I’ve been obsessed with the song “Last Call” and the creator, Kanye West, since 2004. My freshman year of high school I rode the bus to the soundtrack of College Dropout daily. With an album full of coming-of-age Yeezy-isms like Ain’t no tuition for having no ambition. And ain’t no loans for sittin’ yo ass at home and I’m so self conscious. That’s why you always see me with, at least, one of my watches, I related to Kanye. The album charted my own personal and academic development.
When I was 15 and got my first job at McDonald’s, Spaceship really took me to a dream world where I had the strength to say If my manager insults me again, I will be assaulting him. After I fuck the manager up, then I’ma shorten the register up. I spit Look at my check, wasn’t no scratch. So if I stole, wasn’t my fault. Yeah I stole, never got caught with the confidence of someone who was successfully moving iMacs out the back of a Circuit City while I faux-rebelliously nommed on my employee discount-provided Egg McMuffin.
As I grew older, Kanye opened my eyes to the new racism and introduced me to civil disobedience:
They take me to the back and pat me. Asking me about some khakis. But let some Black people walk in, I bet you they show off they token Blackie. Oh! Now they LOVE Kanye, let’s put him all in front of the store! So I’m on break next to the No Smoking sign with a blunt in the mall.
In my early 20s, Kanye articulated exactly how I felt working on a phd:
Y’all don’t know my struggle. Y’all can’t MATCH my hustle. You can’t CATCH my hustle. You can’t FATHOM my love! Dude, lock yourself in a room doing 5 beats a day for three summers. That’s A Different World like Cree Summers. I deserve to do these numbers!!!!
Kanye helped a preacher’s kid like myself hone my personal religious beliefs:
I ain’t here to argue about his facial features or here to convert atheists into believers. I’m just tryna say the way schools need teachers, the way Kathie Lee needed Regis, that’s the way I need Jesus.
Kanye helped me appreciate my own family tree:
I get down for my grandfather who took my mama, made her sit in that seat where white folks ain’t want us to eat. At the tender age of 6 she was arrested for the sit-ins. And with THAT in my blood I was born to be different.
Kanye anger translated my high school and college experience:
My freshman year I was going through hella problems, til I, built up the nerve to drop my ass up out of college. My teacher said I was a loser, I told her why don’t you kill me? I give a fuck if you fail me! I’m gonna follow, my heart.
Kanye taught me to build friendships with like-minded people:
Why you think me and Dame cool? We assssssholes! That’s why we hear your music and fasssst forward. Cause we don’t wanna hear that weak shit no moooooooore.
Kanye caused me to place a high importance on keeping the physical in tip-top shape:
All the mocha lattes, you gotta do Pilates. You gotta pop this tape in, before you start back dating!
Kanye helped me celebrate crossing the Greatest Sorority On Earth:
She was with me before the deal, she been tryna be mine. She a Delta, so she been throwing that Dynasty sign.
Kanye perpetuated the pathological habit Black Americans have of silencing our struggle:
You tell me you ain’t did it then you ain’t did it. And if you did, then that’s family business.
In short, Yeezy taught me.
I was only 14 but I was an Allen. And with that in my blood I was born to be different. That family name just comes with some shit. I’m one generation removed from Compton, California. If you don’t know the area, that sentence structure probably seems strange but there’s no other way I’d put it. It basically means I’m close enough to a lot of things to be able to calculate a pretty accurate cost/benefit analysis of a lot of decisions. That being said, College Dropout spoke to me on a very real, untapped level: I loved, but couldn’t personally relate to, the Clipse or 50’s Get Rich or Die Trying and I damn sure wasn’t listening to anything by R. Kelly. But then there was Ye.
His honesty, vulnerability, and ignorance spoke to me. He was figuring it all out. And so was I.
At the time, I couldn’t articulate why a song like Last Call appealed to a 14-year-old Black kid living in Virginia suburbs with no direct threat at bay. A year later, Kanye made it clear for me with the track Roses off his sophomore album Late Registration. He raps about visiting his grandma in the hospital. I know it’s past visiting hours, but can I please give her these flowers? It’s said that you should give people their flowers while they can still smell them, rather than at their funeral. The latter isn’t usually said but that’s the implication, I assume. I think we at an all-time high. To get there, we run, we fly, we drive. Cause with my family we know where home is, so instead of sending flowers, we the roses.
