Why Kanye West's "Only One" Might Be the Most Important Song of His Career

Scott Wallace
6th Jan 2015

No doubt you’ve heard the incredible news. Kanye West recorded a song with former-Beatle and peddler of gentle, inoffensive pop-rock, Paul McCartney. However, unlike when McCartney’s presence almost derailed the greatest pop album ever recorded only two songs in, “Only One” is seriously great.

I'm not going to dwell on the fact that this is an instance of a rapper working with a rock legend, nor the admittedly hilarious response from some of Kanye's younger fans. That stuff's pretty old news, really; remember when Chuck D collaborated with Sonic Youth? With the way Kanye West's career has panned out, it almost seemed inevitable that a collaboration of this calibre was on the way.

You may say of "Only One" “It doesn’t even sound like Kanye!” or “Is this even hip-hop?” but those are pretty meaningless objections. Over the keys provided by McCartney, West’s autotuned cooing is perfect, especially paired with one of his most potent lyrics ever.

Reportedly born from improvisation, the lyrics are in the vein of West’s moving, perennial set-closer “Hey Mama.”  In the song’s first few lines, he is addressed by the ghost of his departed mother who affectionately uses his middle name “Omari.”

I’ll let what she says next speak for itself:

I think the storm ran out of rain, the clouds are movin’.
I know you’re happy, ’cause I can see it
So tell the voice inside ya head to believe it.
I talked to God about you, he said he sent you an angel
And look at all that he gave you;
You asked for one and you got two.
You know I never left you
‘Cause every road that leads to heaven’s right inside you

What’s so important about “Only One” is how it does something that seemed impossible and completely humanises Kanye West. After he has been vilified for years over the Taylor Swift Incident, accused of throwing narcissistic tantrums, and after he released a song called “I Am a God,” “Only One” is about Kanye Omari West, the real human being, not necessarily Kanye West the rapper.

Not only that, but Kim Kardashian and the couple’s daughter North (or Nori), are the angels of the lyrics. Hearing them referred to in this way is like seeing them in a different light – as living, breathing human beings that exist outside of the contrived narratives of reality TV or the relentless joking about Nori’s name and parentage. What seems like disposable trash on television is clearly a priceless treasure to Mr. West.

“Only One” acknowledges West’s flaws and his fears, “the voice inside [his] head,” that make him feel beset by a front of dark stormclouds. In the chorus, the ghost of his mother tells him that “Just like the morning sun / You’ll keep on risin’ ’til the sky knows your name.” Just like many of us, West craves recognition, and even immortality – to be loved.

And so does his mother, who in the last lines of the songs begs “Tell Nori about me.” She begs to be remembered by the granddaughter she never had the chance to meet. “Only One” is three generations of love pouring down like a waterfall. It’s a crashing reminder that next time you criticise West, you had better be aware that like all of us, he’s not perfect, and he never really claimed to be, but he’s doing his best.