I'm Trippin' Off The Power

I’m Trippin’ Off The Power

Did Kanye West tell SNL to kiss his whole ass?

“The person who experiences greatness must have a feeling for the myth he is in. He must reflect what is projected upon him. And he must have a strong sense of the sardonic. This is what uncouples him from belief in his own pretensions. The sardonic is all that permits him to move within himself. Without this quality, even occasional greatness will destroy a man”

– Frank Herbert, Dune

“Ghetto children, do your thing
Hold your head up, little man, you’re a king”

– Nas, “I Can”

If you haven’t noticed, I’m fascinated by Kanye West’s “Power.”

And that’s just a preview. Here’s the entire song.


It’s a fantastically produced song. The lyrics are rich with imagery and irony. It’s accompanied by a video that you could write a thesis on. And it made headlines when Kanye performed it on Saturday Night Live earlier this month.

Why? Because the second verse begins: “Fuck SNL and the whole cast.”

Want to know how it turned out when he performed it live?

First, here are the original lyrics to the second verse:

Fuck SNL and the whole cast
Tell ‘em Yeezy said they can kiss my whole ass
More specifically, they can kiss my asshole
I’m an asshole? You niggas got jokes!

You short-minded niggas’ thoughts is Napoleon
My furs is Mongolian; my ice brought the goalies in
Now I embody every characteristic of the egotistic
He knows: he’s so fucking gifted

I just needed time alone with my own thoughts
Got treasures in my mind but couldn’t open up my own vault
My childlike creativity, purity and honesty
Is honestly being produced by these grown thoughts

Reality is catching up with me
Taking my inner child, fighting for it, custody
With these responsibilities that they entrusted me
As I look down at my diamond-encrusted piece
Thinking …

Aside from that weird line about Napoleon – dude was short, but he got shit done – this isn’t hard to interpret.

First: Kanye’s calling out Saturday Night Live for having made fun of him in the past. He is bringing complex lyrics, high production values and an army of fans to the battlefield. All SNL has in response are “jokes.” As far as rap songs go, devoting a few lines to dissing your haters isn’t too surprising.

Second: Kanye is talking up his own greatness. He owns imported furs and lots of diamonds (“ice”). Again, par for the course in rap music. We’re almost running down a checklist here.

Third: Kanye is questioning his own greatness. For everything you might criticize, Kanye has always had a great sense of irony. He talks up his own merits, then downplays them with ironic comparison in the same verse. He pairs boasts against takedowns, humility against vanity. He calls himself “egotistic” and “gifted” in the same breath. He talks about “responsibility” (a grown-up virtue) and a diamond-encrusted watch (a sign of immature ostentatiousness) in the same sentence.

The entire song walks that razor’s edge of irony. The production is bombastic: sharp beats, women chanting, heavy bass synths and a catchy rhythm. The official video overflows with arcane imagery: Tarot symbols, the Sword of Damocles, Kanye made up like a pharoah with the eyes of a god. The song itself is a triumphant anthem. It fires up the blood.

And yet how does the chorus begin?

No one man should have all that power.

Wow. Kind of a buzzkill, Kanye. Say, where does that line come from?

Spike Lee’s Malcolm X examines the nature of power with both a covetous and a cautious eye. In the movie, Malcolm X preaches a gospel of black nationalism, bringing a message of hope and unity to a beleaguered black America. But as Malcolm X gets further embroiled in the Nation of Islam, he clashes with its leader, the Rev. Elijah Muhammad, and comes under threat of violence. He learns that power can only be used as a platform to preach the truth for so long. Then, power starts becoming an end in itself. He distances himself from the isolationism and rhetoric of the past, but not in time to keep his former allies from feeling threatened.

