Happiness is risky to claim. It requires one to disregard social standards, reject the enticing pull of darkness and travel inward. And even then, you have to face yourself.
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) January 1, 2015
On Kanye West‘s new single, “Only One,” on which he’s lightly wrapped up in Auto-tune (his security blanket when he’s at his most lyrically naked), the rapper meets acceptance, and is enlightened by the spirit of his late mother, Dr. Donda West.
“I know you’re happy ’cause I can see it/ So, tell the voices inside your head to believe it,” Ye’ sings, revealing his self-doubt in the first verse (as Mrs. West) before being guided toward gratitude for the source of his happiness: family, both in spirit and in flesh. “I talked to God about you/ He said he sent you an angel/ And look all that he gave you/ You asked for one, and you got two.”
While West says, via a press release, that “my mom was singing to me, and through me to my daughter [North West],” the new single is also an intimate conversation between both Wests — which at first feels invasive, for it marks a point in ‘Ye’s healing (or “letting go”) that, if based of his discography, has taken him a long time to arrive to.
On “Hey Mama,” from 2005’s Late Registration, West expressed his adoration and admiration for Mrs. West, in a hopeful, joyous “Mama, I made it” tone. “Pinocchio Story,” “Coldest Winter” and other songs from 2008’s 808s & Heartbreak showcased West singing hopelessly of love lost, including that of his recently deceased mother. A little over seven years after Mrs. West passed away from surgical complications in November 2007, ‘Ye now offers “Only One,” on which Donda West navigates Kanye to acceptance and appreciation for the flicker of light that’s been rekindled by his daughter with Kim Kardashian-West, North West.
In the midst of Mrs. West’s spirit calming Kanye West’s own, he reflects and relieves himself of affliction: “Hello my only one/ Just like the morning sun, you’ll keep on rising ’till the sky knows your name/ And you’re still my chosen one/ Remember who you are/ No you’re not perfect, but you’re not your mistakes.”
There’s even power in the subleties: the song title is the meaning of Kanye West’s name, and Mrs. West calls him by an abbreviation of his middle name,”Omari.”
— Lord Almighty (@Sixfever) January 1, 2015
Kanye West’s hard-fought acceptance of the loss of a loved one resonates (“And no, I didn’t pick the day to turn the page/ I know it’s not the end every time I see her face”), and it reaches the pit of those, including myself, who have shied away from dealing with such loss, or naively tried to rush into the revelations that take time to unfold.
Instead of adhering to expectations of an uptempo first single release, ‘Ye closed 2014 and simultaneously kicked off 2015 with a testimonial.
The first few years of this decade found male rappers focusing on love from a cautionary standpoint (listen to Big Sean‘s “Beware,” Wale‘s “Bad” or Drake‘s “Marvin’s Room”) but in 2014, some began candidly championing their own searches for happiness, whether through self-love (Kendrick Lamar‘s “i”) or fondness towards family (J. Cole‘s “Love Yourz”). It’s admirable considering the expectations instilled by society, then passed on from generation to generation, for men to remain stone-faced and detached both in public as well as in a musical genre known for hiding weaknesses with verbal jabs.
Cole opens his best-selling new album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive with the question, “Do you want to, do you want to be… happy? … Do you want to be free?”
Since the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West has rarely sounded unguarded on the mic, protecting himself behind a wall of ego. But that only makes “Only One” even that more special. He lets us in on a spiritual conversation with his late mother, and into a healing process that took years to conclude.
For Kanye West, a full heart is what frees. He closes “Only One,” with a new love on his lap, and a favor to nurture an eternal one: “Tell Nori about me.”