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Second Take: Kanye West and Paul McCartney come together for new track

Kanye West’s newest song, “Only One,” featuring Paul McCartney, is sung from the point-of-view of West’s mother, Donda West, as she helps West come to grips with his fame, family and the uncertainties he felt after her passing.
(Roc-A-Fella Records)

By Brendan Hornbostel

Jan. 5, 2015 3:59 p.m.

Kanye West sure knows how to end the year on a high note.

On Dec. 31, the Chicago-based rapper quietly released the first song since his 2013 platinum-selling album “Yeezus.” A duo with Beatles-legend Paul McCartney, “Only One” features West singing – not rapping – while McCartney dances along the keyboard, harmonizing with the auto-tuned vocals.

The track is currently streaming on and available for download on iTunes.

Kanye’s new song doesn’t have the forcefulness of “Black Skinhead” or the sexuality of “Bound 2” from “Yeezus.” Instead, West uses the point-of-view of his late mother, Donda West, to address West and his 1-year-old daughter, North “Nori” West.

According to a press release, West and McCartney worked in Los Angeles, with McCartney improvising on the keyboard while West sung over the bright organ-sounding instrumental. This collaboration between two of the most famed musicians in their respective genres produced an outstanding and heartfelt song about acceptance and family.

“As I lay me down to sleep,/ I hear her speak to me/ ‘Hello, ‘Mari. How you doin’?/ I think the storm ran out of rain, the clouds are movin,'” West sings in light auto-tune at the opening of the song.

As Kanye relates, Donda comforts her son to come to grips with his fame, family and the uncertainties he felt after her passing. The simplistic nature of the song, mostly comprised of McCartney’s keyboards and West’s emotional singing, doesn’t leave an empty space in the track. In fact, “Only One” shows a great depth in West’s songwriting.

With a minimalistic album cover of Kanye cradling his daughter and looking over her, “Only One” marks a potential thematic change in West’s discography, with the subject of raising his daughter bringing a deeper purpose to the rapper’s music.

“Only One” packs some powerful comments on West himself, with him singing, “Remember who you are/ No you’re not perfect, but you’re not your mistakes.”

The somber tones of McCartney’s keyboards turns into a light, swinging melody for the chorus as West sings about his mother’s faith in him becoming a good man and father for his daughter.

The song’s pairing with McCartney, which also sent some fans to Twitter to rave about how McCartney’s career is sure to take off, begs the question of how much music will arise from the duo’s collaboration.

Kanye has already confirmed that the duo have been working on up to nine new tracks, including one titled “Piss on My Grave.” Whether the duo release a collaborative album or McCartney simply provides backing for tracks on West’s upcoming seventh studio album, it’s exciting to see the rap and rock powerhouses coming together for a track that oddly doesn’t fit either genre well. Instead, the song is a bare-bones portrayal from West with a charming performance by McCartney.

Toward the end of the song, West breaks down to speaking, saying, “I just want you to do me a favor.” This favor is evoked in the outro of the song, with West singing the final line, in repetition: “Tell Nori about me/ Tell Nori about me.”

Full of stripped, raw feeling, Kanye West entered 2015 singing to his family, backed by the bright keyboards of Paul McCartney.

Just Kanye being Kanye.

– Brendan Hornbostel, A&E; senior staff

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Brendan Hornbostel
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