Shared just after midnight in the early hours of 2015, "Only One" found Kanye singing with Paul McCartney on keys and Ty Dolla $ign providing backing vocals.
This is truly the sparsest Kanye song ever. Produced by McCartney and longtime collaborator Mike Dean, the song's instrumental really only consists of a Wurlitzer keyboard. Additional melodic elements come from backing vocals that are heavily processed to the extent that they sound like electric guitars (Kanye's used this technique a lot ever since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy). The melodies are powerful, but rather simple, with a pop-minded progression that recalls many of McCartney's Beatles gems.
Kanye's words on "Only One" are pretty straightforward, so the most intriguing element of his songwriting on here is the frequent change of perspective from him to his mother. From "Hello 'Mari, how you doing?" until the second hook, Ye's singing from his mother's point of view, looking down on him and his new family, who she never got to meet. In contrast with Kanye's usual blend of egotism and demon-exorcising in his lyrics, his words on this song are optimistic and lack sarcasm, humor and aggression. In his annotation of the song on Genius, Rick Rubin wrote:
"On 'Only One,' a lot of those lyrics came out free-form, ad-libs. The song is essentially live, written in the moment. Some of the words were later improved, but most of it was stream of consciousness, just Kanye being in the moment."
Another thing noticeably absent from "Only One" is Kanye's usual set of pop culture references. This time, he references his daughter by name, alludes to the fact that his name translates to "Only One" in Swahili, and uses the imagery of angels in the line "We'll have wings and we'll fly." Various Kanye obsessives on the internet (shouts out to KTT and Genius annotators), have also speculated that "Keep on risin' 'til the sky knows your name" is a reference to "Touch The Sky," but it could just as well be simply another nod to heaven, which is a central topic on "Only One."