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Kanye West Week Part Eleven: Big Brother

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A commenter on Tom Breihan’s Ten Favorite Moments on ‘Graduation’ said “I liked “Big Brother” until I read a review comparing Toomp’s track to that music you hear during the end credits after you beat the final boss on a japanese fighting game. Now I can’t listen to it again.”, which you know is an accurate description of the song (I’m just not sure why that makes one not able to listen to it ever again). The corny but awesome fan-fare-ish melody of the synths which sound like they are on some kind of “rock guitar” setting, with more plodding, non-”banger”-ish drums, that just keeps going sounds both minor and epic (like a video game victory). It even has the looped feeling of an end music of a video game where it only really ends when you finally hit the POWER button your system, which is sort of how it feels when the beat (and the album) ends anticlimactically. It is odd to end on a song about Jay-Z but even more so because the song sort of just suddenly ends, too abruptly. Maybe even put some kind of cheap phaser on the final notes of the end or an echo or even one of those retarded/great “It’s ya boy!” screams from Jay? Dunno, it just needs something…

I’m sure I’m in part, forcing this interpretation of the song but it really does sound like something of a requiem for Jay-Z. For the millionth time, Kanye is first and foremost a rap fan and so the song is both in honor of Jay-Z but does seem to address his possible falling-off and the less glamorous, assholey part of his personality. Any rap fan can make a connection between his apparent ripping-off of Kanye’s Coldplay idea and those stolen Camp Lo beats. The acknowledgment that Jay “used to be Dame’s…brother” too, expresses a rap-nerd’s disappointment with the dissolution of the Roc as much as it is a personal disappointment for Kanye because he knew the people involved. There are also those lines about how Jay under-estimated Kanye, through a weird Basketball metaphor, with Beanie Sigel’s style being “more of a slam-dunk”, and I can’t help but read that as a sly statement on Jay’s rather questionable abilities to run a label. I mean, I love Beanie Sigel and yeah, in a way, in like 2003, Kanye would seem equally unprepared for stardom, but it seems like everybody except for Jay knew Beanie Sigel wasn’t going to carry “tha Roc” on his shoulders.

But even as Kanye throws some criticisms at his big brother, he takes on plenty of the blame, and through it all, the rap fan’s image of Jay-Z remains untouched. Even when he’s going at “the Presidito” these little rap-nerd Jay-isms interrupt as if the idealized Jay can never be totally erased. See, Kanye mentioning the ‘Blueprint’ track ‘Hola Hovito’ or when he says “By the Black Album, I was blackin’ out” mimicking Jay’s flow from ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulder’ when Jay says “Dropped the Black album then I backed out, as the best rapper alive”…also, ‘Hola Hovito’ and ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulder’ are both Timbaland productions, who of course, worked on parts of ‘Graduation’ and is really the other producer with equal amounts rap “cred” and pop appeal. That, along with those references to No I.D show a deference to other musicians and influences: “”At the Grammys I said I inspired me/But my Big Brother who I always tried to be.” It’s all pretty modest for such a “big-headed” rapper, no?

Just using such a self-deprecating metaphor as the little brother/big brother relationship is something very few rappers would ever do. 50 Cent of course, took the chance to mock it on ‘106 & Park’ and he should have because it’s like embarassingly lame…but that’s also why it’s so affecting; it’s real. The little brother comparison works when it comes to Kanye portraying himself as the egomaniac he can certainly be. Notice the way he mocks his own high-pitched voice and over-excitement when he describes thinking he was going to perform at the ‘Fade to Black’ show (“I’m like YEAH YEAH we gonna be there”) and then comes another scene described, wherein Kanye is the punchline: “Not only did I not get a chance to spit it/Carlene(?) told me I could buy two tickets.”

The song ends on a sincere, “lesson” from Uncle Kanye (“So, here’s a few words from Kid Brother/If you admire somebody you should go ahead and tell em/People never get the flowers while they can still smell em”) but that doesn’t negate the more conflicted aspects of the song. If the song weren’t supposed to be sort of complex or conflicted, he wouldn’t have set up the “kid brother/big brother” dynamic because what relationship is more complicated than one between siblings? The song does not only honor Jay-Z and honestly credit him with helping Kanye’s career, but it also airs some shit out and it’s sort of bouncing back and forth between those two, which probably reflects more accurately Kanye’s relationship with “Young Hov”.

Yep…so that’s the end of “Kanye West Week”. Check back on Friday for back-to-normal entries. Thanks for reading and thanks to all the people leaving smart comments, I usually have more time to respond, so my apologies.-brandon

Written by Brandon

September 19th, 2007 at 4:34 pm

Posted in Kanye West

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