This emotional track is both an ode to Kanye's daughter North West and an acceptance of the loss of his late mom, Dr. Donda West. It was dropped by the hip-hop star just before midnight on December 31, 2014.
Kanye is singing from the perspective of his late mother who died in 2007. North West's mother, Kim Kardashian, raved about the lullaby on Instagram. "Everyone asks me what my favorite Kanye song is," she wrote. "It's Only One. Kanye felt like his mom was singing through him to our daughter. This song makes me cry every time I hear it."
The song features Paul McCartney on keyboards. According to a press release, McCartney and the Chicago rapper began work on the track earlier in 2013 in a small Los Angeles bungalow, starting with, "a simple brainstorming session between the two, with McCartney improvising on the keyboards and Kanye vocally sketching and shaping ideas in a stream-of-consciousness riff."
The lyrics evolved into a spiritual conversation with his late mother. "Kanye sat there with his family, holding his daughter North on his lap, and listened to his vocals, singing, 'Hello, my only one...,'" the statement continues. "And in that moment, not only could he not recall having sung those words, but he realized that perhaps the words had never really come from him. The process of artistic creation is one that does not involve thinking, but often channeling. And he understood in that moment that his late mother, Dr. Donda West, who was also his mentor, confidante, and best friend, had spoken through him that day."
Dr. Donda West is credited as a co-writer of the track.
There are also uncredited vocals by Ty Dolla Sign. "Only One" was one of nine tracks that the West Coast crooner sung for Kanye over 24 hours in September 2014. He recalled to Billboard magazine how the collaboration happened. "One day my homie Ricky Anderson [West's cousin] hit me up," he said "and was like, 'Kanye wants you to come work with him in Mexico,' so I came out there [and] we did like nine songs in one day; one of them happened to be 'Only One.'"
The song was co-written by Roc Nation singer-songwriter Kirby Lauryen. The Berklee College of Music graduate's other credits include Jennifer Lopez's A.K.A.
track "Let It Be Me
The song returned Paul McCartney to the Top 40 of the Hot 100 for the first time since "My Brave Face
" peaked at #25 in July 1989.
This debuted at #11 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, the fourth time that Paul McCartney had charted on the tally. He first first logged an entry on the survey in 1982 alongside Stevie Wonder, with "Ebony And Ivory
" followed by two collaborations with Michael Jackson the following year: "The Girl Is Mine
" and "Say, Say, Say
Directed by Spike Jonze, the song's home movie-like visual is set in the middle of a misty field, as we see a joyful Kanye walking around with North West. American director Spike Jonze is well known for his music video collaborations with Beastie Boys ("Sabotage
"), Fatboy Slim ("Praise You
") and Weezer ("Buddy Holly
"). His feature film directing resume includes Being John Malkovich
(2002), Where the Wild Things Are
(2009) and Her
West performed this song at the Grammy Awards in 2015, doing it a lot like how he handled it on the Yeezus tour: on a dark stage with a spotlight pointed at him.
Speaking to BBC Radio 1's Zane Lowe, West said: "The whole cadence [of 'Only One'] is trap. As soon as Paul starts playing, I start singing - in trap."
Trap is a genre of music that originated from the American southern hip-hop scene in the 1990s. It gets its name from dangerous neighborhoods where drug deals are done openly and it's difficult to escape the lifestyle. Trap music typically features aggressive lyrical content rapped over a soundscape featuring 808-style sub-bass kick drums, sixty-fourth-note hi-hats, layered synths and chilly cinematic strings. It first broke into the mainstream with the release of T.I.'s second studio album Trap Muzik.
Wondering where the song title came from? Kanye means "the only one" in Swahili.
Paul McCartney told The Sun
how he and Kanye West bonded over the losses of their mothers when the pair first met, which served as inspiration for this song. "We sat around and talked an awful lot just to break the ice," he said. "One of the stories I told him was about how I happened to have written 'Let It Be
The former Beatle recalled an anecdote he shared with the rapper. "My mum came to me in a dream when she'd died years previously. I was in a bit of a state – it was the Sixties and I was overdoing it. In the dream she said, 'Don't worry it's all going to be fine, just let it be.' And I woke up and thought, 'Woah' and wrote the song... [Kanye] said, 'I'm going to write a song with my mum.' So then I sat down at the piano."