(Note: the above is meant to be a high-level summary of the Spike Lee movie, not an evaluation of the Civil Rights movement or the meaning of Malcolm X’s life and death)

Kanye feels the same way. He recognizes the power that has been thrust upon him: a Twitter feed with one million followers, multiple #1 albums, a career producing some of the biggest names in hip-hop. He wants to use this power for good. But he also recognizes the tendency within himself to revel in power for its own sake – a recognizable urge. He bounces between dissing his haters (“Fuck SNL and the whole cast”) to talking up his own talent (“so fucking gifted”, “treasures in my mind”, “childlike creativity”) to questioning his success (“reality is catching up with me”).

He’s all over the place. He is in fact a 21st-century Schizoid Man.


I'm so STREET.

On October 2, 2010, Kanye performed “Power” on Saturday Night Live.

It would have been relatively trivial for Kanye to change a few words in the second verse to make it palatable. He already showed himself willing to edit himself for broadcast play (replacing “mothafucka, we rolling” with “everybody, we rolling”). So he’d only need to change one line to avoid offending his hosts.

Here, I’ll show you:

“To all my haters and their broke ass
Tell ‘em Yeezy said they can kiss my whole ass …”

Ta-da! Someone give me a Grammy.

That’s option one. Option two: Kanye sings the verses as-is. This would be more than a little daring, telling the whole cast of the show you’re on to kiss your asshole. But we’re talking about the same man who’s thrown a temper tantrum at two separate MTV Video Music Awards (once in 2007, once in 2009). Playing the court jester isn’t beyond him.

Option three: change up the first four lines. Given that the rest of the verse takes a more introverted tone, there wouldn’t be much loss in lyrical integrity.

Option four: see for yourself.

24 Comments on “I’m Trippin’ Off The Power”

  1. Kimbo Jones #

    Kanye doesn’t sing the verse he’s expected to sing and, rather than that making him chickenshit, it makes him brilliantly subversive?

    I have come to the conclusion that he would make a really great cult leader.


  2. Anthony Abatte #

    Wow. As a music fan and supporter of Kanye’s music, not his idiotic actions, this is a great read. I’ve listened to this song many times without really knowing all the lyrics. Now, I need to go back and listen closer.

    Kanye is interesting since he’s a walking contradiction but I love the way you broke the song and the man down.

    Great work Mr. Perich. You sir have inspired me to Overthink quite a bit.


  3. richies^ghost #

    “Performing on Saturday Night Live is just what an ambitious young performer should want. But Kanye clearly has beef with SNL. So what is he trying to say here?”

    Great article as always. In addition, I think Kanye is staying true to his original lyrics, though being somewhat more subtle. Okay, alot more subtle, but the message is still “kiss my ass SNL” and haters in general.

    The opening line “The brown hero live from Ground Zero” can be interpreted as “Kanye live from new york (on SNL!!!!)”. I’m going to set aside the hero imagery here (though it could be tied into your thoughts Perich) and concentrate on the ‘Ground Zero’. Ground Zero is a term now synonomous with New York, but also the centre of conflict. Kanye has come to where his haters have dropped their bombs: he’s come to SNL.

    “Machine gun flow made a ghetto Ross Perot” can be interpreted (easily) as his words have made him like Mr. Perot, whom I now know was powerful, feared by the establishment, and made into a joke by SNL. Despite that, he was a champion to 18% of the people, no matter what the establishment had to say. Kanye is here to fight that establishment, and the attack is already under way.

    “With my night goggles on, yeah, military vision” agaiin stirs images of conflict. Night vision is used by small tactical forces against larger but less talented opponents, to see through the night before they know they’re being attacked. Kanye is a strike force against ‘Saturday Night’; he can see through their cumbersome attempt, he’s using that against them, and it’s too late to stop him.

    In light of this conflict, the “Christian way” would be to forgive those who have trespassed againt us. Kanye implies this is done because of a lack of freedom: it’s a prison system, and this is a way to survive. SNL may have invited Kanye on as a way to imprison him, thinking he was rattling his chains and now throwing him a bone imprison him further. Alternatively, Kanye may be suggesting SNL has sought forgiveness because they are they one imprisoned. Kanye, however, was there to show he’s already free and not to seek forgiveness.

