There are songs in Hip-Hop that become a cultural phenomenon and Kanye West’s ‘POWER’ from his fifth studio album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is certainly one of those.
Tomorrow (Nov. 22) marks the 10th anniversary of Kanye’s album which is often regarded as one of the best releases of 2010s across all genres. So it was only right that we took a trip down memory lane with focus on ‘POWER’, the lead single from the classic LP that set the tone for what the music world was about to be hit with.
‘POWER’ was released on May 28, 2010 with production coming from Symbolyc One aka S1 and additional contributions from Mike Dean, Jeff Bhasker and Kanye himself. Built around samples of ‘21st Century Schizoid Man‘ by King Crimson and ‘Afromerica‘ by Continent Number 6, it was an important single for ‘Ye who was coming off a singing heavy album (808s & Heartbreak) and a controversial encounter with Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
S1, a relatively unknown producer at the time is the one who supplied the essential skeleton of the genre-bending song to Kanye. When Kanye’s close associate at the time, Rhymefest made Kanye hear the beat for the first time, the G.O.O.D. Music boss said it made him “want to rap again.”
After the initial push with the help of an eye catching placement, S1 went on to produce for Eminem, Logic, The Game, Drake, Lecrae, Lil Uzi Vert, Lupe Fiasco, Beyonce and even Madonna. He has also co-produced Meek Mill’s brand new single ‘Pain Away‘ featuring Lil Durk, taken from his Quarantine Pack EP, which released Friday.
For our third interview together, S1 and I talked about the legendary status of ‘POWER’, how the song was made in Hawaii, the original chorus featuring Marvel characters saying “power,” the verses that didn’t make the cut, the chanting sample being remade in the studio, what artists he’s been working with lately, and more. Check it out below.
HHNM: Congratulations to you on the 10 year anniversary of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Such a monumental time. We all agree that it’s one of the best albums of all time and a song that you produced was really what kicked off the whole campaign. How do you feel about that being such a big turn in Kanye’s career?
S1: It’s a blessing, man. Just to be a part of that. You know, that moment in my life and career, working on that album and that song was really my turning point in my career so it was just an exciting time. I remember just being out in Hawaii with all these people that I looked up to and had a big influence on me and I’m actually working with them. Not to mention just being in there with Kanye. So just being a part of that, the energy was just amazing, man. It’s one of those things to where every day while we’re in there working and listening to these songs, we knew it was something special.
In my case, it was one of the hardest things too because everything was so secretive and quiet. I couldn’t really tell anybody that ‘hey, I’m going to Hawaii to work with Kanye’, ‘I’m working with him’, or ‘I got this song’ or ‘I’m about to have his next single’. Like, I had to be quiet, so it was just kinda, a lot of anxiety (laughs). But it was a great time, man. It was definitely one for the books.
Yeah. You’re so excited about something which is potentially gonna change your life but you can’t tell anybody about it. I’ve been through those moments, it’s such a weird moment to be in.
Oh yeah, definitely man. Definitely.
I know it’s a long story but just in brief, take us back to that moment when this happened, when you sent that beat folder to Rhymefest and he played that beat for Kanye in the studio.
Yeah. Like you said, I was working with Rhymefest who I was introduced to by my good friend Phonte of Little Brother. He introduced me to Rhymefest, I started sending him beats. Rhymefest loved the beat packs I sent him but it was a situation where he was at the end of his budget for his album. So he hit me one day, he was like ‘yo S, I love these four beats but I can only pay you for two’. After thinking about it, I was cool. I was like ‘man, just pay me for the two and I’ll just give you the other two beats’. I winded up giving him those and he recorded four songs and then I didn’t really think anything of it. A couple months later, he calls me and he’s whispering. He’s like ‘yo S, I’m out here in Hawaii with Kanye, we’re in the studio. Send me some beats over and if I get the opportunity, I’ll try to play him some’. I was like ‘cool’. I go to my computer, put some beats in the folder, send it over to him. A week passes by, a week and a half passes by and I haven’t heard from him, so I’m like ‘okay, either Kanye wasn’t feeling the beats he played or Rhymefest didn’t get to play the beats for him’. So I forgot about it, I was like ‘okay, that didn’t work out’.
But about two weeks later, Rhymefest sends me this text and when I get the text and read it, it says “Kanye is loving your stuff. He just said he’s about to change your life.”
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(Laughs) Yeah, I remember reading that in your memoir.
(Laughs) Yeah. So, I’m looking at this text and just tripping out over it. Then I end up getting an email from Don C who was serving as Kanye’s manager at the time. He basically told me ‘yo, we’re flying you out here, get to the airport’. I wind up doing that. Got to Hawaii, went straight to the studio. It was about 2AM. When I got there, it was Rhymefest, Kanye and an engineer in the room. So, I walked through, Rhymefest introduced us. Kanye’s like ‘yo, I’m loving your beats, they’re making me wanna rap again’. He was like ‘I already recorded to one of the joints that you sent with the chants, I’ll play it for you’. So he played it for me and it was the earlier version of ‘Power’. It was more stripped down, different chorus, different verses. But it was super dope. I remember just tripping out, listening to it. My whole thought process was like ‘wow, I’m actually in the studio with Kanye and he’s rapping over my beats’. You know, Kanye was one of those top influential producers that I’ve always looked up to and was a big fan of his work. That’s pretty much how that went down.
“But about two weeks later, Rhymefest sends me this text and when I get the text and read it, it says “Kanye is loving your stuff. He just said he’s about to change your life.”
