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Kanye West’s “Power,” a Return to Form? No and Yes


After Being Ostracized by the Taylor Swift Debacle, What Should We Expect from Kanye

By Amir Said (Sa’id)

Let me make it plain: After the fallout from Kanye West’s protest at the 2009 MTV Music Awards, I don’t expect him to simply return to a sped-up samples sound, and call it a good day. I do expect him to return to a highly sampled, gritty sound. And I do expect him to ratchet up some honest, hard-cutting, race-reflective lyrics.

But if the first “official leak,” presumably from his upcoming album Good Ass Music, is any indication, I’m not so certain that Kanye West’s first post-Taylor Swift debacle (TSD) is going to be the big boom bap, in-your-face, revenge LP that it could be (and that I was hoping for). In other words, it certainly appears from the “Power” leak that Kanye’s lofty “stadium music” concept is still in flux. Also, considering the fact that the “Power” beat—not the final “Power” production—was made by the ever impressing beatmaker (producer) S1 (of the Strange Fruit Project, and One Stop Shop Producers Beat Battle winner fame), Kanye has opted for the more collaborative route, as opposed to single-handedly tackling all of the beatwork.

Don’t get me wrong, great things can come from collaborative efforts. Moreover, I’m certainly a fan of S1’s beats (his style is sick; more importantly, I hope he gets his due, he deserves it). But who collaborated with Kanye West to stop Live Nation from canceling his Fame Kills tour with Lady Gaga, due to TSD? Who collaborated with him to stop his music from being banned at some radio stations and essentially, removed from others, due to TSD? Indeed, who collaborated with Kanye West to stop all of the negative fall-out of TSD?

To be fare, the “Power” leak is just one song; I don’t have the luxury of measuring its pulse against any other purported Good Ass Music selections. Still, leaks—especially the earliest ones—often give a fair demonstration of the direction in which an artist is heading. Furthermore, if a leak is received well, it likely goes on to make the final album, sometimes even serving as the project’s musical flagship. But if the leak isn’t received well, it’s not likely to end up on the final album release. (For S1’s sake, I hope “Power” is received well enough to land on the album; I’m pulling for him to get the placement.)

My first reaction to Kanye’s “Power” was this: decent beat, solid—not great, nor reactionary, or revenge-based—rhymes. Before I even learned that the beat was created by S1, with additional production added by Kanye, I thought it was a blend of styles. Present in the beat was Kanye-like drum sounds and phrasing as well as a Kanye-like primary sample. But also present was this “otherness.” Here, I use “otherness” to refer to the bigger-produced sound and context that Kanye calls “stadium music.” Clearly, Kanye’s added production work on “Power” was meant to make the track bigger and the song more widely appealing, more accessible. I have no problem with that. But I’d being lying if I told you that I wasn’t expecting Kanye to return to form—that is to say, his grittier, boom bap roots.

I was hoping that Kanye West would strip down his sound, and re-tap into the core of what he does best: straight-forward beats and very thoughtful, unapologetic rhymes. I wasn’t (am not) looking forward to something that’s a combination of Graduation, and 808s and Heartbeats, his last two album releases. Perhaps in the scheme of his own progression, his Graduation album was the zenith of talents, as it included straight-forward beats along with impressively polished songs (it was “stadium music” before Kanye felt he needed “stadium music”); while 808s was both his self-indulged artist project and his conscious reach for stadium (larger) audiences (remember, he was set to headline a tour with Lady Gaga, before TSD.) Having opened up his sound over his past two albums, a move that no doubt expanded his fan base and significantly broadened is touring potential, it would be unreasonable to believe that Kanye would simply abandon the broader musical themes and concepts that he embraced for the making of Graduation, and 808s. But then again, it would also be unreasonable to believe that so many of Kanye’s fans and allies would abandon him because of TSD.

*Related news: For S1’s detailed explanation of the creation of Kanye West’s “Power,” check out HipHopDx’s S1 interview.

