An Unexpected Byproduct of Kanye’s “Power” Portrait

Heading into this past weekend, the last thing on my mind was Greek mythology. But then Kanye West’s video/portrait/teaser/I-don’t-know-what for “Power” premiered, changing the game that I called workfree-Saturday-and-Sunday. I found myself researching Damocles and Dionysius the Elder, looking at paintings starring Ajax and his Trojan-prisoner-killing ways, figuring out why Zeus would disguise himself as a swan to bring Leda to bed and reading the words of author Nathaniel Hawthorne that expressed the importance of understanding older mythology before embracing modern literature. All of this derived from Kanye’s 90-second “Power” clip—fantastic.

See, the thing about me is that I’m a sucker for complex product. I’m the guy who’s watched David Lynch’s 2001 brain-scrambler of a film Mulholland Drive upwards of 20 times just so I can reassess its central plot over and over again. The chap who devours the writings of scribes like Chuck Palahniuk, H.P. Lovecraft and Ramsey Campbell in order to decipher how they construct such intricate prose (a daunting task if ever there was one). The hip-hop head who prefers artists such as Eminem and Lupe Fiasco over whatever else is on the radio these days because MCs of their ilk demand sharp ears, and offer newfound similes and metaphors each time any given verse of theirs is heard. I love a challenge, specifically when it comes to art in its various forms. Sure, I get drunk on weekends and enjoy a dumbed-down song or two while standing alongside a bar, but that’s because, as anyone who’s ever suffered from a hangover knows, alcohol impairs judgment. Take the booze away, and “Teach You How to Dougie” is akin to Freddy Krueger’s finger-blades piercing a chalkboard.

But enough about me. Let’s get to the point already.

After seeing “Power” for the first time last Thursday night, the first thing that came to mind was, oddly enough, the album cover of former Non Phixion member Goretex’s 2004 solo LP, The Art of Dying.

Non Phixion, if you’re unfamiliar, was a trio of dense lyricists from NYC: Ill Bill, Goretex and Sabac Red. I could go on here about how underrated their 2002 record The Future is Now is, but that’s a topic for another post. Just realize that the album features beats by DJ Premier, Pete Rock, The Beatnuts and Large Professor (dynamite), and is anchored sonically by Ill Bill’s blood brother Necro (heavily slept-on as a producer). Highly recommended.

The Art of Dying and “Power?” Probably not the parallel you were expecting.

The connection, to me, is clear: both the cover artwork for The Art of Dying and Kanye’s “Power” video are jammed with striking and difficult-to-pin-down imagery, visuals that, frankly, supersede the music itself. “Power” the song fits the imagery quite well, but now that the video has shown itself, it’s what’s bouncing around in my head more so than the actual song. The same goes for Goretex’s album, which I’m a huge fan of musically, yet an ever bigger fan as far as the artwork is concerned.

In fact, The Art of Dying just might be my favorite album cover of all time. I remember October 2004 vividly. I’d interviewed Goretex for a hip-hop website, and during the chat he mentioned that his intention for the album’s cover was to put something in the marketplace that felt like a relic, in ways; like something that you’d come across in a dollar bin and think, “Damn, when the hell did this come out?” He succeeded, if you ask me.

Like I did with “Power” this past weekend, I spent the weekend of October 29, 2004 researching the hell out of the cover image, which is, if you haven’t figured it out already, seeped in occult imagery. For instance, the moose-looking (or is it more goat-like?) creature seems to be the Horned God of Wicca, a staple in the world of witchcraft. To be honest, though, I’ve yet to fully comprehend what’s going on; to me, it’s an elaborate set-up of random props and religious paraphernalia that Goretex and his crew scrounged together and took photos of in someone’s Brooklyn basement (he’s from BK, as far as I know…he’s kept his background somewhat enigmatic). The other possibility is that Goretex, and/or Necro (the album’s sole producer, and head of its record label, Psycho+Logical) dug up an old photo from some cult database or something. Whatever the case is, it’s all good with me—I may not totally know what’s going on in this picture, and I’m certain it’s a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate its evasiveness and sheer weirdness.

Kanye’s “Power” portrait isn’t the only thing that’s brought his image to mind recently, though. All of this “illuminati” chatter dominating message boards, and forcing Jay-Z to speak out against it in R&B songs (Usher’s “Hot Toddy”), brings The Art of Dying to mind. I’m expecting folks to see this cover and think, “I don’t know who this Goretex cat is, but obviously he’s a mason,” or something to that effect. Do I have any opinion on the matter? Not at all. I’ll save all that for the next guy. I look at this pic and feel nothing but atmosphere, befuddlement, discomfort, an itch to delve deeper into the imagery and general fascination. And, except for the “discomfort” part, those are the exact same things I take from Kanye West’s “Power” video.

You know what’s funny? I literally started typing this post with an entirely different theme. I planned on using The Art of Dying and its connection, in my mind, to “Power” to assemble a list of “albums that aren’t as interesting as their own cover artwork.” I had the following entries in tow: Jedi Mind Tricks’ Legacy of Blood (alternate title could’ve been: The Fire in Which He Burns) Hell Rell’s For the Hell of It (bullet-tooth wallets), Mercedes’s Rear End (did No Limit’s unsung queen rap or sing? Does it matter when she’s spread eagle on the hood of a car?), and, perhaps the granddaddy of them all, Big Bear’s Doin’ Thangs (which speaks for itself, below).

Goretex’s The Art of Dying is one of my favorite album covers ever for reasons completely different than why I’ve always adored Big Bear’s LP packaging. Has anyone ever even listened to Doin’ Thangs? I know I haven’t—I don’t want to risk tainting my affection for the album’s cover if the music itself is a collection of ear-sores.

