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“Monster” vs. “Runaway Love”


Whether it was putting Jay-Z and Talib Kweli on the same song (back when that was as weird as Raekwon and Justin Bieber), celebrating his contradictions (“first nigga with a Benz and a backpack”), calling out the president on live television, or idiotically racing up to the stage to explain why Beyonce’s better than Taylor Swift, Kanye West’s pop provocateur tendencies have always been as important as the music itself. He’s just become more of a dick about it.

Or rather, he was more of a dick about it. West’s recent works—as in really recent–have been music events first and pop cultural moments second, and that’s a good thing. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t conceptual edges to what he’s doing, he just isn’t footnoting the shit out of it to make sure audiences know it’s a big, thumping statement. So, he drops the video for “Power,” an attempt at art with a capital “A” and one that wrestles with age-old themes of vulnerability and hubris, right after an episode of Jersey Shore but doesn’t harp on that part of it at all really.

And now, he constructs a funhouse mirror version of a DJ Khaled posse cut called “Monster” wherein every aspect of the song is funneled into making Nicki Minaj sound as exhilarating as possible. Then, a few days later, he pairs Raekwon with Justin Bieber on a remix of Bieber’s “Runaway Love.” Both songs are very good and full of musical and lyrical details to obsess over, but they also don’t topple over from the conceptual context West stuck on top them–and at this point in West’s career, that’s pretty novel.

“Monster” works, first and foremost, as a posse cut–at least as its understood in 2010—but one that slowly unravels itself until it exists strictly as a platform for the oft-debated (is she great or is she terrible?) Nicki Minaj to really rap her ass off. Kanye’s a genius at this juggling of disparate guests, and it isn’t just that he put Minaj next to Rick Ross and Jay-Z, but that Minaj gets the final third of the song to do her thing, so that she simply can’t be ignored or laughed off.

Then there’s this “Runaway Love” remix, which sounds like a joke song uploaded to the blogs on April Fool’s day (Justin Bieber – “Runaway Love Remix” featuring Kanye West and Raekwon) but is indeed, very, very real. Part of the joy of this song is indeed, that it exists, but that fun would wear off in only a few moments. Kanye’s brilliance here is that he made a song out of joke he made on Twitter, remixing Bieber’s “Runaway Love” the way a rap producer in the 90s would’ve remixed it–by turning it into a new song–and then finding some strange balance between a hard-edged hip-hop track and um, a hard-edged hip-hop track that has a good and proper place for Justin Bieber’s teenage yelp.

It helps that Bieber’s actually a talent. He’s got a really interesting, specific voice that genuinely sounds great, and it’s just fit for remixing (ask Baltimore’s ). On “Runaway Love” Kanye employs the kid’s plaintive chirp the way on one of those numerous classic house remixes: as a strangely isolated thing of perfection in an otherwise jagged soundscape. Also, by surrounding the shards of the original with edgy, straight-rapping, it feels like Biggie on the “Real Love” remix or something: a jarring, odd but effortless fusion of sounds that shouldn’t have much to do with one another but hey, kinda work!

The best thing about “Monster” and “Runaway Love Remix” though, has to do with the fact that neither of these songs have an intended audience. They’re both the “little bit of everything for everybody,” market-researched singles as of late, reduced to absurdity. Every element of “Monster” moves towards Minaj, which will excite a certain fanbase, but utterly baffle a far more significant group of listeners. And really, who is the Bieber remix “for”? Kanye and Raekwon share some fans sure, and West and Bieber wander around on the same increasingly desiccated pop landscape, but the song seems designed to confound listeners from both the Raekwon and Bieber camp and perhaps ideally, expose fans of one to the other, and move every listener out of their comfort zone.

*you can also read this post on Tumblr now, golly!

Written by Brandon

September 6th, 2010 at 7:00 pm

10 Responses to '“Monster” vs. “Runaway Love”'

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  1. Hey man, I’ve only heard “Monster” bc I fronted like I was way too cool for a Bieber remix (I’ll get to it, wait a sec). But yeah, you gotta explain what you mean on “Monster,” I’m not sure I get it. How does “Monster” move towards being an exclusive platform for Nicki? I get that she definitely has the best verse, but that would seem more like something to her credit than any sort of agency on Kanye’s part. I know she gets the last third of the song which you can read as her taking over the song. But her being last also makes it that much easier to cut off, like how I stop listening to a song after I already hear the rappers that I want to hear.

    I can hear some production tricks during Nicki’s verse that make it standout more, like I think her last 4 bars have a space-y stutter effect. But was that it?


    7 Sep 10 at 2:21 am

  2. I guess I can’t really explain it, which maybe makes my point cheap, but to me it seems clear that the song is based around the build-up to Nicki’s verse. As in, all the rules of structure and set-up are ignored for Nicki’s verse and only Nicki’s verse. She doesn’t have to adhere to any of the expectations (like say, a given amount of bars) and one very much leaves the song thinking of her.


