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Snap Judgment: Kanye West samples King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man" for "Power"

Getprev You know something's up when you check your Twitter feed and one of Kanye West's collaborators is trending. Sure enough, this morning saw the R&B singer Dwele on the list, his name quickly leading to a leak from what seems to be the new single from West's upcoming fifth studio album.

"Power" is a strong shot across the barricades for West, boding well for "Good Ass Job" -- the album he hopes will return him to pop's top spot after his interruption of Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards sent him into semi-self-imposed exile for nearly a year.

"Power" is a hyped-up battle rhyme that throws off the public shaming West suffered because he insulted pop's top ingenue. "No one man should have all that power," the rapper repeatedly snarls, intimating that the wave of disgust his spontaneous (and undeniably rude) declaration of Beyonce's superiority to Swift was really a move to dissipate West's cultural influence. This being Kanye, however, he spins out something more complicated than a simple counterattack.

The rhyme includes a potty-flavored slap back at the cast of "Saturday Night Live," who've made fun of West's tirade a couple of times, and the pouty explanation that West's intentions were "lost in translation with a whole ... nation." Linking himself to Obama, West suggests that he's a flavor too strong for this supposedly "post-racial" era before getting down to some basic assertions of macho superiority.

What makes "Power" more than just a surly act of retaliation, from the start, is the music. Most early responses have noted the King Crimson sample that complicates West's words: a clip from King Crimson's 1969 protest song  "21st Century Schizoid Man." That's interesting as a reference point -- we knew 'Ye was into hipster rock, and this confirms the prog predilection suggested by the stage set for his "Glow in the Dark" tour.

But more important is the hook that anchors the song. It sounds like a vocal re-creation of the King Crimson song's monster guitar hook; but as it's been transformed, it invokes another acute examiner of current cultural-political dramas: M.I.A. The hook's hand claps and feminine tone -- as well as the Symbolyc One-co-produced track's whole sound, much more redolent of global hip-hop than of electroclash, which West may have left behind -- sets West's verbal tirade within M.I.A.'s larger context of global oppression and resistance by people of color. Justified? Maybe not. But it's a typically bold Kanye leap.

Then there's the song's strange ending, which features Dwele's dulcet tones singing about how lovely it would be to jump out of a window. One commenter on Miss Info's blog, which has the song, drew a comparison to the suicide of Donny Hathaway, the soul genius whose paranoid fantasies helped lead him, in 1979, to do exactly what West and Dwele describe in "Power." That's a heavy fate for West to ponder, but he's never shied away from examining his own psychological troubles in light of sex, race and politics. That's what "808s and Heartbreak" was all about, in fact. It will be interesting to see where he takes these themes on "Good Ass Job." If "Power" is an indication, he's coming back stronger, but no less determinedly troublesome.

-- Ann Powers

Photo: Kanye West. Credit: Matt Sayles / Associated Press

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Comments () | Archives (11)

Screw 'Ye. He's just a buster who happens to make amazing instrumental beats. Just like Timbaland, except 'Ye is undeniably racist... He couldn't handle the fact that Swift, a white girl, beat his "Beloved" Black pop star, Beyonce. Educated people (of all races, duh) should stop attempting to intellectualize the outlook of those who are obviously dumb like Kanye (also, Palin, Bush, and others...). I understand a desire to try to understand urban hip-hoppers who are supposedly intellectual, as opposed to Gucci Mane and the like, but the truth is that this is only the watered down mainstream version of intellectual hip-hop. And, it isn't intellectual. It's just an attempt to turn this new age crappy R&B into a fast dance song. And 'Ye can't even rap. I guess my bottom line point is that this guy should be get no fame EVER AGAIN (or at least until there is credible evidence he has his head on his shoulders)- and no one should be buying his music unless he is just making the beats. Go give a beat to G&E, Kanye, or how about Aceyalone or Latyrx, Atmosphere, Illogic, or any other intellectual hip-hop. Then you could actually be a part of making something powerful. But you don't want that, just like Timbaland doesn't. You just want more money and glamour. So, I don't have any time for you.

Power is the best song of 2010

Same as when Puff Daddy sampled Zeppelin's Kashmir. Weak tracks, both.


Kanye west Is LAME!

Kanye West is in this one big self-referential joke except he's not in on it. Fake, pretentious, wannabe-intellectuals. King Crimson.. now THAT was an amazing band. Can we bring music like that back to the forefront?

LAME. I can't believe King Crimson was allowed to be tainted by rap.

I looked up "Power." I have never felt more ashamed to be a King Crimson fan in my entire life. In fact, I've NEVER felt ashamed because they're a great band. And they, my good friends, have just been shat upon. A great fat fucking dump has just been taken upon one of the greatest bands in rock history.

You don't do that to King Crimson. After listening to "Power," I thought it was the most disgraceful, disgusting musical display I've seen in ages.

You don't sample King Crimson. You just don't.

I now consider Kanye West to be everything wrong with music today.

That is all.

Robert Fripp should be ashamed of himself for allowing King Crimson's first signature track to be abused to further this tripe. I saw the video last night - there's nothing redeeming, fresh, inventive or interesting about it. He used the samples like a guitarist uses a tone - everything from the original track is gone except a 4 second sample of the original lyric. Its truly Kanye's, and it truly sux. In his desperation to create SOMETHING, he barks something about "white man's world" quite clearly, while ripping asunder a song that DESERVEDLY changed the face of rock music - defining an entire genre that remains relevant to this day. Everything about Kanye - especially this track - is pathetic.

the sample that actually makes the song, along with the programmed beat, is "afromerica" by continent 6. good track, but kanye is still wack.

i am a prog rock fan who actually likes kaynes power.plus
people who listen to the song may want to check out king
crimson.hell every rock band from tool,radiohead,rush,nirvana
and muse show a crimson sounding influence.

I am not a huge rap fan, but I can appreciate it when it is done well. On the other hand, I love King Crimson, and I despise Kanye West...at least the persona that he has cultivated and ridden to fame and fortune. Separating the art from the artist, POWER is a phenomenal song, and West's "beautiful dark twisted fantasy" is a great album. For the record, Robert Fripp was NOT notified that the Crimson sample was going to be used - record company politics trumped ethical business practice - though he says he likes the song and would have given permission.


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