I'm Trippin' Off The Power

I’m Trippin’ Off The Power

Did Kanye West tell SNL to kiss his whole ass?


Did anybody else see what just happened there? Kanye actually said, “Fuck SNL and the whole cast.” He just hid it real well.

For your convenience, the new second verse is transcribed below:

The brown hero live from Ground Zero
Machine gun flow made a ghetto Ross Perot
And this is disestablishmentarianism
With my night goggles on, yeah, military vision
And it’s still a very Christian way to think about living
When you praying for freedom cause your mind been in prison
Cause they tryin to control every single life decision
You ain’t effin’ the system then why the eff is you living?
Look dog, you can cop whatever suits you on
Three piece, cuff links and the accoutrements
They been feeding us [shit] without the nutrients
So I’m back with another hit to let the truth be known
And your boy still fresh with the Gucci on
Them Italians sure know how to make what the moulies want
And they really can’t take what dude be on
But I be on the same thing til you prove me wrong

The second verse of “Power” started off as a personal reflection on the travails of becoming a world-famous MC. When you become successful, you make a lot of enemies. You also goad a lot of people into making fun of you, like SNL. So Kanye fired a shot off against SNL for having dissed him in the past. SNL responded by inviting him to perform. If we view this as a power play between two forces in popular culture – Kanye vs. Lorne Michaels – that was a cunning riposte on SNL’s part. By having him on their show, SNL could co-opt his language. They would own it, at least in part, by having given him a venue from which to rap.

Kanye’s response was to change up that second verse into something completely different. As a power play, that’s a frankly astonishing response. It’d be equivalent to Campbell’s asking Andy Warhol to exhibit Campbell’s Soup Cans at their headquarters in Camden, New Jersey, and Warhol showing up with a robot made out of a microwave oven. SNL thought they were showing how cool they were with being told to kiss Kanye’s ass(hole). Kanye played it off like he had something else entirely to say.

(Who says Kanye and SNL are at odds? Kanye said it. Who says SNL is either a gatekeeper or a stepping stone on the path to power? Kanye said it, by including them in his bangin’ new song called “Power.” You might not agree with either point – and that’s fine; I’m playing in a more theoretical realm than usual – but that’s the scenario Kanye pitched us)

So what did he have to say?

First off, the very act of changing up that verse entirely calls attention to it. Anyone who knew the song was on the edge of their seat, wondering what would happen. When listeners realized that the entire verse was being changed up, it became that much more memorable.

Second, Kanye compares himself to Ross Perot. Those of us who remember Ross Perot primarily from his SNL parodies may think of the billionaire as a giant joke. But Ross Perot was also one of the most successful third-party Presidential candidates of all time. He amassed over 18% of the popular vote in 1992, getting just shy of 10 times the votes that Ralph Nader did in 2000. Perot was a wealthy (and eccentric) outsider who sought to break up existing power structures in Washington, D.C. He challenged the establishment. You might say he practiced “disestablishmentarianism.”


How Pe' doin'? I'm survivin'.

Third, Kanye describes the Italian fashion popular among gangsta rappers: “Gucci” “three piece” suits with “cuff links and the accoutrements.” He’s calling out rappers specifically: “moulies” is an offensive slang term for black people. When Kanye observes that “them Italians sure know how to make what the moulies want,” he’s being ironic again.

In this new verse, Kanye is delivering a message to everyone else who wants to climb the ladder – everyone else who wants power. Rap music, now several generations removed from Grandmaster Flash, has created an abundance of imagery for ambitious performers. If you want to show that you’ve arrived on the rap scene, you dress like an Italian gangster. And if you want to climb the music charts, the best way to tell if you’ve arrived is if you get to perform on SNL.

But are you really breaking new ground? Or are you just doing what they expect you to do?

Kanye has never been a man content with existing dialogues about race and power in America. This is the man who interrupted Mike Myers on national TV to assert that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” in the wake of the levees breaking in New Orleans. This is a man who quotes Spike Lee’s Malcolm X as the chorus to a hit single. He clearly doesn’t think the existing means of redress can handle racial injustices.

He’s exhorting black people to stand up, take charge, and seek power through any means necessary. “Until then,” he yells, “fuck that, the world’s ours!”

And yet, at the same time, Kanye is also warning people who might follow in his footsteps. Once you reach this point, he’s saying, you’ll be tempted to fall into the old means of doing things. You might want to run for office, or record an album where you talk about smacking bitches. Be careful with what they offer you. And take stock of your own heart as well, since you’ll be assaulted from all angles.

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?

Kanye wants the young black people inspired by his video to reconsider the imagery that pop culture presents them. Don’t let the Italian suits put your “minds in prison.” Follow Kanye through the darkness with his “night goggles.” Don’t think that working within the system will get you what you want: “if you ain’t effin’ the system, then why the eff is you living?”

Kanye’s saying that rappers, and rap music, need more political and social consciousness. And he’s not alone in saying that.

Of course, one can question how good Kanye has been at staying outside the system, with his multiple #1 albums, his millions of dollars in suits, and his flights around the world. But Kanye himself would recognize this irony. He knows that, to get the platform he needs to preach his gospel of change, he needs to sell out. He can’t spread a message of disestablishmentarianism without getting on a soapbox from the Establishment – Saturday Night Live, the most watched sketch show in America. That’s a paradox he acknowledges.

But he still enjoys it. At the end of the day? God damn it, he’s killing that shit.


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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