    He’s not “cause they tryin to control every single life decision”. SNL tries to control entertainment, and does so to sell us things. It’s the great American capitalist dream. It’s why Kanye should be happy to be on their show. Though this is at odds with government for the people, as SNL should be serving the public, giving them what they want rather than serving their own interests to the detriment of the people. Without the people, SNL are nothing. Without SNL, the people are still the people and perhaps better off because of it.

    The real point being that if “you ain’t effin’ the system then why the eff is you living?”. Again, people should be getting something from the system, not the system getting everything from the people. SNL as a major player in that system and Kanye is a person (albeit a big player too) who has been taken advantage of by SNL, and he’s come for payback.

    Of course one can always accept what is given to them. One can be subserviant, a dog if you will, who receives what is enforced upon them and hopefully it fits them well. “Look dog, you can cop whatever suits you on” as it’s your choice – it’s up to you and Kanye wasn’t there to judge anyone for doing that. Kanye knows the accoutrements well because that’s what suits him. How could he denouce someone for being played, when he was in the middle of playing his own game againt SNL, whilst being played by them?

    Though it doesn’t mean he’s satisfied with it, and here’s his real blow against SNL. A commentary against the show which speaks for itself: “They been feeding us [shit] without the nutrients”. Kanye has come back with another hit song to let us know what’s going on. It’s also another hit against SNL, another blow in the conflict, a bomb dropped live from new york on Saturday Night.

    So Kanye, the hero, our boy, has just let loose on SNL. He’s still fresh in lyrics and spirit despite SNL wanting him to conform. He’s still got the Gucci, still successful despite their hatin, though he’s got to admit that they knew what to offer him in this conflict and it suited him just fine. The fact that they did so just goes to show that they can’t take what he has to say and how he has to say it, and what he’s just said and how just goes to show that he’s still going to do it. Despite their jokes, despite their having him on their show, Kanye is still telling SNL to kiss his ass and he’s doing it up close and personal.


    • Anthony Abatte #

      Love your take but I have one question. When you say SNL is taking advantage of Kanye, have you thought maybe they’re in on it together? Or, that Kanye is taking advantage of NBC?

      Think of Kanye’s most infamous moments. The TV stunts with Mike Myers and Taylor Swift. I’m sure there could be that one chance of “what if Kanye does something crazy?” Or, makes fun of himself in a skit.

      I didn’t watch it but I’m guessing that SNL hasn’t been live in years. So, maybe by taping it all, they kill the risk of Kanye pulling a stunt.

      I think SNL realized they need someone like Kanye to bring attention to them. He’s attention-starved but they need attention, in the form of viewers, to make money. The last episode I watched was with Betty White and I couldn’t name one guest since then, which was a few months ago in May.

      Kanye knows what artists like Lady Gaga know. “Any publicity is good publicity.”

      And it’s no mistake he makes this appearance in time for a new album release on the horizon.


      • John Perich OTI Staff #

        Anthony – I have no doubt that SNL and Kanye are taking advantage of each other. What SNL gets out of it is proving that they’re cool. Yeah, this guy said “Fuck all of us,” but we’re squashing the beef by having him perform. What Kanye gets out of it is the ability to elevate his message. “Power” is a song for an underclass (“we ain’t got nothing to lose; mothafucka, we rolling”), directed at the ones in charge by a man who has, in spite of his doubts, vaulted to the top. Kanye’s switched-up lyrics are (1) an acknowledgment that he’s at the top and (2) a redirection at an even higher target – the music video pop culture juggernaut itself.


  4. AJM #

    Another great article. Although I hoped that your link about rappers dissing rappers would lead to the Flight of the Conchord’s “Hurt Feelings”


  5. Alex #

    Dude, did you just rhyme “ass” with “ass”? You might be waiting a little longer for that Grammy.


