On Kanye's "Last Call"

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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 growth.

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 3 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 the importance of my 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 mooooore.

Kanye encouraged me to place a high priority 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 gave me the perfect Instagram caption when I pledged 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.

In short, Yeezy taught me.

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. That saying has always 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 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 was hooked. Then Kanye tells his story. In his own words. At the time it was happening. The beginning of his journey. Our 20s can seem like a constant cycle of doubt-filled drama and debt. We need those stories of how other people are navigating this thing called life. 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.

 The Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer of the Roc

The Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer of the Roc

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 in-fec-tious, 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 the way y’all played him
Last year shopping my demo, I was tryna shine
Every motherfucker told me that I couldn’t rhyme
Now I could let these 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!

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, reminiscing about old times:

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 spitting?” 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 might sign Kanye as a producer and a rapper. Stay ready so you don't have to get ready.

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.”

But sometimes things don't go the way we want. Success is rarely linear. This is such an important part of his story. Kanye'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 get a Pelle Pelle on layaway. Get some Jordans or something...

One of my artists got signed. It was supposed to go through my production company, but he ended up going straight with the company. I’m 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 y’all 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, built relationships with people. My relationship with Talib Kweli I think was one of the best ones to ever happen to my career as a rapper. He allowed me to go on tour with him. Man, I appre-, I love him for that.

Kanye even had Jessica Rivera, who worked at the label that 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 wanted to get Kanye at Roc-A-Fella at this point but Kanye  "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." Meanwhile naysayers were talking to Joe Weinberger and the Capitol execs 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 my 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 can maybe get option B?” 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. And we all know how that story goes - Kanye is easily one of the biggest rap stars of our time.

It’s the honesty in “Last Call” that makes it so perfect. Kanye 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, not just the successful results. 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 careers and building relationships, we also have to deal with constant videos of cops murdering Black kids, teens, and adults. It's tough out here.

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 reminder to stop and celebrate your success and potential 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.