Carl Johnson is one of the leading members of the Grove Street Families, along with his brother, Sean "Sweet" Johnson. Sweet suggested that CJ was born in the Johnson House, a two floor home at a Grove Street cul-de-sac in Ganton, Los Santos. After the death of his younger brother, Brian, Carl escaped the pressures of gang life and moved to Liberty City in 1987, where he had the opportunity of working with Don Salvatore Leone's son, Joey Leone in the car theft business, and is once seen mugging a passer-by on the streets. GTA San Andreas begins with CJ's return to Los Santos upon the death of his mother.
GTA San Andreas
In 1992, CJ receives a phone call from Sweet on the death of his mother and returns to Los Santos, only to be confronted by members of C.R.A.S.H. (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums), consisting of officers Frank Tenpenny, Eddie Pulaski and Jimmy Hernandez. Throughout the storyline, CJ is forced to work for C.R.A.S.H., after learning that he has been framed by the organisation for the murder of an Internal Affairs police officer called Ralph Pendlebury, whom C.R.A.S.H. members had also silenced to prevent him exposing the team's activities. CJ's appearance at the beginning of the game is similar to Chris Tuckers character in the film "Money Talks" with Charlie Sheen.
Early in the game, CJ aided Sweet and the rest of the senior members in reviving the Grove Street Families, by ridding parts of the neighbourhood of crack dealers, acquiring firearms and regaining gang territory. This would end for a period of time, after CJ learned two of his senior members and friends, Ryder and Big Smoke, had betrayed the gang, while Sweet was ambushed by rival Ballas gang members and arrested by the police. CJ was arrested in the process, and released by C.R.A.S.H. into a rural area to perform another job for the team. CJ and Sweet's arrests also paved the way for the downfall of the Grove Street Families - as well as Cesar Vialpando's Varrios Los Aztecas - and total domination of Los Santos by the Ballas and Los Santos Vagos.
After C.R.A.S.H. leaves Carl in the badlands for eliminating the witness, Carl starts committing a series of robberies along with Catalina, Cesar Vialpando's cousin, the heist targets include a betting shop, a liquor store, a gas station and a small town bank. Carl also meets Triad leader Wu Zi Mu during a street race and aging hippie The Truth, whom Carl steals a combine harvester for. After Catalina ditches Carl for her next boyfriend, Claude, and Carl beats them in a street race, gaining the deed to Claude's run down garage in Doherty, San Fierro, Carl prepares to depart from the Badlands and does so after helping The Truth burn down his cannabis crops after the police discover the farm.
Once CJ arrives in San Fierro with Cesar, The Truth and Kendl, he discovers the garage he won from Claude is completely useless. Due to Kendl and The Truth's suggestions, Carl hires Dwaine, Jethro and Zero to work in his garage. Carl re-encounters Wu Zi Mu in San Fierro and Woozie tells him about the drug dealing organisation, The Loco Syndicate, who are supplying drugs to Big Smoke and Ryder in Los Santos, Carl then infiltrates the Syndicate through one of the members, Jizzy B. Woozie then hires Carl to help him sort things out with the Triads' enemies, the Da Nang Boys. Later, Carl kills the Loco Syndicate's members, Jizzy, T-Bone Mendez and apparently Mike Toreno as well as former friend Ryder. After sorting things out with Woozie and finishing off the Da Nang Boys, Carl receives an anonymous phone call from a man using a voice distortion, who offers a way to release CJ's brother from jail, Carl travels to the desert, to a ranch in the middle of Tierra Robada.
Upon arriving at the ranch in Tierra Robada, Carl discovers it's Mike Toreno who called him there, CJ believes Toreno will kill him, so CJ doesn't let Toreno explain himself, Toreno snaps and in a fit of rage yells out he isn't a drug dealer, but a government agent. Toreno has Carl buy the abandoned airstrip, Verdant Meadows, near Las Venturas and has him perform nearly impossible tasks, such as shooting down FBI helicopters from a plateau to protect a drop off chopper, dropping goods from an airplane to Toreno's helpers in Angel Pine while flying below the radar level and riding a motorbike into an airplane and setting off a bomb inside it after jumping off the plane in a parachute. After this, Toreno leaves Carl without fulfilling his promise of having Sweet released. An angered Carl then decides to sabotage Toreno by pulling jobs for The Truth, like robbing a jetpack from Area 69 and stealing some green goo from a government train. After finishing the jobs for The Truth, Wu Zi Mu calls Carl to his casino, The Four Dragons Casino in Las Venturas.
Upon arriving in Las Venturas, Carl starts planning a heist on the Mafia-run Caligula's Palace along with Woozie. To do this, Carl starts working for Salvatore Leone, to his trust and easy access to the casino. While planning the heist, Carl saves the life of rapper Madd Dogg, partly because Carl had sabotaged Dogg's career to launch OG Loc's career, after saving his life, CJ becomes Madd Dogg's new manager. Carl also helps Ken Rosenberg, Kent Paul and Maccer fake their deaths so they can stop working for Salvatore Leone. Finally, Carl retrieves a dossier for Frank Tenpenny, witnesses the murder of C.R.A.S.H. agent Jimmy Hernandez and kills another C.R.A.S.H. agent, Eddie Pulaski. After CJ and the Triads pull the heist, Carl flies back to Los Santos and helps Madd Dogg take back his mansion from Big Poppa and Los Santos Vagos.