    • Rob #

      dude, “broke” rhymes with “whole” when kanye says it – in fact kanye follows that same couplet by rhyming “whole” and “jokes”. so perich not only preserves kanye’s rhyme scheme, he enhances it by completing the chiasmus that was introduced by inverting “whole ass” and “asshole”. now, if you can’t recognize rhymes longer than a word, then you might as well criticize jay-z for “imaginary player” because he rhymes “money” with “money” twelve times in the first verse.

      this was a frickin’ awesome article, perich. as jay would say, “you’re crazy for this one.”


    • John Perich OTI Staff #

      Have you listened to a Kanye West song? He does that all the time. And he’s rolling plats.


  6. Meghan #

    I’m personally obsessed with the “thoughts is Napoleon” line and have been for a while. In the context of your article, I now wonder if it’s supposed to support your thesis that a man who attains power becomes enslaved by the expectations of it. Napoleon got a lot done, but he over extended and ultimately that was his undoing. Additionally, you could argue that he was supposed to be the leader of a liberated nation, and only became a worse tyrant than the French had before. His influence led a century of political instability. “You short-minded niggas’ thoughts is Napoleon” is actually the linchpin of the entire song. A rapper or political leader can obtain success through the intention of changing the system but then the power he (or she) attains actually ensures that he (or she) is forced to perpetuate the system’s ills in order to maintain that position of power.

    Does that make sense?


    • Meghan #

      Oh, furthermore…I was thinking that if we take the meaning of the song to be how genius is held back by the power it obtains, then SNL is perhaps the most allusion to how creative genius is hampered by mainstream power Kanye could make. When the song first came out everyone was puzzled over Kanye’s beef with SNL. I don’t think that’s the case at all.

      When Lorne Michaels started SNL it was supposed to be subversive show that smacked of rebellion. He was the kid in the jeans and t-shirt battling with the guys in suits. The first sketch is “Wolverines”. No one knew what was happening. Within a year, the show became an cultural institution and part of the network machine, and by the 80’s Michaels himself became the man in the suit. The show–while still obviously one of my favorites–is held back by what it’s supposed to be. Writers and performers can’t make risks, they never switch up the structure of the show, and when a new flash of brilliance emerges (a bizarre character, a satiric impression, a digital short?), the writers and performers responsible for it are encumbered by the expectation to do it again. The exact same way. And thus, a spark of originality becomes schtick often run into the ground. The argument is that’s what the audience wants. If SNL wants to stay “SNL”, it has to continue to be “SNL”. If a great rapper wants to stay a “great rapper”, he has to continue to be a “great rapper”. And if Kanye wants to stay Kanye…well, he can’t exactly apologize to Taylor Swift can he? He has to raise a toast to the douchebags. It’s the double edged sword of brilliance.


  7. Anthony Abatte #

    Also, on a side note, did anyone notice that the song “Power” was used in the trailers for “The Social Network”? Maybe, there’s a parallel between Kanye and Mark Zuckerburg’s “screw you, I’m still successful” images.


  8. Charlie X #

    I like the article, but one thing grates with me.
    Napoleon. Short dude?
    He was the same size as:
    Al Pacino, Andre Royo (obligatory Wire reference for my first post), Frank Sinatra, John Adams, Martin Luther King, Brainiac 5 and LeVar Burton.

    Also, he was taller than both Wolverine and Ghandi. Take THAT Ghandi.


    • fenzel #

      When Napoleon died and news of his death spread, there were errors made in the translation, because all of Europe hadn’t adopted the metric system yet, and the different countries had different “feet” used as measurements of length.

      It was reported in England that Napoleon was only 5’2″ (which would make him an inch shorter than Gandhi and quite a bit shorter than Al Pacino). This is because he was 5’2″ in French feet, which were slightly larger than English feet. In English feet he was really about 5’7″, and not short at all. But the myth survives.

      But yeah, the whole Napoleon complex thing was just made up – like Washington never lying or Barack Obama being a Muslim sleeper agent who approved the TARP bailout, raised taxes and increased the deficit through reckless spending.

