I'm pretty sure that, when most of us think of rap music, we generally conjure up misogynistic undertones, glorified violence and homophobia. The genre gets a bad rap when it comes to equality and women's rights, which isn't always warranted. It is a gritty, in-your-face genre that can be used to deliver a bevy of different messages depending on who is holding the pen.
Recently I sat down with D Powers—or Viral Animal—an artist, a rapper, who is part of the New Nashville sound. Many things set him apart stylistically. Perhaps what makes him most unique—given his chosen genre—is that Powers is a product of lesbian parenting. And not only does he have two moms, his brother is gay.
Most importantly, Powers isn't shy about telling people: "I love my moms and my brother. I'm proud of them and they support me." He, likewise, feels passionately about gay rights: "I just think everyone should be treated equally. What's the difference?"
Powers doesn't really see the way he grew up as unique, because it's what he's always known. In talking with him, you get to see that beneath his rapper’s “swagger,” there's an incredibly sweet, sincere and kind person. And it is both characteristics, the sincerity and the swagger instilled in him at a young age by his mothers, that has helped make him such a musical innovator. His sound is unlike any other because he's not afraid to take chances.
To get a better picture of his background, you have to turn back the clock. D Powers was born Damar Howard in San Antonio, Texas, but early on his family moved to Norfolk, Virginia. Even at an early age, Powers loved music. But he had a tough childhood, and at a young age ran into trouble in the streets. At that point, Powers was sent to Texas to live with his grandparents, where church became an important part of his life. Through outlets such as church choir, Powers realized music was something he wanted to pursue seriously.
Powers has been actively involved in multiple aspects of the music industry, from performance to production. In 1997 Powers already had a demo deal with EPIC/Sony as an R&B artist under Mark 1 Management based in Austin, Texas. While this ultimately did not jumpstart an R&B career, it gave him important insight into the industry.
His experience with Sony pushed him to help upcoming artists in the music industry ensure they could maintain some of the creative control over their products. This is something he is still passionate about. His company Brand Ur Band helps indie artists grow through carefully constructed social media campaigns.
About two years ago Powers moved to Nashville and was signed to Nashville Underground, with Shawn Carnes as his manager. Now Powers is easily one of the hardest working men in Nashville music, as he is more focused on developing his own brand while continuing to support his fellow musicians.
Over the years, his style of music has developed. His music is EDM (electronic dance music) at its core but with a twist of R&B that marries beautifully to its hip hop vibe, creating a sound that is unlike any other. It's been dubbed "luxury dance music."
His creativity, work ethic and professionalism are character traits instilled in him at a young age by his moms. Even with the difficult struggles that surrounded their day to day life, his moms managed to create a home that was a safe haven, encouraged hard work and supported one another's dreams.
His incredible levels of success on multiple fronts flies in the face of those who insist gay parenting will negatively impact children. This is a point Powers made emphatically: "Gay parenting isn't the problem, bad parenting is the problem."
Some of the things people often cite as requiring a dad, like work ethic and learning to interact with women, are characteristics Powers explicitly credits to his moms. "When my stepmom would get after me, I was more scared of her than my dad," he remarked, chuckling as he recalled misadventures in his boyhood. His moms also taught him how to treat a lady and how to be a thoughtful partner. "Everything I know about women and dating, I learned from them." He continued "I'm very close with my family. My moms’ opinions are important to me."
His moms raised a strong willed, industrious, southern gentleman who can still play the bad boy on stage. They also raised a conscientious ally. His manager, Shawn Carnes who is like a big brother to him, hipped him to gay scene here in Nashville. "I just like hanging out with Shawn and he goes to Play, so I went," he said in a matter of fact tone lacking any stigma about the scene. He even popped into the Turnabout Party on June 5, 2015, to show his support for the Pride Board and of course enjoy the show. Powers also says he loves Pride and participating as an advocate. "I'm looking forward to the Pride festival! It's always a blast!"
Hopefully, as his career develops, Powers’ shining example of the quality parenting same sex couples can do will help change the hearts and minds of his industry, beginning with the New Nashville, and of his potential audiences, who are used to seeing and hearing very different messages.
For more information about D Powers, AKA Viral Animal, check out his website, www.viralanimal.com, and follow him on Twitter @viralanimal.