The beauty of Kanye West rapping "No way, José" on Big Brother
I know this might seem like a nothing moment, but it really marks the beauty of Kanye West's abilities as a storyteller when he says "Translate, español: No way, José" in Big Brother.
Don't believe me? Think it's just some goofy line? Let me explain.
Big Brother is the final song on Graduation—an album that finds Kanye being hailed as a champion in Chicago, moving out into the real world, indulging in the drugs, money, drunk-and-hot girls that come with fame, reflecting on himself, and then returning back home.
On Homecoming, when he makes his way back to Chicago, Kanye wonders about his city: "Do you think about me now and then?" showing that he's scared Chicago will forget about him now that he's gone (he knows that Chicago never messes with entertainers "'cause they always leave.") And sure enough, throughout that song, we see that Kanye's relationship with Chicago is forever changed. To become "Kanye West," Kanye needed to go out and conquer the world and embrace his fame—and it came at a cost.
A quick recap: The first 11 of 13 songs on Graduation are Kanye's pursuit of fame; those songs feature Kanye going on a character journey where he's changing his behavior and demeanor to morph into what a "celebrity" is supposed to be. Then the final two songs are the external results of that behavior: soured relationships with both Chicago and JAY-Z—his big brother.
So on those first 11 songs, Kanye aspires to mirror the rap gods in his life who are living that celebrity life. Well, Big Brother kicks off with this hook:
My big brother was B.I.G.'s brother
Used to be Dame and Biggs' brother
Who was Hip Hop brother, who was No I.D. friend
No I.D. my mentor, now let the story begin
In that hook, Kanye name-drops, like, GIANT players in the rap industry, mostly associated with Roc-a-Fella Records. The progression is kinda amazing: Notorious B.I.G. is one of the biggest rappers ever and an idol to kids everywhere, while No I.D. was Kanye's mentor when he was just 14 years old. Moving up from No I.D. (where Kanye once was) to B.I.G. (to where Kanye is now), those men get progressively more and more famous. It's almost like Kanye is saying that from his childhood dreams to his superstar reality, Jay has always been there.
With that framework in place, it makes sense that in the first verse, we see Kanye idolizing Jay, too shy to even "say hi" to the man that could change his life. He starts the verse with:
It's the Hard Knock Life Tour, sellout
Picture us in the mall, coppin' Iceberg and yell out "Jigga"
Young, impressionistic, stanning his ass off—young Kanye isn't Jay's familiar, but instead a fan. It's important to note Kanye's virgin state because, just as we see on the album, soon he'll indulge in the temptations of celebrity.
In verse two, Jay becomes more familiar with Kanye:
I'd play my little songs in that old back room
He'd bob his head and say "Damn! Oh, that's you?"
When that happens? Kanye starts partying and blacking out. His ego makes him believe he can have whatever he wants—until Jay denies him two tickets to one of his shows. The inflated ego that blew up on Can't Tell Me Nothing, Barry Bonds, Drunk & Hot Girls, Flashing Lights is deflated by the man Kanye aspired to be.
That progression finally brings us to the third verse, where Kanye starts with:
Have you ever walked in the shadow of a giant?
Not only a client, the Presidito, hola, Hovito
There's a lot packed in these lines. First, let's start with that last part, which is actually a nod to a Jay song called Hola Hovito. Jay kicks off that song with:
They say "Hola Hovito!"
That's what they sayin' when I roll with my people
Throughout the song, Jay uses a lot of broken Spanish to describe and give personality to his environment. He paints a scene where he's not surrounded by his fans, but instead his familiars—the people close to him call him "Hovito."
And Kanye always wanted to be one of those people. Once a fan who yelled out "Jigga" at a show, he wants to become someone who can say "Hovito."
Here's the next layer: The "Presidito" line not only refers to Jay, but also B.I.G., who closes out his song One More Chance with:
Lyrically, I'm supposed to represent
I'm not only a client, I'm the player President
It's like Kanye is saying that Jay has replaced B.I.G.—from Presidito to Hovito, there's a new leader in place.
Kanye starts the album wanting to be a celebrity, but is put in his place by the end of the album. Even after becoming one of the biggest rappers on the planet and producing beats for one of the other biggest rappers on the planet...Kanye still feels like he's walking in the shadow of Jay. His successes and his anxieties are suddenly wrapped into one—Jay is not only his client, but the president who towers above him.
When you consider the entire album is about exposing the hollowness of celebrity, this makes sense. He always wanted to become part of the Roc-a-fella team, but where did it get him? Is Kanye happy? After losing his city and his big brother, was it all worth it?
The kicker to it all? After this entire journey where Kanye dreamed of celebrity and then experienced the stark realities of celebrity, he's then betrayed by celebrity:
I told Jay I did a song with Coldplay
Next thing I know he got a song with Coldplay
Back in my mind I'm like, "Damn, no way"
Translate, español: "No way, José"
And this is where the album ends—with Kanye using a common, everyday name to refer to Jay in the same way Jay uses broken Spanish on Hola Hovito. From yelling out "Jigga!" as a fan to becoming part of "Hovito's" crew to Jay just being another "José," you can track Kanye's entire journey on the album. While that line seems goofy and meaningless on the surface, it actually encapsulates Kanye's detachment from the celebrity life he wished to achieve—what once was exciting becomes familiar, humdrum, normal.