      It’s sort of like the Oedipus Complex, since there isn’t much to suggest Oedipus actually _wanted_ to kill his father and marry his mother, he just sort of did it by accident. Except that Oedipus is pretty much made up anyway, so never mind.


      • Chris #

        Plus, and this may have been a given in what you were saying, but back in the day 5’7” was different than being 5’7” now. I don’t know what the average height of a European man was in Napoleon’s time, but it was less than it was now. It’s like the opposite of Charlemagne, where by modern standards he was only kind of call but back in the day he was really tall.


  9. james #

    Anyone saw his full length feature runaway?
    its crazy awesome


  10. Rocky Hessler #

    The amount of seriousness rap and hip-hop heaps upon itself is pitifully disproportionate to the creativity required to become a “star” in this tired genre. How much longer must we endure a guy bobbing up and down with his hand in his crotch? We got it when Naughty by Nature did it in ’92. But- that was ’92.

    And what of this Kanye? The awkward replacement of his “crown” at the end of the performance says it all. An inelegant task to prepare for his excruciating ending pose, and to say that’s an ironic move is to give him far more credit than he or most hip hop performers deserve. “Smart” and dare I say overthinking whites are a predictable contingent, falling over themselves to find a “genius”, especially in the hip-hop world, as a self-congratulatory appreciation for something that strikes them as foreign and a bit threatening. There’s no rule saying we have to like hip-hop, folks. Don’t worry, you’re not a racist if you expect something creative and surprising.

    Layering bad poetry over samples is nothing to take so seriously. It’s rap, and it’s early performers knew what it was. Let’s have fun, people. Somebody queue up Humpty Dance.


    • Rob #

      “Hey guys, why do you guys have to overthink things so much?”

      There’s no rule saying we have to like hip-hop, folks. Don’t worry, you’re not a racist if you expect something creative and surprising.

      Listen to yourself. If you don’t see the value of an art form that someone else appreciates, that doesn’t make you a racist, it doesn’t even make you ignorant, it just makes you lonely. It doesn’t make you any less of a human being. It just means there’s one less thing in life that you enjoy. Whatever.

      But when you criticize other people for their own tastes, that does kinda make you ignorant.

      I’m sure you could write the same critique of rock ‘n’ roll, i.e., that bad poetry sung over the same old chord progressions has been played out since Bob Johnson; hell, you could write a similar critique of classical epic poetry, i.e. that everybody’s been ripping off of Homer. Instead, I’m going to point out that complaining about “these kids these days, and the horrible art forms they like,” was a tired form of discourse a long, long time ago.

      Hope I die ‘fore I get old.


    • John Perich OTI Staff #

      (1) I suppose that if I spend two thousand words interpreting Kanye West’s raging against existing power structures in light of his blackness, I can’t object if someone dashes off a few dozen words interpreting my interpretation of Kanye West in light of my whiteness.

      (2) Graduation is overproduced, although “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “Homecoming” are good.

      (3) I don’t get the rest of your comment.


  11. Rocky Hessler #

    Great point, Rob! I’m ignorant and lonely, and I should listen to myself.


    PS – it’s ok to speak up when an art form is overvalued. If we give Kanye carte blanche to crank out mediocrity and call it genius irony, then we’re going to get what we deserve.

    PSS – who’s Bob Johnson?


  12. Rob #

    In my haste to ridicule a ridiculous complaint about overthinking on a site called Overthinking It, I screwed up in calling Robert Johnson by a name he didn’t actually go by. My bad.

    Someone is wrong on the internet! Story at 11. But hey, at least I didn’t suggest that I’m the sole true arbiter of artistic merit and everyone else is just pretending to like rap because of white guilt. Now excuse me, I have to leave work and go to a club where I will make “raise the roof” gestures as I gyrate arrhythmically to a drumkit accompanied by autotuned vocalist doubling the bass line at the octave.


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