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? There's a difference between having a gimmick and just being true to yourself. I've done my best to embrace my weird side, to the point where I have even questioned whether or not the odd stuff was genuine, or just there out of a desire to set myself apart. Ultimately, when I let go and stay true to my expression, the weirdest shit comes out. So honestly, I've dumbed down the stranger side here and there, just so I didn't come off as a total freak -- but also to my detriment.
To tell it like it really is, I've been making hip-hop for over fifteen years, and at times, it has held me back -- as if being stuck in that genre has prevented me from being true to what I'm drawn to. I'm a musician first. I grew up in a music room as my mom was a gigging musician even when she was pregnant with me. In '04 and '05, I had an alias project called Commander Zero, which wasn't hip-hop at all and existed purely out of needing a different outlet. I haven't looked back since.
What do you think of Denver's now-failed Initiative 300, which would have allowed extraterrestrial investigation and research?
Firstly, I voted for it! Secondly, as far as I know, the initiative is donation-based and not actually government funded. I think that was a large part of why it failed. It seems like there wasn't enough funding and/or volunteers to educate people on the details. My man Time was on the front lines, though. Besides that, I commend Jeff Peckman and what he's accomplishing. I have always been an advocate of transparency when it comes to government secrecy concerning UFOs.
In recent years, many countries have disclosed previously top-secret files outlining thousands of unexplainable events and phenomena. This includes Mexico, Russia, France, New Zealand, Brazil and the United Kingdom. Even the Vatican has disclosed files following an event that couldn't be brushed under the rug. Why not the U.S.? I think a lot is going on right now. UFO sightings have only increased over the years. If we don't start addressing the issue and acknowledging the need for such a committee, the end result could lead to serious confusion.
What people don't understand is that the visitation that is glorified in the movies is happening all around us, all of the time. It's just attacked by a campaign of denial and secrecy by the functioning U.S. military. Thankfully, a lot of people have come forward, and that's exciting. There was recently a press conference held on a massive disclosure by former nuclear officials telling of U.F.Os actually shutting down nuclear facilities on more than one occasion, and it was covered by CNN.
To switch gears a bit, what kind of equipment are you currently using? Are you still rapping?
I use the MPC 2000xl for live-sample drumming and some sequenced beats still. I also use Reason. I just acquired Sole's old Casio CZ1000. I circuit-bent a Casio SK-1 of mine for him in trade. I also own various other circuit-bent instruments, including a bent Yamaha PSS-680 and several bent Furbys with Atari Paddle control. Indeed, I'm still rocking the mike -- a lot lately, actually. I just hosted the Noah23/ECID show and opened with mostly hip-hop.
What's next for 2010? 2011? Will the world end in 2012?
With the rest of this year, I'll be finishing the album. I still have a few songs to write. My friend Neil Ewing and I are producing a Circuit Bending Show on DOM that I'd like to see debut some time before the end of the year. I'm considering releasing my album on NYE, but that's not set in stone. I don't know if that's '10 or '11. I guess it's both; 2011 will be darker, faster and even stranger. But enough about the weather.... I foresee that 2011 will be the year that truth-seekers become truth-demanders.
2012 will be the year we terrorize ourselves into believing it's the end -- whether it's the end or not. You can bet Flava Flav knows the time, though. Either way, humans will experience a pole shift at some point. It's a scientific inevitability. Why trip on when? Who knows? Perhaps we will enter the Time Wave and awaken to Zero Point, fully realizing the Singularity.
Maybe then, we'll have control of the magnetosphere and we can leave this star, fly the Earth to the end of the universe and open a restaurant there. We'll all make friends with the Alien Astronaut Gods that created us and become aware of the conscious Alien Hive Mind that eagerly awaits. You should meditate on the Cosmic Clock. Maybe this will tell you whether or not the world will end in 2012.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.