The BeatTips Manual by Sa’id.
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About Author

Amir Said (aka Sa’id) is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BeatTips. A writer, publisher, and beatmaker/rapper from New York, Said is the author of a number of books, including ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ ‘The Art of Sampling,’ ‘Ghetto Brother,’ and ‘The Truth About New York.’ He is also a recording artist with a number of music projects, including his latest album 'The Best of Times.' Follow him on Twitter at: @amirsaid and @BeatTipsManual

  • Although the “TSD” was clearly a milestone(for better or worse), I can’t help but feel a bit of over-emphasizing(6 mentions, using the word “revenge”) of its importance in this blog post and relevance to this song.
    I agree that since it’s his first release since the incident that there will be a lot of expectations. But do you feel that this new album has that much relevance to the TSD. He pulled an “award show Kanye” moment, everyone was upset, called him an asshole, but to me i feel as though we’ve longed move on.
    I think your analysis is accurate and well written as usual, but there seems to be a bit too much emphasis on something that isn’t really that related to this particular track.
    Anyways, just my opinion(just as this blog post is yours). Keep up the good work

  • Bikes,
    Thanks for your comment… And thanks for your thoughts. Glad to have a regular, engaged reader like you!
    I think you might have zeroed in on something else that I wasn’t pinpointing here. The theme of this article was about what we might expect from Kanye’s new album, given the fallout and seemingly banishment due to “TSD.” In that vein, “Power,” the first “official leak,” gives us a first-look at what we might expect, nothing more, nothing less. This article wasn’t a beat or song breakdown, like those that I typically do. Also, this article wasn’t meant to be a good/bad review, per se, of the song. So inasmuch as the song itself goes, my main conclusion was that I may have been wrong in my expectations of Kanye returning after TSD with a harder, agitated (understandably so) album.
    Sure, you and I might have dismissed TSD as just “another Kanye moment.” But for him, it wasn’t. He experienced real loss! You and I didn’t lose anything; we didn’t lose ground with some fans or once-thought allies. Kanye lost both in terms of financial earnings and social/entertainment credit. I mean, I know some die-hard Kanye fans who swore they’d NEVER support him ever again. Although I think that’s a bit harsh, I believe the sentiment was, unfortunately, echoed in a lot of places.
    So given the ordeal and fallout of TSD, I was eagerly anticipating something more hard-hitting from Kanye (who knows, it still may be, it’s only one single that may or may not make on the album). I was anticipating a more “meat and potatoes” approach on his new effort—a sort return to the form that built his core audience, and answer to those condemned or shied away from him, because he’d fallen out of favor.
    Either way, my use of “revenge” was necessary. I gotta believe that Kanye felt many people turned their backs on him. Moreover, I gotta believe that he recognized the fact that opponents of his (especially those in power) used TSD to try and destroy his career. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. But his career and public persona did take a major hit, no denying that!
    And there’s no way Kanye hasn’t felt the sting of TSD since last September (just barely 9 months ago). So my interest as a fan and supporter and purveyor of popular culture was in Kanye’s reaction. In particular, I was interested in what his reaction would be if he channeled all of the hurt, anger, and media ostracizing into his music. After all, Kanye’s outspoken. And I’ve always found that when it comes to “speaking to power,” your voice is much more effective when the music is edgy and hard-hitting. Therefore, that’s the return to form that I did (do) expect from Kanye West.

  • Fair enough, I suppose I never thought about his loss on that level. You make great points. And your definitely right, neither you nor I could imagine the impact that had on all facets of his life. Through it all I remain a fan. I think the man lives his art, and anyone who’s ever tried to be expressive knows that sometimes you can loose your mind a little bit (especially when your sippin on a bottle).
    Have you ever watched the special “Spike spends Saturday with Kanye”? Of all the video footage I have watched of him, i think this series offers some of the most honest and real insight into who he is as a person and his aspirations as an artist.

  • S

    its great, its different–hes evolving. why must he always revert to the college dropout days?
    nowdays with bullshit music from “rapper” niki minaj and the same stuff from wayne–kanye is bringing something new. embrace it!!