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- "Man, what the hood done for me? Always dragging me down. Ever since I got out of the hood shit been cracking! That's everybody's dream, to get out of the hood..."
- ―Carl Johnson to Sweet in Home Coming.
Carl "CJ" Johnson is the protagonist of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
CJ is voiced by Chris Bellard, better known as Young Maylay, who is the cousin of Shawn Fonteno, the voice actor for Franklin Clinton.
Carl "CJ" Johnson was born in 1968 in Los Santos, to Beverly Johnson. He has a father, but as seen in the intro movie, he said he didn't know him. Beverly had four children: Sean, Carl, Kendl, and Brian. Sweet states that Carl was born in the Johnson House, the family's childhood and current home. Old Reece, a family friend and Ganton's local Barber, recalls memories of Carl's father, although Carl tells Joey Leone that he never knew his father, and that Sweet was the "man" of the house but made his life miserable. Carl says to Woozie in Amphibious Assault that when he was swimming as a child, he once got a condom stuck on his face and that "horror like that stays with you for life". This also explains his fear for swimming.
The Johnson siblings, along with Melvin "Big Smoke" Harris and Lance "Ryder" Wilson, grew up on the same cul-de-sac and were childhood friends. CJ recalls Ryder dealing drugs since he was ten. Sweet became the leader of the Grove Street Families and introduced him, CJ, and possibly Brian into the gang life.
Around 1985, the Grove Street Families were at the height of their power when they first became pressured by Frank Tenpenny, a corrupt police officer of C.R.A.S.H. It's likely that Officer Eddie Pulaski was also serving with Tenpenny at this time. The Grove Street Families went into a decline at some point between 1987 and 1992. Carl's younger brother Brian died in 1987. The cause of his death was never revealed, though it is implied Carl was present but did not help him, as Sweet laments that Carl "let Brian die". He was no longer considered a member of Grove Street, and would later have to earn his way back into the gang. Big Smoke also implies that Carl was physically larger during that time, stating that the "East Coast got [him] all thinned out".
Carl also used to be a rapper, as he claimed in a conversation with OG Loc.
Adult life In Liberty City
Following Brian's death, Carl left Los Santos and moved to Liberty City. When he arrived, he began working with Joey Leone, the son of Leone Family Don Salvatore Leone, in the car theft business, as well as other small-time crimes.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
- Main article: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
In 1992, Beverly Johnson is killed in a drive-by shooting by the Ballas. Sweet phones Carl and informs him, and Carl agrees to return for the funeral.
Carl returns and takes a taxi to his mother's house, but is arrested and confronted by C.R.A.S.H. members Frank Tenpenny, Eddie Pulaski and Jimmy Hernandez, who explain that Carl will do work for them, or they will frame him for killing their fellow officer Ralph Pendelbury (who was really murdered by C.R.A.S.H. themselves). After meeting with Big Smoke at the Johnson house, Carl finally meets with his siblings and friends. Carl quickly learns that the Grove Street Families lost much of their power over the last five years - a result of the growing crack cocaine trend and, though Sweet doesn't admit it, Sweet not having as much personal strength as a leader without CJ home. CJ and Sweet work furiously to successfully bring the gang back to power, with CJ regaining his brother's respect in the process. This included reuniting with the Seville and Temple families, as well as the Aztecas leader Cesar Vialpando (who, although a rival of Sweet's at the time, began a loving relationship with Kendl), and wiping out the Ballas, the sworn enemy of the Grove Street Families. Carl also helped OG Loc, a laughable "poser" who aspired to be a rapper (consequently ruining rap superstar Madd Dogg's career in the process).
The gang is at the second height of its power, and is planning on taking out the rest of the Ballas in an ambush, until Cesar reveals to Carl that Ryder and Big Smoke have betrayed the gang to C.R.A.S.H and the Ballas. Carl rushes to the gunfight, suspecting that Sweet and the gang are walking into a trap, and manages to hold off the Ballas to rescue a heavily-wounded Sweet, until both of them are arrested by C.R.A.S.H. Grove Street Families and the Varrios Los Aztecas practically disappear, and Big Smoke becomes head of a drug ring and takes over Los Santos. OG Loc also becomes a rich and famous rapper, with Big Smoke acting as his manager as a means to launder his money.
C.R.A.S.H. abandons Carl in rural Whetstone to eliminate a witness against them. It is slowly revealed that they are being tried in court over their corruption, in a case that is quickly building media attention. Cesar connects CJ to his (mentally unstable) cousin, Catalina, and the two form a relationship built on the robberies they commit together. Tenpenny introduces CJ to The Truth, an aging hippie who is supplying Tenpenny with tons of weed, and tells CJ to frame a D.A who is an enemy of Tenpenny's. Tenpenny demands that CJ pay for the shipment, which forces him to return to work with Catalina, who now has an obsessive crush on him. Carl also meets the San Fierro Triads leader Wu Zi Mu during a street race. Catalina finds him at the race and expresses her feeling of neglect and anger, feeling that he was only interested in her as a partner in crime, also proclaiming that she has a new boyfriend, Claude. CJ defeats Claude and Catalina in a street race, gaining the deed to Claude's run-down San Fierro garage. CJ leaves for San Fierro with The Truth and Tenpenny's marijuana (despite Tenpenny betraying The Truth). They meet Cesar and Kendl at the garage in Doherty, San Fierro. CJ is angry about the bad state of the garage and believes that it is completely useless. Kendl explains to CJ that the property is a great opportunity, and through The Truth, he hires Dwaine, Jethro and Zero to work in the garage.
