Literary Analysis of Kanye West’s “Power”
I don’t care much for top 40 music, but the other day I was listening to the radio and heard this brilliant, ethereal melody pumping through my car speakers*. The song I heard is “Power” by Kanye West, an artist I truly admire for his creativity and humility*. He seems to stay humble above all else*. Yet “Power” delves into the arrogant depths of his psyche, revealing personal secrets and thoughts of sexual deviancy.
Many of you have already heard this song, but have you truly analyzed its message? You can find the lyrics here, and you can listen to the song here, but only my blog has broken down this artistic piece, line by line, with a literary analysis. In my analysis, which I researched thoroughly, I provide a stanza of “Power” followed by analysis.
“I’m living in that 21st century doin’ something mean to it
Do it better then anybody you ever seen do it
Screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it
I guess every superhero need his theme music.”
Kanye is alluding to being in a confessional with a priest, admitting that he has done something cruel to the world we know today. He also admits to arrogance, since he claims to be the best at being cruel. Kanye is referencing the suffering Haitians (screaming “haters”), and thus keeping up with current events. He strays to an abstract and somewhat surreal form of poetry by referencing a superhero, a universal icon—and thus a universal truth—which draws our attention to the fact that these lyrics are filled with surrealism but streaked with reality, or truth.
“No one man should have all that power
The clocks tickin’ I just count the hours
Stop trippin’ I’m trippin’ off the power
21st century Schizoid Man.”
Kanye references an ambiguous, all-powerful deity who he believes should not be all-powerful. With the image of clocks ticking, he reinforces the surrealism he set up earlier while invoking a sense of panic for the constantly-evaporating units of time. He makes use of repetition with “trippin’”. He concludes the stanza, reminds us that he is pertaining to the present century, and references A Clockwork Orange with his mention of a mental illness (“schidzoid”), which ties in well with the image of the clocks ticking.
“The system broken, the schools closed, the prison’s open
We ain’t got nothing to lose ma’fu’ker we rollin’,
Haaa? ma’f’cker we rollin’
With some light skinned girls and some Kelly Rowland’s
In this white man world we the one’s chosen
So goodnight cruel world I see you in the mornin’,
Haaa? I see you in the mornin’
This is way too much, I need a moment.”
Kanye states that the state of the world is stately but broken. Prisons are free but schools are crawling (“rollin’”) with an indigenous god, “Ma’fu’ker”. He alludes to the fact that Ma’fu’ker is similar to Eywa, Avatar’s Na’vi god, and the way in which the two gods rule their planets, Pandora and Planet Hollywood, is similar. He is dismayed about albino women and admits that he once believed Kelly Rowland was an albino. In this albino man’s world, he says, we have been chosen by one [god]—mostly likely, Ma’fu’ker—and Kanye is going to take his own life, or rest in eternal sleep, and in the morning (heaven), he will be relieved of his burdens and have a moment of peace.
Chorus (with slight variation, but it is not important)
“Fuck SNL and the whole cast
Tell them Yeezy said they can kiss my whole ass
More specifically they can kiss my ass hole
I’m an asshole? You niggas got jokes!
You short minded niggas, thoughts is napoleon
My verses Mongolian, my ice brought the goalies in
I embody every characteristic of the egotistic
he knows, he so fuckin’ gifted
I just needed time alone, with my own thoughts
Got treasures in my mind but couldn’t open up my own vault
My child-like creativity, purity and honesty is honestly being crowded by these grown thoughts,
Reality is catching up with me, taking my inner child I’m fighting for custody
With these responsibilities that they entrust in me
As I look down at my diamond crush to piece, thinking.”
Kanye brings us back to his confessional (which he referenced at the beginning of the song, in case you’d forgotten) by asking the priest to tell Yeezy, his personal deity, that he wishes to be kissed, or saved, by Yeezy and the Serbian Nation of Laos, his home country. He compares his personal thoughts to Neapolitan ice cream, a sexually disturbing image showing us that his mind is clouded by white ejaculate, pink genitals, and brown anuses. He also states that beneath his sexually disturbed thoughts, treasure (meaningful thought) awaits. By saying this, he is admitting that he needs to clear his mind of worldly sexual pleasures and discover who he truly is through meaningful thinking. He again admits that he is an egoist after referencing his Mongolian background and ice hockey experience. Kanye wishes to be like a child and have childlike thoughts, uncorrupted by white, pink, and brown sex acts. He then looks down to the diamond ring on his hand and throws it on the ground. It shatters, which is symbolic of his personal breakthrough of bursting through sexual desires and egoism.
“Colin Powers, Austin Powers,
Lost in translation with a whole fuckin’ nation
They say I was the abomination of Obama’s nation
Well that’s a pretty dour way to start a conversation
At the end of the day goddamn it I’m killin’ this shit
I know damn well ya’ll feelin’ this shit
I don’t need your pussy, bitch I’m on my own dick
I ain’t got a power trip who you goin’ home with?
How ‘Ye doin’? I’m Surviving
I was drinkin’ earlier now I’m driving
Where the bad bitches huh? Where ya hidin’?
I got the power make your life so excited.”
Hearkening back to his signature brand of politics, Kanye explains how dissatisfied he is with Obama’s presidency. He mentions that he wants to be a military general and kill people– a murderous desire. Then he explains how he masturbates by giving himself oral sex, which defies physics as well as the goals he set for himself earlier in the piece. He addresses his deity, Yeezy, with a nickname, “Ye”, demonstrating his close connection with the supernatural and higher power(s). Finally, he admits to Ye and the priest that though this world is cold, he is surviving by the small pleasure he takes by breaking the law, or driving while intoxicated, while also verging on suicide.
“Now this’ll be a beautiful death,
I’m jumpin’ out the window
Lettin’ everything go,
You got the power to let power go.”
With these final four lines, Kanye tells the priest that he is ready to take his own life. Notice how he does not ask the priest or Yeezy for forgiveness, though he is aware that suicide is a sin. He implies that he defies the stigma of sin by believing in himself.