That stuck with me, but probably in less sentimental ways than it would for most. Lifetime Achievement Awards looking back on a lifetime of dopeness always irritated me. Why would I, a dope 14-year-old skateboarding, freestyle rapping, math-loving, civic-minded, genius Black kid have to wait an enttiiiiiiireee liiiiiifetime for recognition? That made no sense to me. And here was Kanye West on his very first album, giving himself his roses. You want me to be great, but you don’t ever want me to say I’m great? Yeah. I was here for that.
On his very first album, before it was released, before any public reception. Even if the album sells one copy, he’s taking a second to pat himself on the back. We need to do that more. Kanye a little less, but most of us, more.
Before we go any further, you have to click play. Let “Last Call” play while you read the rest of this. Trust the kid.
Last Call opens with Kanye’s big brother Jay-Z saying yo fuck you Kanye first and foremost for making me do this shit and I loved it. I’m that person who always wants to document everything. Well, the important things. And our stories are important. Black Millennials are important. We elected our first Black president, Barack Obama, we protest and bring legislative and societal change, we lead. And yet nobody seems to know who we are. Articles on millennials often exclusively speak to white millennials.
Then Kanye tells his story. In his own words. At the time it was happening. The beginning of his journey. That’s what we want to read and we’re missing it – stories of how other people are navigating this thing called life. Our 20s can seem like a constant cycle of doubt-filled drama and debt but that’s what growing pains are. We need those stories. And my brother told me if I can’t find it anywhere else, just write it myself. So I want to let young Black millennials tell their journey this far. More on that later.
The two verses Kanye spits on Last Call are cool, not great. But they’re the beginning of Kanye telling his story in a very Kanye way.
Ain’t nobody expect Kanye to end up on top. They expected that College Dropout to drop it and flop.
From him pointing out the doubters, to his still unmatched confidence in his gift, and the mention of his near-death experience, it’s all Ye.
Flow infectious, give me ten seconds. I’ll have a buzz bigger than insects in Texas. It’s funny how won’t nobody interested, til the night I almost killed myself in Lexus
But the most telling line of the two verses captures the entire story: Kanye’s supreme confidence, the failures, the hustle:
Some say he arrogant, can y’all blame him? It was straight embarrassing how y’all played him. Last year shopping my demo, I was trying to shine. Every motherfucker told me that I couldn’t rhyme. Now I could let them dream killers kill my self-esteem or use my arrogance as the steam to power my dreams.
And of course there’s the fashion callout from the YOU SEE THIS COAT Kanye.
I don’t listen to the suits behind the desk no mo’. You niggas wear suits cause you can’t dress no mo’. You can’t say shit to Kanye West no mo’! I rocked 20,000 people, I was just on tour! Nigga!
But the best part of the 12 minute 41-second track starts around the 4 minute mark. This soulful sample loops for the next 8 minutes while Kanye Omari West tells the story of him signing with Rocafella. He’s not even rapping. He’s talking to us like that first winter break back home after freshman year of college: you really miss your home squad. Y’all are catching up. Joking on each other. And someone makes a joke that Kanye don’t know what it’s like to struggle anymore now that he “made it” and this was his response: how he “made it” so far.
So this A&R over at Roc-A-Fella named Hip Hop picked the ‘Truth’ beat for Beanie. And I was in the session with him. I had my demo with me, you know? Like I always do. I play the songs, he’s like ‘Who’s that spittin?’ I’m like “it’s me!” He’s like ‘Oh, okay’
And um, he was friends with my mentor, no ID. No ID told him, ‘Look man, you wanna mess with Kanye, you need to tell him that you like the way he rap.’
Kanye was prepared. He had his demo. His mentor knew someone who would sign Kanye as a producer and a rapper.
People were talking about the ghost production but that’s how I got in the game. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be here. So you know, after they picked that “Truth” beat I was figuring I was gonna do some more work but shit just wasn’t poppin off like that.”
This is such an important part of his story – the work now. He’s not claiming to be self-made and to have blown people away instantly with his craft. He networked. He just kept grinding. Instagram will have you confused. We all flex. Kanye knows that better than any of us:
I was staying in Chicago, I had my own apartment. I’d be doing beats for local acts just to try to keep the lights on, and then to go out and buy, get a Pelle Pelle off layaway, get some Jordans or something…”
One of my homies that was one of my artists, he got signed. But it was supposed to really go through my production company, but he ended up going straight with the company. So like I’m just straight holding the phone, getting the bad news that dude was trying to leave my company. And I got evicted at the same time… I loaded up all my equipment and the first beat I made was ‘Heart of the City’.
