Alumna Kirby Lauryen Cowrites Kayne West, Paul McCartney's 'Only One'

Kirby Lauryen '09 has written songs for some of the biggest names in the industry, including Kayne West and Paul McCartney. 

January 23, 2015

When the new song by Kanye West and Paul McCartney was released this month, many people under (or over) a certain age wondered “Who’s he?” But while Yeezy and the Beatle created a buzz in the music industry, the third cowriter of their hit “Only One” was quietly attracting attention.

That songwriter, Kirby Lauryen, has been steadily making her way in the business since leaving Berklee in 2009. In the last two years alone Lauryen has worked with Ariana Grande, Jennifer Lopez, Brandy, Rodney Jerkins, and Timbaland.

Her most recent success, the collaboration with West and McCartney, turned up at the top of the iTunes charts just after its release and spent three weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100. Lauryen also cowrote their song "FourFiveSeconds," which features Rihanna and which debuted on Billboard's Hot 100 the first week of February. West, McCartney, and Rihanna will perform this song at the Grammy Awards on February 8.

“For me to be able to say that I wrote a song with those individuals in incredibly humbling,” says Lauryen, who was called Kirby Dockery during her time at Berklee.

In fact, long before she worked with West, Lauryen says he influenced her career greatly. She calls his 2004 debut album, The College Dropout, “a big part of the reason I am where I am today.”

Lauryen was unable to finish her education at Berklee, and the album gave her the confidence to believe that she could succeed without a degree. “I by no means advocate dropping out of school, it was the hardest and scariest decision I ever made. . .One that I tried to undo many times. But, in the back of my mind, I always knew that if I continued to work, and create my own path, a door had to open. I don't know if I ever would have the courage to think that way if I hadn't heard The College Dropout,” she says.

Nevertheless, her time at Berklee was invaluable to her career, she says. It was here that she learned the discipline to create even when she didn’t feel like it—a skill she says is necessary in the songwriting business, where artists have to produce consistently great content whether they feel inspired or not.

Mark Simos, an associate professor of songwriting, remembers Lauryen as "uncompromising, bold and adventurous, eloquent and insightful as a lyricist, a compelling vocalist—truly an artist in the making." In a recommendation he wrote in support of her receivng the Berklee Achievement-Based Scholarship, Simos said her work showed considerable talent and combined whimsicality with risk-taking. "I believe she has the potential to become a successful, even a significant, writer and artist," he wrote. 

After a few years of writing constantly, posting songs on YouTube with "nothing but faith," and eventually capturing the attention of industry heavyweights, Lauryen has proved him right.