"Power" Trip: How Much Power Does Kanye Actually Have?

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Have you sped?

I mean really sped?

On my way to college, I would make the trek up U.S. Route 15. Once you get out of 95's gridlock, where the strip malls turn to farmland, it's a straight shot; unless of course you want to stop at the liquor store right on the border. The road is so straight, in fact, that I used to speed. I'm not talking about your ordinary five-over-the-limit speeding, I'm talking about the kind of speeding where your odometer reads like MC Hammer's credit score. The kind of speeding where you could totally end up in jail. It's an amazing feeling, but absolutely reckless. Watching cows, silos, and fences turn into one continuous blur is excitingly frightening, but knowing it can all be stripped away in a moment is even more of a rush. The more power I gained, the less control I had.

Your tires begin to shake....

I never made it past that point.

As soon as I felt my axles strain, even for a second, I would slow down. As fun as tearing through the horizon is, being an Alex Mack-esque puddle on the side of a highway is not how I wanted to go out. Still...what if? What would happen if I kept going? How steady could I hold the wheel? How long could I flirt with disaster like she was a Tinder match? Being on the edge, having a certain kind of power that bordered on losing control like that, was a rush.

That white-knuckled, hair-standing-on edge feeling is the same when I listen to Kanye West's "Power."

When I'm at the gym, trying to dig up the strength for one more rep - when the guy next to me is lifting twice the weight with half the effort - the anthemic beat fills the void in my shredded muscles. I just have to make sure I'm not mid-rep when Yeezy boasts "I don't need your pussy bitch I'm on my own dick," because it makes me laugh every time. I get a similar feeling when I'm listening to "Power" on the way home from the gym and when I stop off at the grocery to restock on tuna cans and Froot Loops. When I get home and unpack the groceries I drop the needle and the guitar lurches out of my speakers, filling my beleaguered shanty of a house with Ye's massive sound. (You haven't lived until you've heard MBDTF on vinyl.) Yes, I have listened to "Power" over, and over and over, it nevergets old. That's the "Power" of power. It's the same feeling Bryce Harper must feel when he steps up to bat and that primal, militaristic chant echoes throughout Navy Yard. Seriously next time you go to sporting event, take note of how many times you hear "Power" played.

Same for the bar.

Ditto for the gym.

Shit, that song is everywhere. Though it gets overlooked in the spectacle that is My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, "Power" is one of the most important Kanye tracks ever and THEquintessential Kanye song. The ever changing beat littered with samples and rich instrumentation, the boasting, oh the boasting; it's magnetic, vivid and incredibly rich, but it's also aggressive, brash and unapologetic. For him to be so wild, so ignorant, yet so complex and nuanced is a microcosm for the phenomenon that is Kanye West. For some reason hip-hop heads look at popular singles like condoms - necessary evils. You don't love 'em, but they can serve a larger cause. Don't do this with "Power." Do not let the fact that you have heard it so many times take away from its impact. When you get bashed in the head so many times with something, it's hard to keep your brain in your skull long enough to truly listen and process. When was the last time you picked apart Kanye's lyrics? Don't let the braggadocio fool you, in fact, you kind of need it to understand the magic of "Power."

In this white man world, we the ones chosen
So goodnight, cruel world, I’ll see you in the morning
I’ll see you in the morning
This is way too much, I need a moment

I've grown to love Kanye's Twisted Fantasy, dare I say more than I love College Dropout? As much as I love simple soul beats, for the past few years I've been more interested in reaching the constellations. Simply getting my hands high doesn't quite do it for me like it used to. The lavishness, the opulence, the gaudy, overbearing excess astounds me and the way the production encapsulates it is remarkable. What makes Kanye such an incredible artist is the way he puts himself into the music. Through production, lyrics, flow and the overall sound, you can really get a sense of where he is in life. After his mother died and he started interrupting speeches, suplexing paparazzi and ranting, Kanye's power and influence was at an all-time high and you can feel it in this song. His brash, unapologetic bars may bother some, but it's all true. I may not love his stunting, but I love his raw authenticity.

Still, what really makes "Power" so captivating is not Kanye's power over the rap game and all its servants, but the lack of control all that power has given him. Watch the video, think about lines like "jumping out the window,look at the art. Kanye is quit literally losing his mind and on the verge of dying because of it.  Like my car careening down 95, Kanye is headed for trouble, except he has the force of a thousand speeding Hyundais. There is a visceral, palpable loss of control which makes "Power" timeless. It's the kind of song that makes you spend 25 minutes in the Chipotle parking lot looking for your scratched, coffee-stained, burned copy of MBDTF because you need to hear it. It's the kind of song that wills you to one more rep. It's the kind of song that gives you goosebumps each and every time even though you have listened to it back-to-back-to-back. That's power.

But what Kanye seems to be realizing is that's not "Power" at all.

Kanye controls hip-hop, he's the most influential artist in our bubble, and perhaps outside of it too. Drake may be in New York at 6 P.M. or gallivanting around Houston at 5 A.M., but the hip-hop sun rises and sets on Kanye. That's just hip-hop. To the ones with real power and real influence, the CEOs of Disney and the heads of Nike, Kanye is a drop in the bucket. Take a listen to that clip of the Zane Lowe interview above, where Kanye discusses his struggle to expand past hip-hop into fashion and cinema. He can act like "Power" was made for the people, but that sounds like revisionist's history. When he made "Power," it felt like he truly believed he was on the top of the pyramid. But now, when his horizon has expanded and he's taken his vision beyond the rap game and attempted to get in the ring with big corporations like Adidas, Universal, and Disney, he's realizing just how little power he actually has.

Think about it for a second. Think about how many people would pay to see Kanye's seven screen video. I know I would sacrifice heat or electricity for a month to watch it. Count the number of people in line for his latest shoe. Run a Twitter search on "All Day." To us, it's a massive impact, but to the likes of Disney? That's chump change. For the energy, time and effort it would take to pull off a seven screen cinematic experience, these companies could rehash an old '90s movie in 3D for half the effort and twice the profit. Yeezy shoes? How about you slap Elsa's face on a pair of Velcro kicks with lights in 'em and make more in one day than Kanye has made his whole career. An APC line isn't shit when you wholesale to Wal-Mart. Kanye would die for his art, but execs won't open their wallets because when you burst the rap bubble, what power does Kanye actually have? Why do they need Billboard charts and ever-dwindling album sales whent they have lobbyists, donations and politicians in their pocket, tucked in snug next to that black card? They don't need Kanye, but as much as he hates it, Kanye seems to have realized he needs them. 

With "Power" Kanye proved he was a king, but what's a king to a God?

[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is (maybe?) “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]

Kanye West