    7 Sep 10 at 4:44 am

  3. To get pretentious for a minute, going with the West-as-auteur angle, I think it makes sense to champion or blame him for whatever conscious or unconscious choices he made during the production. So not just like composing the song and performing his verse, but guiding the song like a director of a movie. He doesn’t just have to let Nicki do whatever kind of verse she wants, he’s making the choices and being the filter. Nicki can still be simultaneously championed/blamed for whatever choices she made in her part. Apropos of nothing, I fucking hate the song. And I hate Jay-Z, Rick Ross, whatever indie bitch they put in the song, but I love Nicki Minaj, and love/hate Kanye.

    However, thank you for pointing out that Beiber remix. Like quan, I was “too cool” for that shit until I read this. And I gotta say WOW. Spot on with everything you said about it. And your blog gets a shoutout in West’s verse ;)


    7 Sep 10 at 4:50 pm

  4. Joseph-
    West as auteur is a great way to put it. And that’s really what Kanye used to do with productions up until ‘Late Registration’ or so, where he probably got too busy and too bored to take so much time. If you listen to some of his work with say Jay on say, the ‘Black Album’ you can really hear him guiding the track. It sounds like a Kanye song. Could be misremembering, but in ‘Fade to Black,’ I’m pretty sure the version Kanye plays for Jay has Kanye rapping on it, sorta like a guide.

    More on Nicki/Kanye:
    Kanye has always been a huge fan of oddball MCs. ODB, Chi Ali, Pharcyde, Hiero dudes. He loves MASE. He loves Puffy as a rapper. Was listening to um, Will Smith’s ‘Willenium’ (don’t ask!) the other day and I was reminded of Kanye in that it’s this conversational, kinder rapping style that’s actually really bizarre. Point is, he’s always been into rap’s weirdos and so it seems to make a lot of sense that he’d prop up Nicki like this.

    Yes, the Bon Iver part is totally unnecessary. Rick Ross is negligible. I think Jay’s verse though, for once, gets LESS embarrassing the more you listen to it.


    7 Sep 10 at 4:58 pm

  5. Also. Not on some ironic hipster shit, but just as a total fucking pop and pop history nerd, Bieber’s pretty good. That “Baby” song is killer.


    7 Sep 10 at 5:04 pm

  6. I do not know how much respect someone can get for actually knowing what rappers would say good on the same track, but generally Kanye West has shown a good ear for it, and while I do not like each verse on “Monster”, it at least sounds like each verse was put on the song together for a reason, and not just some recycled verse patched together on a song.

    I know Nicki Minaj is going to release an album later this year, but I wish I could have a complilation of her guest verses, because I tend to like her more stepping on another person’s song. Also, I agree in saying that “Monster” seems leading to Nicki’s verse for good reason as it is the best verse on the song.


    7 Sep 10 at 5:21 pm

  7. That’s interesting about the songs he produced in that era, I’m gonna have to revisit ‘The Black Album’ soon and listen for that.

    Yea I had to cave when I realized I liked that Soulja Boy song he’s on called “Rich Girl” but I figured that would be the end of it. I’ll check “Baby” out.

    and anyone who wants to try to care about Nicki Minaj, if you haven’t listened to it, check out her ‘Beam Me Up Scotty’ mixtape. It’s really good if you are into her and not a hater:


    7 Sep 10 at 10:08 pm

  8. Oh god, DJ Holiday ……

    Anyway, the point about building the song towards Nicki makes a lot more sense with the Kanye-as-auteur context so good call, Joseph.


    8 Sep 10 at 1:55 am

    I think Kanye is still very much a rap fan, and when he slaps tracks together, he’s doing a bit of fantasy football type music nerd shit. So while yeah, it isn’t hard to predict what Nicki would do on a track, I think Kanye knows how to space them out, sequenced them, and maybe even craft a beat that works for them and/or moves them in the direction he wants them to go.

    I mean, I’m not afflicted by Bieber fever or nothing, but the side of me that indeed, gushes over Mariah house remixes also digs Bieber.

    Your question def helped me make more sense out of my point and also still brings up the issue of whether dude was successful here, which I maybe skirt a bit to talk-up context. I don’t care much for Nicki’s verse but it’s clear what Kanye and she are doing with it.

  10. So I’m torn. I hear what you’re saying about the whole song being thrust toward Nicki. After listening I definitely agree that her verse was definitely the most stand out but definitely had a lot of fun tweaking and toying with the production on jay’s verse as well (which i think is the best on the song or at least his best verse in a little while). the little section where he has jay just rapping over some kick drums and he also has him rapping completely acapella like 2.5 times in his not so long verse. to be honest though the beat is dong something completely different on each verse and the only thing i found stand out about nicki’s (production wise) is the length and the fun effects around it. but yeah you can tell that kanye really really really wanted to produce the shit out of this song.

    also, i really hope kanye reads this blog and shouted you out in that beiber song haha.


    11 Sep 10 at 6:31 pm

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