Josh Classen, chief meteorologist at CTV Edmonton, knows exactly what the desire to separate yourself from the crowd is like — it’s one of the things that attracted him to rap music as a teenager.
“I’ve always been into things that are off the beaten path, and nothing was more off the beaten path than being into rap growing up in Lloydminster,” he laughs. “The music has always been about being your own person and making your own way in life.”
His passion for rap began at the dawn of what many consider to be the genre’s “golden era” — the late ’80s and early ’90s.
“I remember buying Run-DMC’s Tougher Than Leather on cassette when I was 12 years old,” says Classen. “Then I bought Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet, and that album changed my life. I’ve been in love with rap ever since.”
Soon after, Classen began penning his own rhymes and writing his own songs. Before becoming a meteorologist, he even recorded an album in the early 2000s as part of the group Worldwide Wordsmiths, whose four members hailed from different cities across North America. Classen went by the moniker JOC, which stood for Juggling Omnipotent Content. Each member recorded their verses in their respective cities and sent them back and forth over the internet to assemble their songs. Released in 2002, Classic Composure is their only album.
After that, life got in the way, as it tends to do. These days, Classen considers himself a semi-retired rapper. Over the years, he’s tossed around the idea of recording a solo album but admits he probably doesn’t have 10 to 13 songs worth of content in him, which makes popping up with a song here and a guest verse there — his preferred release strategy these days — the ideal way to ensure he doesn’t outstay his welcome. Especially as a dad of three.
But his competitive fire hasn’t mellowed with age.
“I’m open and accepting all invitations,” he says with a grin. “If there are any young rappers who want to get murdered on their own song, I’m the person they should call.”
The Storm-watching Stormtrooper
The first thing you notice about Phil Darlington when you meet him, is his height. At six-foot-five, most people need to crane their necks in order to make eye contact. This also makes his hobby — building his very own Stormtrooper armour from the Star Wars films — challenging.
“I’ve had to make a lot of alterations,” laughs Darlington. “If you’re a giant like me, the off-the-rack options don’t fit. You’ve got to fend for yourself.”
Then there’s the fact that pre- assembled, ready-to-wear Stormtrooper costumes — both officially licensed and not — average about $200. And that’s without the boots and blaster (a space particle weapon, for those unfamiliar with Star Wars). But for diehards like Darlington, that route, besides being more expensive, is also much less fun. Half of the enjoyment comes from the do-it-yourself construction process.
Plus, the 501st Legion — the volunteer-led international Star Wars fan organization of which Darlington is a member — is very strict about the accuracy of the costumes that its members wear, and almost none of the commercial options meet its standards — without extensive modifications.
A fan of the Star Wars films since he was a child, Darlington credits the PC version of Star Wars: Battlefront II with inspiring him to want his own costume.
“Back in high school, my uncle gave me a copy of the game for Christmas. I got hooked, and then I thought it would be cool to have a costume from the series,” he explains. “After doing some Googling, I came across the Canadian Garrison, the Canadian arm of the 501st Legion. I reached out to them on their forum, and they sent me some resources to get started building my own costume.”
It may have been the help building a costume that initially drew Darlington to the 501st Legion, but it’s the organization’s community-minded ethos that’s kept him around for over a decade — members of the Legion across the world appear at hospitals, fundraisers and, in Darlington’s case, sometimes even weddings.
“There was a groom in Toronto who was a huge Star Wars fan, so the bride’s family wanted us to surprise him on their wedding day,” he recalls. “About half a dozen of us Stormtroopers and Darth Vader attended and escorted the groom down the aisle. When he first saw us, the look of shock, and then the look of delight that followed, was a hoot.”
Even the light-hearted ribbing he occasionally receives from friends and coworkers can’t dim his passion.
“At some point in your life you realize you don’t necessarily want to fit in and be like everyone else,” he explains. “You want to find your own thing. The 501st Legion brands itself as ‘The best of the worst guys around.’ Sure, in the series we’re the bad guys, but, in real life, we’re just people who enjoy building costumes and making people smile.”