Ever since the sleek, electronic-influenced Graduation, Kanye West has mostly stayed encapsulated in his own celebrity bubble, concerning himself with little other than fake friends and shutter shades. His few rapped verses in 2009 (Kid Cudi’s “Make Her Say,” Drake’s “Forever,” Beyoncé’s “Ego”) were good, but they, too, revealed a self-absorption that provided old Kanye fans—ones with a hankering for the kindliness of cuts like “Family Business” and “Through the Wire”—with reason for concern. When West drunkenly disrupted an acceptance speech from 19-year-old country-pop singer Taylor Swift at the VMAs last fall, it was sad but not unexpected. He had long since lost any sense of humility, a tragic truth that is reinforced by his new single, “Power.”
West has spent the last nine months recording in Hawaii and citing everyone from RZA to Gil Scott-Heron to Nina Simone as influences. He knows his way around a Simone sample (the West-produced “Misunderstood” was one of Common’s last great songs before he began a steep decline), but “Power” shares little in common with 1970s R&B. Instead, the track recycles the echo-y tribal drums from “Love Lockdown” for strident effect, and that chaos builds toweringly as West growls at his staunchest critics. He’s taking no prisoners, and he’s making no apologies for the erratic behavior that landed him in the pop-culture doghouse.