webster, he recalls the venue owner coming up to him and saying that it was the craziest show he had ever seen there. Carnage brought out Tiësto and Araabmuzik and made the floor shake.
As a cuddly man who knows his food is sitting in a restaurant with pizza in front of him, it was obvious to discuss nutritional preferences. Carnage has grown a devout following of Chipotle-eating fans known as the "Chipotle Gang." Unlike your typical gang, they do not resort to violence, but rather eat Chipotle and dance like madmen at his shows. This has earned Blackmon a lifetime supply of the fast-casual's famous food. When posed with the tough existential question about if his children might do the unspeakable and not be fans of Chipotle, Carnage retorts jokingly, "they are my kids, they will learn to like it."
In addition to all of the bombastic trap, hip-hop and ready-made festival beats, Carnage also has a sensitive side that feels for trance music. He regularly will play a Dash Berlin song or two in his sets and has even repurposed Armin van Buuren's A State of Trance brand into his own as A State Of Carnage. Some people might sue or do anything to stop another artist from piggy-backing off of their brand, but Armin is apparently alright with it.
According to Carnage, the pair had a 30-minute heart-to-heart at Tomorrowland last year, where Armin was happy to have inspired Carnage. "It was always because I made it after ASOT," he says. "It is a branch from it."
Carnage's career has afforded him the ability to travel the globe. Papi Gordo is still new to a lot of the countries he has been, one spot sticks out for its food - Ibiza. Carnage has been there quite a bit over the past few summers, not to host his own party just yet, but as a guest of others such as Avicii, Steve Aoki or Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike who all have residencies on the island. He recalls heading straight from the club to one spot in the Marina for breakfast consisting of a ham & cheese sandwich with the "freshest fruit bowl you ever had."
The most remarkable place Carnage had ever been was the resort island of Borocay in the Philippines. The trip to this small island sounds like a story your adventurous grandfather would tell about his travels as a youngster. After flying in Manilla, he took an un-airconditioned charter plane to another island with an airport approximately the size of Artichoke Pizza. From there they have to gather their things and drive to a boat and take it for 15 minutes to an even smaller island. From there, they drive 20 minutes on a dirt road to get to the resort and, low and behold, there is a McDonalds. There are some things that are ubiquitous even in the most remote places around the world as McDonalds, and Carnage wants his music to be on that level.
Periodically throughout the conversation, Carnage picks up his iPhone to check his messages and Twitter feed, reading through every message as if they were written by a family member. If there is one thing that the critics can't take away from Carnage, it is his devotion to his fans. Flipping back and forth between Insta and Twitter, Carnage devours his messages, some hate and some love, reading through the responses to his album and recent online controversy that has put the man in headlines.
Things slowly turn to his music as food and drinks disappear. One of the strongest songs from Papi Gordo is his rework of Thomas Barford's "November Skies," which took years to come to fruition. It was originally a drum n bass remix several years ago, which is heard in the first section. Barford heard the remix and asked Carnage to do a trap version, which became the second part, but as Carnage explained "I always liked the drum n bass remix." This led to a hybrid of the two remixes and a brand new drop at the end with hardstyle.
Papi Gordo is more than just a straight up EDM, trap album. It boasts some of the biggest names in hip-hop on the LP. Though Carnage says he prefers getting into the studio with other artists, he only got in the studio with ILoveMakonnen here in NYC. Sometimes it is just easier to send a beat to a rapper and let them do their thing with it.
Despite the release of his debut album, Carnage's music has been dwarfed in the past couple months by a controversy surrounding his involvement with computer software company Razer. The company launched a music division and tabbed artists like deadmau5, Dyro, Metro Boomin, Feed Me and Carnage to all contribute to it with tutorial videos, preset packages and more.
He made a tutorial video on how to make 808s, which caused a stir in an of itself because Carnage didn't seem to be in total control of his plugins and synths, using now memed phrases "very very way more stronger." Then the big controversy came when a few individuals spotted that the popular production synth made by Lennar Digital, Sylenth, had been pirated. Blackmon denied that the computer was even his, thus absolving him from any responsibility with the pirated software. He released a statement of his own, saying that the computer belonged to Razer, while the computer firm remained quiet on the manner. As a result of the public dust-up, Razer and Blackmon have, as quietly as possibly gone, their separate ways, though the damage was done.
Carnage speaks about the incident with regret, but says it has been "made so much bigger than it actually was." According to him, they reached out to him to do a tutorial video and said he was going to get paid "a sh*t ton of money" for it. He maintains that the computer was handed to him by an intern at Razer. He is upset that they "threw him under the bus" by not making a statement about the situation because it looks bad if, as a massive computer company, they were caught using pirated software.
The story was just the latest in what has been a bumpy ride to this point for Carnage. There have been persistent accusations of ghost-producing from keyboard warriors and even some other DJs, arrests for playing too long at venues and his cocky attitude that turns off old-timers that cringe at the DJ superstar mentality.
It has become almost too easy for jaded media types and commenters to pick on Carnage and his every move. He has one simple explanation why this is the case -- he is black. More specifically because he is "big and black."
"People like me are always f*ck ups are douche bags" he proposes.
"So you see this big, fat black guy cursing people out on the mix, putting his middle finger up, starting brawls. Of course they are going to think I am a douchebag." He continues, "I have so many haters that when the smallest thing comes up they are so happy."
Pushed on whether or not this is strictly a black and white issue, he backtracked a little, but offered, "It is easier to point a finger at me than it is at Alesso.... I carry myself differently from a lot of these guys." He laments the "corniness" that exists in the dance music industry with the tan DJs who all seem to wear the same type of clothing with v-neck or long tees, leather jackets and tight pants.
He contrasts that to the comfort of his own outfit that is simple and gym-like with shorts and a Carnage shirt because "I don't want to be jumping around in jeans for an hour-and-a-half."
Rocking out in those shorts, Carnage promises to deliver a "special show" in which "you get a vibe and energy," he explains.
Carnage seemed completely at ease and in total comfort either inside lounging in the corner booth or outside talking music. In a crowded and heavily trafficked pizza joint or standing out on the street, I expected someone to stop him for a picture, but nobody recognized Carnage. He doesn't get stopped often on the street, but according to him, TSA agents are among his biggest fans. They like to search him for an extended period of time just to say "Big ups Carnage."
Despite just releasing an album, Carnage is not stopping with new projects. He has a lengthy tour coming across North America in the winter. He has a track with The Section Boyz and he will be releasing a video on how the beat was made and how the entire collab came together. He is expanding the ASOC concept into an album with all of "ASOC boys." He has another solo "Rare" show coming up soon after the first one in Southern California in May.
Carnage left me with one final message to deliver. Since so much heat was being thrown at him, I offered him the opportunity to dish that right back -- cast a Lil B curse on somebody. After thinking for a few seconds Carnage listed Destructo as his number one and with the suggestion of his tour manager Mat Zo as his number two. Don't say they haven't been warned.