Kanye West has cemented himself as one of the greatest artists of our generation. From the authentic truthfulness of The College Dropout and the undeniable masterpiece that is, 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, to 2013’s groundbreaking Yeezus, Kanye has continued to break the rules and push the boundaries of music. So, as 2014 drew to a close, West surprise-released “Only One,” a brand new track featuring backing vocals from The Beatles’ Paul McCartney.
Whether it’s the industrialized soundscape of “Black Skinhead” coupled with the primal screaming of “I am A God”, or the soulful samples of Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” or “Blood on the Leaves”, Yeezus proved to be Kanye’s more experimental album production-wise. However, with “Only One”, the brash electronics, pounding drums and visceral inflections are replaced by a minimalist yet utterly captivating piano melody performed by Sir Paul McCartney.
Instead of filling the soundscape with layer upon layer of unnecessary sounds, Kanye utilises auto-tune (reminiscent of 2008’s 808’s & Heartbreaks) in order to turn his voice into an instrument. Whilst some continue to adhere from the use of auto-tune, making preference to a more natural sound, others may argue that it actually gives the song an intriguing edge. However, I feel like without the auto-tune, the record would sound slightly bland and monotonous. The subtle fluctuations in Kanye’s pitch, create a certain fluid rhythm.
It’s the lyrics, however, which really resonate with you. They are what allow the song to breathe, taking you, as the listener through a heart rendering and utterly beautiful monologue as Kanye sings to his daughter North through his late mother’s voice. Here, we get to see Kanye West in an entirely different light, as a father and a son. “Hello my only one, just like the rising sun / you’ll keep on rising till the sky knows your name” he intones in the chorus as Paul McCartney’s delightful vocals can be heard in the background. Furthermore, the repetition of “Tell Nori about me” at the end of the song, is the indication that it’s Kanye’s mother talking, she’s telling her son to keep her spirit alive, and not to forget her. It’s the fact that the lyrics enable the listeners to really connect with what’s being said, which makes the song special, and different from anything heard on Yeezus. With “Only One,” not only has Kanye delivered a stunning ballad, he’s shown that he doesn’t need to be loud and abrasive to get his point across.