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Monday, February 21, 2011

"Power" - Kanye West Song Analysis

Today's song was requested by our friend from Romania, Emanual Alexandru, and it's Kanye West's "Power." This is the first single from his fifth album, My Beautiful, Dark Twisted Fantasy, produced by Kanye and Symbolyc One, and features a sample from one of my all-time favorite songs, "Twenty-First Century Schizoid Man" by King Crimson.

As with all analysis, we'll break the song down into four parts - the song itself, the arrangement, the sound and performance.

The Song - Like most rap songs, the form is fairly simple, with the same verse repeating and an interlude (The "21st Century Schizoid Man" sample) thrown in. That is, until the outro, when the song changes and basically turns into a bridge. Highly unusual but very cool. So the form looks something like this:
Intro, 2 verses, interlude,
4 verse (the lyrics could make the last one a chorus although nothing else changes), interlude,
4 verses (the last one could be a chorus), interlude
verse, verse, verse, bridge, outro

The Arrangement - This is a perfect example where the arrangement can make a song, since there's always something different happening in every verse. Instruments (including the drums) drop in and out, creating song dynamics and keeping the interest high. If we look at the musical elements, this is what we have (look here for explanations of the elements of a song):
  • The Foundation - This one's easy, since it's the pretty standard bass and drums.
  • The Rhythm - The rhythm element is an instrument that pushes the track along, usually double time or a complimentary rhythm to the foundation. Unusually, this element does not exist in this song.
  • The Pad - This is highly unusual in that it's a sampled background vocal track that's repeated from the intro through most of the song.
  • Fills - There are a lot of musical fills or contrary lines in this song, and there's not much room for them to stand by themselves. That's OK, because the mix is skillful enough to make them work.
The Sound - I'd love to see the track sheet on this song because I'm sure the number of tracks is pretty high. "Power" is a great example of modern layered ambience and accomplished exclusively with reverbs with short (1 second or less) decay times or short delays. You hear big sounding drums (rap records seem to love John Bonham these days), a separate short room on the background vocals, and most other instruments are either dry and in your face (like the vocal), or have their own short ambience.

Speaking of the repeated background vocal sample. it's a little squashed, but most of the rest of track is not.

The Performance - Kanye's vocal delivers on this tune but for me, it's the harmony background vocals way at the end of the song on the outro that really got me.

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TheEmLog said...

Thank you!

Jordan said...

Wouldn't the rhythm part be the vocals for a hip hop track? I think it fits "an instrument that pushes the track along, usually double time or a complimentary rhythm to the foundation."

Bobby Owsinski said...

Yes, Jordan. You have a point. I never looked at it that way but you're right.

scullley said...

Thanks. I think this is one of the better songs on the record. I think that that vocal "rhythm" part works really well.

Eric-the-Bastard, esq. said...

I'm wondering what this track would have sounded like if all the backing parts would have been performed and tracked live in the studio and all those wonderful harmony vocals would have been sung through as opposed to copied and pasted.

I'm thinking it would have sounded epic and profoundly original.

I don't normally listen to rap or hip hop as I'm a bit of a musical purist (and an old white guy from the suburbs), but I understand this is probably the only genre of music that is moving forward creatively. I just wish it would move backward musically and embrace actual musical performances.

Having said that, the rap on this really detracts from the music like few rap performances that I've listened to. Kanye's voice sounds thin and severely out-of-pocket rhythmically. Kind of ruined an otherwise very interesting track.

TheEmLog said...

First Kanye is not rap anymore. Second I think he will go there with the performance in the future. he made a movie of his album :P and there is a part where he plays on an mpc with "power" vocals and added some viloins. That part is epic! min 5'56"


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