Back To Los Santos
When CJ gets back to Los Santos, he helps Madd Dogg get back his rhyme book from OG Loc and also helps him start his career again. Carl is recording a new album, Mike Toreno hacks into the houses P.A. system and tells Carl of a final job. Toreno says the job is very easy then reveals it's to sneak into a a military ship, steal a Hydra assault plane, and use it to blow up four spy ships. After pulling the job, Mike leaves Carl to take care of the plane. Later on, Toreno returns to Carl and asks him for a final job, Carl then snaps and puts a gun against Toreno's head. Toreno calmly tells CJ that he's "embarrassing himself" and then tells him that Mike has fulfilled his promise and has had Sweet released from prison and that his final job is to go pick up his brother.
However, with Sweet returning to the neighbourhood, CJ once again, though reluctantly, is forced by Sweet to rebuild the Grove Street Families' dominance in the city, and witnesses a city wide riot sparked after Frank Tenpenny was acquitted of corruption charges in court. To wrap up all loose ends in his life, CJ would finally confront and kill Big Smoke, before pursuing Tenpenny, who would die in a car crash in front of the Johnson House. In front of the dead and broken man, CJ prepared to shoot Tenpenny's corpse with his Desert Eagle, but Sweet stops him. CJ said that he "just wants to make sure it's over" and Tenpenny was dead, but Sweet decided it was safer not to leave evidence. He then leaves Tenpenny with the words "See you around... officer."
After the riot breaks up, Madd Dogg visits the Johnson house with an announcement that he's received a golden record for his new album. Everyone inside then decides to keep a low profile with everything that they've accomplished. CJ himself then gets up and leaves the house.
Murders commited by Carl Johnson
- Freddy: Carl and OG Loc kill, him after a bike chase.
- Alan Crawford: OG Loc has Carl kill him to sabotage Madd Dogg's career.
- Little Weasel: CJ, Sweet, Big Smoke and Ryder finish him during a drive-by to set-up Kane.
- Kane: The leader of the Ballas. Carl and Sweet gun him down during Little Weasel's funeral.
- Jizzy B.: Carl guns him down in the street with a Silenced 9mm to destroy the Loco Syndicate.
- T-Bone Mendez: Carl and Cesar gun him down with submachine guns in Pier 69 to destroy the Loco Syndicate.
- Lance "Ryder" Wilson: CJ guns him down during a boat chase for betraying the Grove Street Families.
- The Snakehead: Carl kills him in a sword fight to destroy the Da Nang Boys.
- Benny: Millie Perkins' gimp whom Carl kills to get acces to her.
- Eddie Pulaski: Carl kills him for having his brother arrested and for the years of corruption Pulaski went along.
- Big Poppa: Carl kills him to recover Madd Dogg's Crib.
- Melvin "Big Smoke" Harris: Carl guns him down in his Crack Palace for betraying the Grove Street Families.
Carl Johnson is the son of Beverly Johnson (deceased). He himself is the second-oldest Johnson sibling. The oldest is his brother, Sean (aka Sweet). The youngest is his other brother, Brian (deceased), and the second-youngest is Kendl. Nothing is known about their father. CJ does not have any living direct relatives other than Sean and Kendl.
CJ is markedly different from the previous playable characters in the Grand Theft Auto series. While Claude and Tommy Vercetti are both depicted as completely heartless and feeling no regret for all of the people that they kill, CJ is depicted as having a considerably less violent personality, occasionally giving his victims a chance to redeem themselves. An example is his failed attempt at convincing Eddie Pulaski to see that he was no more than Tenpenny's pawn. Furthermore, CJ displays genuine remorse for having to kill fellow Grove Street bangers Ryder and Big Smoke, who he considered close friends. However, CJ still has no problem with killing members of other gangs, and willfully slaughters any that get in his way of reclaiming Grove Street Families turf.
CJ was voiced by Chris Bellard, aka Young Maylay, even though he bears a striking resemblance to Dr. Dre. Rumors circulated the internet for a while that Dave Chappelle was supposed to voice CJ, but these were most likely just wishful thinking on the part of Chappelle's fans. Rap star 50 Cent says that he was asked by Rockstar Games to voice CJ, but turned the role down, stating that he would only voice himself in a video game (which eventually happened in 50 Cent: Bulletproof).
- An Easter Egg in Grand Theft Auto IV suggests that Carl possibly died or disappeared after 1992. However a reference of his death is never directly made, where as for example, graffiti tags for Victor Vance directly use the words R.I.P to honor his disappearance. Carl, is just a name included in the bunch of other names. Either way, this is not considered canon for the GTA III Era.