I think we can end on that note. —Matt Barone

  • Sha

    Conspiracy Theories suck dick! I don’t buy into any of that stuff.

    And about these album covers…..

    These album covers really only give me one piece of information….. It gives me some light into how actually fucked-up the artists actually are. They don’t give me any useful information…. Maybe something to look at while I’m bangin’ their latest CD…..

    About Kanye’s Video….

    This video is dope. But people need to realize something…. Kanye didn’t create this. He had MAYBE a little input. But this is the director’s vision. Kanye was reduced to frame shots just like any other “Extra” in the video. So when people say dumb shit like “Devil Worship”, they seriously need to check out “How to make a rap video 101″. The shit is meant to get people talking so that they will walk to their stores, or computer and cop the album.

    Truth be told…. The video kind of ruined it for me. I had created my own video in my head when I first heard the track. Then Kanye goes and releases this dope shit! Oh well….

    “VIDEO KILLED THE RADIO STAR!!!!”

    • Chatter1010

      Yea bruh thats all true but you gotta think about the face that in the end of it before it gets posted or aired anywhere, Kanye has to look at it. Its not like the director does the video and just put it online without looking at it.

  • Sha

    Conspiracy Theories suck dick! I don’t buy into any of that stuff.

    And about these album covers…..

    These album covers really only give me one piece of information….. It gives me some light into how actually fucked-up the artists actually are. They don’t give me any useful information…. Maybe something to look at while I’m bangin’ their latest CD…..

    About Kanye’s Video….

    This video is dope. But people need to realize something…. Kanye didn’t create this. He had MAYBE a little input. But this is the director’s vision. Kanye was reduced to frame shots just like any other “Extra” in the video. So when people say dumb shit like “Devil Worship”, they seriously need to check out “How to make a rap video 101″. The shit is meant to get people talking so that they will walk to their stores, or computer and cop the album.

    Truth be told…. The video kind of ruined it for me. I had created my own video in my head when I first heard the track. Then Kanye goes and releases this dope shit! Oh well….

    “VIDEO KILLED THE RADIO STAR!!!!!”

  • jesse

    Dope post!

  • Moving Sideways

    Another criminally slept on album with one of my favorite covers was Exile’s solo album Radio. It is one of the best instrumental LP’s since Donuts.

  • Ro

    Use rep code JN24049

    Save 20 percent on Karmaloop

  • gingy

    Great article. I enjoyed it throughly. I also enjoy ‘complex product’ and I’m constantly mindblown by Kanye’s willingness to teeter outside the realm of what people think hip-hop is/should be. I also love the fact that you steered clear of the Illuminati conspiracies. I look forward to reading more of your work. Now excuse me while I watch “Inception” for the 14th time (Kidding, but I sure would like to, I love reading the theories about it!)

  • http://www.bboycult.com $yk

    The moral of the story is…

    symbolism is all around us, even in everyday pictures and signs that we see and habitually ignore.

    Some of you should go into your places of worship, or at work, or restaurants, and see the same images you saw in ‘Power’ depicted in stained glass murals and paintings.

  • El Tico Loco

    That whole Uncle Howie camp is nice and yet so slept on. I think this is the first time I hear them mentioned on this site.

    As far a Kanye’s whatever:

    Maybe people need to concentrate on the blatant conspiracies and worry about the hidden ones at a later time.

  • kedordu

    THE TWO COVERS ARE VERY BAD . THEY MAKE ME WANNA URL . WIERDO !!

  • http://Pierzy11@gmail.com Pierzy

    To piggyback of $yk, the more you learn, the more you find that symbolism is everywhere…and it is often layers deep.

    Stay what you want about Kanye’s videos but at least they’re inspired and don’t consist of the same three scenes like almost every other rap video:
    1. Artist alone in a weird, usually dark place
    2. Artist surrounded by beautiful women and cars
    3. Artist in an urban setting surrounded by 500 people from that same urban setting

    In terms of artwork, some of No Limit’s shit was just insane…and not in a good way.

  • ff1one@yahoo.com

    cosign $yk and all the other deep concious thinkers/hip hop heads.

    first, read people. start with the ALCHMESIT. its a quick read with great meaning.

    second, kayne is a true artist. listen to the way dude talks about his music. Yea ye is an ass hole BUT u gotta respect his skills. His music is great and his videos have always been ground breaking.

    third, none of these thoughts or images are new BUT you gotta salute a dude like KAYNE bringin them to the light. It is sad that people don’t read the full story.

    SN: kayne’s late regristration is no way better than graduation.

  • DV8

    pen & pixel FTW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    those where some of the funniest covers ever

    still havent seen the Kanye video yet.

    Jeru’s “The Sun rises in the East”, The Coup’s “Party Music” (the original cover) and X’s “The Great Depression” both had symbolism in it too. Jeru’s and X’s albums came out before 9-11.

  • Pingback: XXLmag.com - » In Salute of El-P…

  • http://yahoomail.com Official!

    Just listened to that Big Bear album its actually not that bad. I like the track “Aint no love” but that cover is to funny. No limit Cash money cover era….lol

  • Big Brem

    You know back in the day all the southern artists had those album covers done by Pen and Pixel!

  • Pingback: LexZyne News» Blog Archive » In Salute of El-P…

  • goal keeper

    Cant wait for Goretex’s new cd, although he isnt legally allowed to use that name anymore which blows..but so far i heard its going to be sick as fuck

  • Anonymous

    great article gortex is sick as fuck thats a great album and comparison.