How Kanye West's Otis Redding sample on Gone represents his fraught relationship with music

Gone opens with Otis Redding's beautiful voice singing some familiar words:

Wished I had told ooh was (the) only one (uh oh!)
But it's too late, it's too late he's gone

But, wait a minute...something's off. Because those aren't the exact words from It's Too Late, right?

Right. Kanye switched shit up. And there's a reason for it.

Before we get to Kanye's reasoning, let's get one thing out in the open: This isn't the first time Kanye has used a sample to extrapolate meaning, to expose something deeper about himself.


And he's done it his entire career. As far back as All Falls Down, we see Kanye using Lauryn Hill's The Mystery of Iniquity to to further his commentary on American consumerism. While Hill's scope on the song is much larger, as she's lambasting the inequality of the legal system...

It's the mystery of iniquity
Said it's the misery of Inequity
Said it's the history of Inequity
When it all
All falls down

...Kanye is much more focused on the pressure on people to present themselves a certain way to society. While Hill's song discusses capitalism and politics and how society has become morally bankrupt, Kanye takes a much more intimate look by juxtaposing himself with another woman who is looking to live the "American Dream." His small story is made all the more powerful when you take Hill's much larger condemnation of a morally bankrupt system into context.

But on Gone, we see a new trend emerging with Kanye: Conflating a song's production and sample with his own personal, combative relationship with celebrity, with fame, with hip hop. After twisting Otis Redding's sample to expose some deeper feelings about the music industry and his relationship with the public, that technique will go on to define a large chunk of Kanye's career.

Honestly, you could view every single song on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as doing this. After considering Kanye's crippled reputation post-VMAs, the hailed album's tortured romance can then be heard as an allegory for his fraught relationship with fame and hip hop.

On Blame Game, we hear Kanye West reminisce about a past love, and the fallout that tore them apart. As John Legend sings on the hook:

Let's play the blame game, I love you more
Let's play the blame game for sure
Let's call out names, names, I hate you more
Let's call out names, names for sure

And on Kanye's verses, all the talk about writing his pains on bathroom walls, about calling the woman up and then hanging up, about blaming the woman for leading him on but also blaming himself for fucking everything up—all of that could be defamiliarizing his lost connection with society. 

Even Chris Rock's outro can be viewed as a tragic illustration of this broken relationship. Every time Rock asks a question, like, "Who taught you how to get sexy?" the woman in the song repeats, "Yeezy taught me." If we're going with the proposed theory, then this becomes Kanye realizing that he has been dumped by the industry he helped shape. Fucking tragic.

Devil in a New Dress, Runaway, Hell of a Life, Lost in the World—all of those songs are doing the same thing. And it all started back on Gone.

We know from All Falls Down that Kanye has always used samples to further explore the themes of his albums—and we know that eventually Kanye will use entire albums to tell stories about his relationship with the industry. So it's not that crazy to think that Kanye's word-twisting on Gone carries a deeper meaning that previews what he'd accomplish on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

So. Back to that opening hook:

Wished I had told ooh was (the) only one (uh oh!)
But it's too late, it's too late he's gone

As noted, those aren't the actual words from It's Too Late. These are:

Wished I had told her
Ooh she was my only one
But it's too late, it's too late
She's gone

Hmmm...Otis Redding's song is about a woman...

And, hmmm...Kanye removes "her" and changes "she's gone" to "he's gone"...

Could Kanye possibly be exposing his taxing relationship with the music industry and the people who consume his music through a heartbroken love song?

Nah. He would never.