Carl meets with Woozie in San Fierro and the two quickly become strong allies, collaborating to take down each of their enemies enemies - Carl targeting the Loco Syndicate (Big Smoke's suppliers) and Woozie's rivals, the Da Nang Boys. Carl infiltrates and eventually kills all the chief members - Jizzy B, T-Bone Mendez, and even Ryder from the Grove Street Families. The garage (now a car theft ring), as well as renting out property, has earned Carl a modest sum of money. He receives a surprise phone call from Mike Toreno, a former member of the Loco Syndicate (who was apparently killed), who reveals himself to be a government agent and is recruiting Carl's help in exchange for releasing Sweet from a life sentence. Although it is a well-kept secret from all of his friends, The Truth finds Carl at Toreno's place of operation, and warns Carl that Toreno can't be trusted. He continues to recruit Carl's help in stealing a Jetpack from Area 69, which is needed for The Truth's goal of stealing mysterious, enlightening green goo.
Woozie invites CJ to the Triad's glamorous Four Dragons Casino in Las Venturas. Upon arrival, Carl is given shares in the casino by Woozie "in exchange for some help setting it up". They are faced with aggressive competition from the Mafia-run Caligula's Palace and, as revenge, spend time planning an extremely elaborate heist of Caligula's. This dually involves Carl infiltrating Caligula's inner circle of management (by chance of The Truth's association with music industry employees Kent Paul and Maccer) to work with their manager, Ken Rosenberg, and even Don Salvatore Leone, later helping the trio fake their deaths to escape Salvatore's rage. During this time period, C.R.A.S.H. extracts the last of Carl's labor before they try to kill Carl (and kill Hernandez for snitching on them), with Carl killing Pulaski and escaping alive. Carl, by chance, sees Madd Dogg attempting suicide and saves his life, partially out of guilt for ruining his career.
Carl's ongoing vendetta towards Tenpenny and Big Smoke, finalized by Madd Dogg having to sell his mansion to drug lord Big Poppa, prompts Carl to return to Los Santos, taking back the rapper's mansion by force. While recording Madd Dogg's new album, Toreno gives Carl the last of his work before Sweet is released from prison. Sweet is disgusted at Carl for his new millionaire's lifestyle, and for having forgotten all about helping the Grove Street Families. Sweet immediately takes Carl back to Grove Street to begin their task of reclaiming all of their turf. As the gang slowly begins their third return to power, Carl manages to get Madd Dogg's rhyme book back from OG Loc, reviving Madd Dogg's career, as hitting Big Smoke close to home. In the case against Tenpenny, it's shown on the news that since there is no evidence implicating him in his criminal activities, he would walk free; seconds after, citywide riots commence in outrage at Tenpenny's acquittal. During the confusion, Grove Street Families retakes almost half of the city's turf, and, after an assault on his Crack Palace, Carl kills Big Smoke. After Carl and Sweet chase him across the city through the riots, Tenpenny also dies after his firetruck falls from a bridge above Grove Street. At a celebration in the Johnson house, Madd Dogg, accompanied by Ken, Kent, and Maccer, announces "our first gold record" to Carl. At the same time, Sweet insists on making Grove Street a priority, while Kendl suggests going back to Las Venturas with Woozie, but Carl's only reply was that he was "fittin' to hit the block, see what's happening".
After GTA San Andreas
"Perhaps, here... things will be different." This part of the article, or parts of it, are Speculation and may not turn out to be correct.
At the very end of the game, Carl is a young and wealthy man. His assets and business interests include the Grove Street Families gang and Madd Dogg's contract in Los Santos, a car garage and several other properties in San Fierro, and shares in the Four Dragons Casino in Las Venturas, as well as the government's $60 million jetpack.
It is suggested that Carl, Madd Dogg, Kent Paul and Maccer are to go on a world wide tour, as mentioned by Madd Dogg during the game's final cutscene. Maccer and Kent Paul are to ride along, giving another hint that Carl helped the two rebuild their band.
A billboard outside the Middle Park East Safehouse depicts a man strongly resembling Carl in a suit and tie drinking wine with the word "Fruntalot" beside it, which is presumably the product that is being advertised.
An Easter egg in GTA IV suggests that Carl, along with the other 3D Universe protagonists, are dead. However, this is simply to commemorate the game being the beginning of a new era and it is not considered canon. Rockstar Games have stated this is "a little joke to our fans".