While Kanye’s friends and family may have seen him making a little money and stunting, Kanye thought it might all fall apart here: evicted, his artist moved without him, what next? Then he made that beat. Played it for Beanie Siegel and Jay-Z walked in.
I remember that Gucci bucket, [Jay] took it and like put it over his face and made one of them faces like ooooooh.
It’s all coming up Kanye again. He started feeling himself and told Jay he could rap.
I spit this rap that said ‘I’m killing yall niggas on that lyrical shit. Mayonnaise-colored Benz, I push Miracle Whips.’ And I saw his eyes light up when I said that line but the rest, the rap was like real wack and shit. You know, I ain’t get no deal then…”
We fall down. But we have some wins too:
Blueprint, H to the Izzo, my first hit single. I took that proudly, built relationships with people. My relationship with Kweli I think was one of the best ones to ever happen to my career as a rapper. He allowed me to go ont our with him. Man, I appre-, I love him for that.”
Kanye even had Jessica Rivera, who worked at the label who wouldn’t sign him, come in and record a line “Man you niggas is stupid if yall don’t sign Kanye, for real” So finally Kanye’s moment is happening. After all the doubt, all the work, doing five beats a day for three summers, getting evicted, watching his peers move on, Joe 3H at Capitol Records wants to sign Kanye badly. Dame Dash was kinda trying to pull Kanye to the Roc at this point but I told 3H I was gonna do it, and I’m a man of my word, I was gonna roll with what I said I was gonna do.
Naysayers were talking to Joe Weinberger and the Capitol heads about Kanye not being as good a rapper as a producer. The day he was going to sign the paperwork, disaster hit.
I planned out everything I was gonna do. Man, I had picked out clothes. I already started booking studio sessions. I started arranging my album, thinking of marketing schemes. Man I was ready to go. And they had Mel call me, they said “yo… Capitol pulled on the deal”.
There are about 30 seconds left in the song here. The sample drops out. The beat stops. It’s just Kanye.
I went up, I called G. I said, “man, you think we could still get that deal with Roc-A-Fella?”
The goosebumps I got that first time I heard the reverb on Roc-A-Fella (fella, fella fella, fella) are the same ones I get now. Every time I hear that part. Just when you think it’s all over. When you think your “big shot” is missed, it works out better. “Last Call” ends with Kanye West losing a record deal and calling his friend and saying, “…you think we could still get that deal with Roc-a-Fella?” And that’s my favorite part of the song. It’s not all wins. And it’s not always the plan you had or wanted. But you’re making progress.
It ends with that. Because Kanye’s gonna prove the rest. This album was just step one.
It’s the honesty in “Last Call”. He tells of the highs and the lows. I read this article a little while back about Life Unfiltered and how it is just so important to see the work people put in, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. And if it is, that’s motivation, too. Take what you can from people’s stories. But when you think you’re the only one losing sleep, stressing out, putting the hours in, staying focused, and thinking ahead, isolation sets in. Black millennial depression is real. While our non-Black counterparts are dealing with the stressors of life like figuring out our career and building relationships, we also have to deal with constant videos of cops murdering Black kids, women, and men. It’s tough out here. And I want this series to be a place of solidarity in this Black Excellence journey.
From Kanye walking around with his demo just on him, prepared to meet opportunity, to him signing the deal with Roc-A-Fella, “Last Call” really only marks the beginning of the epic narrative that is Kanye West. I see “Last Call” as being a moment to stop and celebrate your success because we don’t get a chance to do that often as young Black millennials, and this is the last call for that celebration, time to get back to work.
“Last Call” came on shuffle recently and I got an idea:
hey really dope friends, i’m going to be hitting you up over the next few weeks cause i stan for you and want to write about you. yay.
— Lauren Chanel (@MichelleHux) December 28, 2015
I’m going to be talking to few dope Black Millennials to sort of give them a chance to do their own Last Call and tell their story. They’ve either gotten to where they are now in a dope way, have a dope product/brand, or just have dopeness pumping through their veins. I hope you guys are able to get something from the Last Call series. Be easy.