Strange Powers on Armageddon and what he's been up to since returning to the Mile High City
Known to early local hip-hop heads as Shag One and, more recently, Strange Powers, Josh Powers doesn't fit into the mold of a typical hip-hop cat. He embraces his individuality and honors his own unique global view of music and ideology through his creative endeavors -- from more traditional hip-hop to electro-pop and everything else in between. In the process, he's offered some of the most groundbreaking music around town, which, fittingly, doesn't follow a standard hip-hop template.
A fixture and a true innovator within the scene for over fifteen years, Strange continues to embrace the spirit of everything that makes hip-hop so powerful. From graffiti to deejaying to emceeing to production, he's truly covered all the bases over the course of his career. We recently spoke with the MC about Armageddon, his return to the Mile High City, military conspiracies, and his most recent efforts in the music industry.
Westword: First things first: Who is Strange Powers? Whatever happened to Shag One? Are your two personas different?
Strange Powers: In 1997, David Soto and I started an unorthodox hip-hop group called The Strange Us. It was active until 2005. So that's where I take the first name, "Strange." "Powers" is actually my real last name. Shag is a name I've carried since '92, a name my friends in Grapevine, Texas, gave me when I was fifteen. I added "One" when I started both deejaying and writing graffiti in '94.
The difference between the two is that Shag One has been strictly hip-hop, as weird as it might be, and with Strange Powers, I attempt to just be myself with no labels. I took the name in '05. I've felt recently that I've grown out of the old title.
I know that you left Denver and spent some time in Austin. Why the move, and why, ultimately, have you made your return to the Mile High City?
Wow, thanks for asking that! In 2007, I felt [that] I had hit a wall after opening for Kool Keith at Cervantes'. I thought I kind of stole the show and did the best I had ever done, because he's one of my heroes. But things went dry shortly after, and that was frustrating. I decided to seek greener pastures, as well as some magical shit that I can only define as love. Not only was it convenient, it was awesome.
But after spending a couple of years there, I missed my home and also had some health issues I couldn't resolve in Texas. Austin is its own music mecca, but Denver has been -- and will always be -- my home. Serendipitously, it has been -- and will always be -- the shit, in my opinion.
What have you most recently been working on? Any collaborations?
I've got a few projects going -- an EP with Myn Dwun and another with Nomar Slevik. I've also been pretty inspired by my friends, Modern Witch and Pictureplane, in the last year -- along with the entire phenomenon that they're a part of. There's been some material that's come out of that inspiration, as well as some remixes that are still in the works.
My main focus, though, has been on completing Rhyme Capsule, which is a mostly hip-hop album. I've also been getting down with Itchy-O from time to time. Scott Banning is a genius. The next effort will resemble the shuffle function on an MP3 player. An example of that material would be the recent dark electro-pop cover I put out there called The Metro, original by the '80s group Berlin.
If you could describe your music in three words -- one color, one animal and one adverb, what would they be?
1. Sapphire 2. Dragon 3. Intensely
A lot of the folks who were around when I first met you in 2003 are M.I.A. Do people eventually grow out of the hip-hop scene?
Most people get fantasies about what it's going to take, how long it's going to take and what the odds of making it are. The definition of "making it" changed a lot since the time we met, and it's come a long way since I first started making hip-hop. It's basically trendy to be in a band or rap now. Most of the people you see still doing it are the ones who did it from the heart from the beginning -- people like P.A.A.S, Dent, Mane Rok, Babah Fly, Ancient Mith and Jeff Campbell.
Not to say that people who drop out of it aren't coming from the heart, but a lot of people get disenchanted by the reality of what it takes to even establish yourself locally, let alone nationally. That's not even speaking on those who are just out for the cash and lifestyle, or those who just move on to different things, like me. I see the ones who have an intense love for hip-hop being the cats that you see in it for fifteen to twenty years and still going.
Some folks have labeled your music as experimental hip-hop. Is that a misnomer, or do you believe that it's true to what you do?