Kanye West’s music doesn’t really fall into the genre that I listen to. And after that incident with Taylor Swift, I was even less keen on listening to his music. That was in the past, but recently, something about the thumbnail and the title of this music video persuaded me to give him a chance, and I was moved. It is a surprisingly touching song; “touching” being an adjective most people wouldn’t associate with a rap artist and his songs. This music video with its simple visuals aids the lyrics in driving its message across and creating a sense of calm and relief with a pinch of melancholy.
The video starts off with the sound of gasped laughter and ragged breathing as Kanye runs down down a secluded side road towards the camera. Like an amateur family home video, the camera is hand-held and slightly shaky. Perhaps we are to presume that Kim K herself is doing the shooting? As Kanye gets closer he stops running and holds up a smile before looking at the ground. From the look on his face, you know it’s going to get sad. If you were really acting, Kanye, props to you for that!
The video doesn’t have much of a story line and although it just shows the interactions between Kanye and his toddler, North West, the mise-en-scene is poignant and feels authentic. Raw, heartfelt and simple is exactly what this video is, as father conveys a lullaby to daughter from a grandmother she has never and will never meet.
Although this song is from Kanye’s deceased mother to her granddaughter, a thought to ponder on is whether these same words are what Kanye would have liked his mother to say to him if she were still around, giving him the strength to face the media shelling he seems to attract with his public antics. [Considering the lyrics are addressed to the masculine rather than the feminine, perhaps the words were intended for Kanye primarily, rather than his daughter. Ed.] The song is full of encouraging lines and although generic they address problems that most people face in their lives at one point or another.
Hello my only one
Just like the morning sun
You keep on rising till the sky knows your name
Hello my only one
Remember who you are
No you’re not perfect but you’re not your mistakes
Though these lyrics (especially the excerpt from above) are pretty clichéd, imagine your Mum saying them to you and you’ll be able to feel the immediate uplifting effect not unlike how a bout of crying while cradled in Mum’s comforting arms can be so therapeutic. My Mum is no philosopher, so if I were to hear these kind words from her, it would be more than enough for me.
An unusual aspect of this video is Kanye’s choices regarding his vocal presentation. With the blatant use of auto-tune, many (myself included) feel that the song would have been better delivered if it was sung without any technological assistance in order to hear the nuances of raw human emotion. On the other hand, if Kanye sold this song to another artist with the capability to sing it, it would have lost all its meaning. How can anyone else sing the words supposedly from his late mother? However, in the middle of the video, I was won back when he bravely dropped the earlier auto-tuned vocals and sang directly to the camera. Unedited and unprocessed, his voice was real enough to hear the pain of losing his mum and having to face life without the pillar of strength he used to have. If I ever were to read aloud a letter from my mother, that will be exactly what I would sound like: choked up, barely able to breathe, trying to mumble out some words through all my emotions.
Only One deliberately and boldly sacrifices musical perfection in order to convey the artist’s tribute to his mother and his blessings to his daughter. Being able to move hearts set against him (like mine was) is another achievement. To those holding his past actions against him, try giving this song a chance. He may be no paragon of virtue, but his music has the ability to touch your heart, and maybe these words of encouragement, too, are exactly what you need at this point in your life.
Kanye West’s Only One (feat. Paul McCartney) was released as a single on 31st December 2014 and the music video was first posted on YouTube on 30th January 2015.