Kanye West’s New Single With Paul McCartney Proves He’s This Generation’s John Lennon
With 'Only One', Kanye West is at his Kanye Best.
The underlying thing to keep in mind when considering the work of Kanye West is that the man is a genius.
If I were to write a Kanye West biography, I’d call it “Genius: The Kanye West Story” (attention book publishers: I’ve already written the first three chapters and am open to your cash advances). Meet me at a party where I’ve had a few drinks and I’ll probably treat you to a three-hour-long lecture about it. So, cards on the table: I think he’s alright.
If you disagree with me, I apologise; I don’t have space in this article to demonstrate why you’re wrong, and bring you the immense satisfaction that will come when you know the truth. I’m just going to proceed as though you, dear reader, are a sensible person, and comprehend the obvious fact that Kanye Omari West has been the most important man in pop music since John Lennon ran into some unpleasantness on the streets of New York City.
Middle America Packed In: Kanye Vs. The World
For most people in broader-western-mainstream culture — your uncle, for example, who tells you once a year that “rap is spelt with a silent ‘C’!” — Kanye is considered an oddity, a bully, and a joke.
West’s reputation has never recovered from the time when, at an award show five years ago, he drunkenly interrupted Taylor Swift. His standing took a further dip when he impregnated, then married Kim Kardashian, a woman who, depending on whom you ask, is either the most beautiful and culturally powerful lady in the world or a vacuous porn star whose continued fame is inexplicable.
I am reminded of Swift’s wise words (Jonathan, not Taylor): “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”
The dunces are, at present, in confederacy against Kanye.
Kanye’s last two albums were almost uniformly heralded by music critics as being masterpieces. However, for all this hype, Yeezus and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy failed to spawn a hit single. In fact, Ye hasn’t had a single top the charts since 2007.
For most people, being the most critically glorified musician alive would be enough. Kanye West is not most people. He isn’t at all interested in making good art for the sake of it; he is interested in changing the world. He doesn’t want to make music that’s that only the hip cats in the know can groove to, man. According to Kanye, esotericism is “the hipster justification of failure“.
In short, Kanye has his sights on worldwide dominance. He doesn’t want to make just the best album of the year, but the biggest. In his own words:
“Bruce Springsteen dropped this album called Nebraska and right after that he did ‘Born In The U.S.A’. This next one, I have a feeling, because of what we did right now, has to be ‘Born In The U.S.A’”.
Everybody Know He Love White People: Kanye’s 2015 Rehabilitation
‘Only One’ is Yeezy’s new single, and it features Paul McCartney on electric organ. It’s a heartfelt ballad in which West, heavily auto-tuned, channels the words he thinks his deceased mother would want him to hear. Critics are calling it a masterpiece, poignant, moving, and tender, and you can listen to it on his website.
Sonically, it’s a departure for Kanye. Not just from his recent work, but also from the other track leaked off the album; the rambunctious banger that is ‘All Day’.
It would make more sense to release ‘All Day’ as the first single off the album; it’s got a tight hook, a catchy refrain, and is chock full of the machismo which Kanye fans love. In fact, even though only a lo-fi, unreleased version is available, the song has already hit the top of the Billboard Trending Charts.
So why shelve ‘All Day’ and start with ‘Only One’?
Yeezy Season Approaching: Kanye Is The New Lennon
‘Soon as they like you, make them unlike you’, rapped Ye on Yeezus. That was pretty much what that album was about; alienating all the demographics who had supported him over the years.
For example, Kanye spent much of the album telling the affluent whites (who,not long ago, he was giving permission to use the word that isn’t ‘broke-broke’ during ‘Gold Digger’ at his concerts) that he was going to ejaculate onto their spouses. Concurrently, it became clear in interview after interview that the rap community were finding it difficult to empathise with Kanye’s shoe designing ambitions.
‘Only One’, however, is designed to bring all of western civilisation back to the broad church that is Kanye West.
The new single is universal in theme and personal in content; it’s about his love for his wife and daughter, how me grieves for his mother, and the importance of believing in yourself. Additionally, it’s a ballad with a soaring melodic line — the sort of thing that could quite easily be found on an Adele record. It’s a far cry from the last album, where he called himself a God, and wrote an ode to fisting.
And yet, as sappy and accessible as it is, ‘Only One’ is still exciting to Kanye’s hardcore fans. Like ‘808’s and Heartbreak’, it’s fully auto-tuned. Dig a little deeper into the lyrics, and all the ego-driven Kanye-ness is still there: he professes to know what the dead are thinking, compares himself to the sun, and professes that that the “road to heaven” is inside of him, personally. It’s hard to think of anybody else who would so casually write about their own importance.
Maybe the most intriguing feature of the song is that it features Paul McCartney, and that press releases are circulating saying that the two have fruitfully worked together on many songs for the new album.
Kanye has favourably compared himself to Michael Jackson, but now, by working with Sir Paul, he invites a comparison to John Lennon. There are similarities aplenty: John also compared himself to Jesus, was well known for his bolshy interviews, was married to a powerful and much-reviled woman, and quickly went from being one of the most loved stars in the world to one of the most loathed.
A final comparison, and perhaps the most telling: with ‘Double Fantasy’, John Lennon won back many of his detractors with heartfelt songs about his family, though he wasn’t able to fully enjoy his comeback as, a few days after its release, he was killed.
Short of getting shot to death, I think Kanye is going for a similar thing here. ‘Soon as they hate you, make them unhate you’. Will it work?
James McCann is a stand up comedian, and is the cowriter and composer of the multi-award winning ‘Wolf Creek the Musical’. His debut comedy album is available here.