So crazy. Kanye’s mentioned before that ‘Power’ is the first time that he actually wrote his verses, that was the turning point in his songwriting process. And he’s also mentioned that he spent 5000 hours crafting the song.
The ‘Power’ joint? Yeah (laughs).
How many cuts were there of the song and how many times did you go back to Hawaii to finish it?
Oh, man. I went to Hawaii while working on the album maybe three times. The second time I went back there for another two weeks, that’s when I actually found out that I had his first single. That’s when they were really diving into it, trying different things. There were so many different hooks, other people laying verses. Just trying to figure out what it’s gonna be, how the mix is gonna be and everything because this is the rollout song. But yeah, literally every day in the studio, Kanye would come in and he would pull that song up or another song up and just really dial into it. There was so much detail put into these songs, trying things and no matter who it came from, he would always keep the best. Whoever contributed the best part of the song, he would keep it. So for instance, if I’m working on the drums for the song or Timbaland is working or RZA or No I.D. or whoever, he’s gonna listen to all of them and be like ‘okay, I like this one’ or ‘I like this piece from here’. So he’s just taking pieces and rearranging… It’s brilliant, bro. It’s a whole new way of working and that’s when I really started to realize the power of collaboration. Like, ‘okay, I have an idea, but let me get the best people for the job to build this idea for me’. Instead me just being like ‘I know I can do the idea’. But if we use the strengths of everybody to create this idea, it’s gonna be so much better than just my mind. So that was a moment for me.
So crazy. You know the forum KTT, right?
Oh, yeah, KanyeToThe, yeah.
So our writer Akaash, he had a great idea. We made a thread and we told them that we are interviewing you, so we asked the fans if they had any questions about the song for you. They actually sent us some interesting ones. One of them is, ‘did Kanye do any other concepts over the beat besides ‘Power’?’
Well, it was always the same concept. However, there were multiple versions, so many versions of the song. For instance, when I first heard it, when he first played the song for me, the chorus was chopped up with Marvel characters saying “power”. So it was like the voices of Marvel characters chanting “power”. He chopped it and he was saying stuff in between the song. He made a chorus basically out of chopping those together. The verses were completely different, but it was basically the same concept though. He always knew the concept, it just was different trying to figure out what was gonna be the final part of the song.
“It was always the same concept. However, there were multiple versions, so many versions of the song. For instance, when I first heard it, when he first played the song for me, the chorus was chopped up with Marvel characters saying “power”. So it was like the voices of Marvel characters chanting ‘power’.”
Right. I think you’ve mentioned before that there were several verses for the song which did not make the cut, many options that he had.
Yeah, lot of verses. (Laughs) I can’t remember the verses. It was just the fact that he was rapping over my beats and I’m like ‘oh this is really Kanye spazzing out over my beat’.
That must have felt surreal. Another interesting question that one fan had. ‘Is it true that the chanting sample was actually remade in the studio?’
Yes it is true and that’s crazy because even now when I listen to the song, I forget that that’s the remake because it’s so good. Big ups Ken Lewis and Alvin Fields. They’re the ones that recreated that sample because we were having clearance issues so they went in and redid it but it sounds amazing. It sounds actually better than the original (laughs). They did an amazing job.
They did that at the studio in Hawaii when you were there?
No no, I think they did that in their studio. I think he sent it to them. I know Ken was telling me they hired a couple of people to come in and give it that effect. I think he said Alvin is doing some of the high notes, sounding like a girl too and they just recorded a bunch of them together.
Kanye is so crazy with all of these elements. I remember reading in your book when we did a piece earlier in January, you mentioned how the blessing of working with Kanye happened because you had given Rhymefest those free beats. Tell us about how upcoming producers can get inspired from that and learn from it.
That was something I really didn’t know until months after the album was out. I had a conversation with Rhymefest and he basically told me ‘yo, no-one has ever looked out for me like you did in that situation’. He told me ‘since you blessed me in that situation when I needed your help, I felt like I had to return the favor and send that blessing back’. So I always think to myself, ‘what if I would have told him no?’ None of that would have existed. It’s one of those things, just being of service to people just because you’re supposed to, not doing it for anything in return, it always comes back in a good way, as a blessing. But it’s all about your intent of how you’re doing something for someone.
“It’s one of those things, just being of service to people just because you’re supposed to, not doing it for anything in return, it always comes back in a good way, as a blessing. But it’s all about your intent of how you’re doing something for someone.”
Absolutely, that’s so true. What other collaborations are you working on now? I remember last time you spoke you had done some work with Eminem and J. Cole. What are you cooking up now?
Actually, quite a bit. I had a Meek Mill song drop yesterday so definitely check that, it’s called ‘Pain Away’. I produced it with my guy Epikh Pro, it’s featuring Lil Durk. I’ve definitely been working with J. Cole a lot. I don’t know what he’s doing as far as releasing, kinda just in the dark with a lot of stuff. I’m still sending Em stuff. He’s been asking for sessions, stems. He’s very secretive (laughs). Oh, I’ve been working with Rapsody a lot and we’ve been making some incredible music. We’ve got about maybe 14, 15 song right now. Super locked in with Rap. So her, and then I have a new artist Derek Scott who’s amazing too. We’ve been releasing some music, released a couple songs, but we’re about to really start unloading and releasing some more bodies of work and more songs as well.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, S1 has released “Sounds and Loops I made for MBDTF” pack containing sounds he personally made while working on the album. You can get your copy here.