The Time Paul McCartney Worked with Kanye West

Paul McCartney and Kanye West at the 2009 Grammy Awards. Photo by Kevin Mazur.

In September of 2014, the unlikely pair of Paul McCartney and Kanye West came together for a two-day studio session in Mexico that was anything but conventional. The collaboration produced two singles, “FourFiveSeconds”, which also features Rihanna, and “Only One”. According to a report from Pitchfork, there were up to nine songs recorded during those sessions.

Both tracks were hits in their own right, with “FourFiveSeconds” being the more successful of the two, peaking at number four on the Billboard Hot 100 and later being covered by the pop group One Direction. “Only One” peaked at number 35.

Listening to both tracks, however, you might find it difficult to make out Paul McCartney’s contributions. He contributes guitar and receives a songwriting credit on both tracks, and even laid down some vocals on “Only One”, though Kanye ran them through so many electronic filters that it’s not easy to make out the sound of his voice.

Some McCartney fans were annoyed that Paul wasn’t more prominently featured, with Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz even going as far as to suggest that Kanye took advantage of McCartney, as featured in an interview with the French publication Nouvel Obs.

McCartney did not share the same frustrations as his fans, as he revealed in a 2018 interview with DIY. In fact, McCartney says that he was flattered to hear that Kanye was interested in working with him:

It’s more a question of me feeling lucky that these people are interested [in working with me] and think that I can bring something to it. For me, I feel great. I like diversity.

Paul McCartney on collaborating with Kanye West in 2014.

It is well-known that Kanye is an unconventional artist, often going to great lengths to find inspiration and being over-the-top in everything that he does. McCartney says that he was aware of this going in, as he was a big fan of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, so he just showed up with his guitar and let Mr. West lead the way.

And lead the way, Mr. West did.

Paul recalls that when he was with the Beatles, they took a much more straightforward approach to songwriting and recording. He explains that they usually had everything written and ready to go before going into the studio, but when he was with Kanye, they just fired from the hip, and made it up as they went along:

With him, it was much more made up as we went along – so much so that I didn’t even realise that I was making songs. We had two or three afternoons where we just hung out together in a Beverly Hills hotel in the bungalows out the back, and he had his engineer and was set up with a couple of microphones incase anything happened. I was tootling around on guitar, and Kanye spent a lot of time just looking at pictures of Kim on his computer. I’m thinking, are we ever gonna get around to writing?! But it turns out he was writing. That’s his muse. He was listening to this riff I was doing and obviously he knew in his mind that he could use that, so he took it, sped it up and then somehow he got Rihanna to sing on it.

Paul McCartney on working with Kanye West in 2014.

For Paul, it seems that the joy of collaborating with a musician like Kanye West was more important to him than the ego-driven desire to be prominently featured on the track. It makes sense, as Paul McCartney is one of the most successful musicians of all time, both with the Beatles and in the decades since. Plus, he still got his songwriting credits, and that’s good enough for him.

Listen to “Only One” and “FourFiveSeconds” below.

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