Hours before the ball dropped in Times Square, Kanye West made sure that we were ready to start 2015 off right. While Yeezus rolled out with a global series of projections and a deliberately haphazard and off-putting release, “Only One” quietly found its way onto iTunes in the waning hours of the year. A year and a half after the birth of his daughter, West has returned in a completely different state than where we left him with Yeezus. Considering what we’ve experienced with Kanye, “Only One” marks another beginning, the beginning of what may be a big 2015 for him.
“Only One” possesses a laid back charm that we haven’t seen from West in years. Just as he has in the past, West manages to use his music to speak to us. The last time we saw the sorts of auto-tuned vocals we see on this track, was in remorse. Following the death of his mother, West used auto-tuned vocals extensively on his 2008 studio album, 808s and Heartbreak. He used the tool to create a lost and lifeless soundscape that expressed the empty state he faced in the wake of the loss he faced in the previous year.
He continued to incorporate auto-tune on his two subsequent albums, though not to the same degree as he does here. “Only One” is West’s mother speaking to him from beyond the grave. Through him, West’s mother expresses her love for her son and new granddaughter. Kanye goes from his mother to his daughter, as she tells him to “tell Nori”, North, about her grandmother, one who West holds with the dearest love. He does all of this with nothing more than an auto-tuned voice and the sparse backing of keys.
The minimalist mystique we found on 808s and Heartbreak is combined with the genuine emotion that “Bound 2” possessed, making for a soft-spoken yet passionate ballad. On 808s, West uses minimalism and a “robotic ethos” to express his loss and sorrow. But with “Only One”, he takes advantage of the separation created by the auto-tune to speak to how, even if she is no longer with him, West’s mother is still here, for him and North alike. It is a more eloquent, charming disposition that what “Bound 2” brought us, but beautiful in the same vein.
Despite a “featuring Paul McCartney” tag, “Only One” features no vocals from McCartney. After long-standing rumors of the two working together in the studio arose through the past year, this track features McCartney on a backing keyboard melody and closing organ coda. The two worked together extensively in the past year, but it remains to be seen whether McCartney joined his exclusive list of close-collaborators, or if the two have something deeper in our midst, perhaps another, time-bending, Watch the Throne-esque project. Regardless, “Only One” is a new chapter in West’s journey as an artist. For those turned off by the aggressive nature of Yeezus, or his candid-worthy antics in the past year, “Only One” is worth a serious listen to see another side of him that you have to hear to understand.
Hip-Hop | GOOD Music