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Kanye West Week: “Runaway”


“Runaway” is the sound of Kanye’s emotional growth trying to catch-up with his artistic growth and well, he’s almost there. Of course, a half-right Kanye West is far more interesting than all-out loathsome asshole Kanye or a neutered nice guy Kanye anyways. The immediately bloggable “let’s have a toast for the douchebags” hook turns the song into a knowing joke (the hook’s ironic, some people don’t seem to realize this) and a disarming confessional (Kanye’s facing the facts: He is a douche). And Pusha T is the asshole here. Kanye raps his confessions and insecurities with a shit-eating grin (he knows he’s awful and cares but doesn’t care and that’s a douche), while Pusha just doesn’t care. He raps the facts to the girl he’s cheated on and the ball’s in her court: “I did it, alright, I admit it/Now pick your next move, you can leave or live with it.”

Pusha continues on though, doing his own damaged form of a seduction, teasing the girl with a future without him (“back to wearin’ knock-offs”), asking her out on a date already (“Let’s talk over mai tais…”), and returning to the transactions she made in dating him, whether she knew it or not (“Every bag, every blouse, every bracelet/Comes with a price tag baby, face it/You should leave if you can’t accept the basics.”). Then once more, he reminds her that there’s plenty of other girls out there (hilariously, “Plenty hoes in the baller nigga’s matrix”) and since he’s already cheated on her, what does he care? Shit man, Pusha makes it sound like he’s doing her the favor. That’s an asshole move.

Kanye’s lyrics here don’t need a close-reading, they’re simple and literal (like 808s & Heartbreaks), but a few lines and observations to speak to Kanye’s growing knowledge of self much better than the “honest” (but not exactly honest) self-helpisms like “I’m so gifted at finding what I don’t like the most.” The dedication to “the jerkoffs/That’ll never take work off,” is Kanye extending his plight to something beyond his own problems and also, something distinctly male: The tendency for men to focus on everything but the real emotional stuff that matters. This is what Pusha T is holding at bay when he explains the implicit contract his girl entered when she started fucking a dude who has a ton of money and can buy her shit. He provides money and material things and that should be enough. Kanye, in that “jerkoffs” aside, is hinting at the understanding that more than all that baller type stuff, it’s nice to just be there for the other person. To not buy bags, blouses, and bracelets, but jesus christ, take a few days off of work and pay attention to the world around you.

There’s also the self-loathing advice for the girls to “runaway as fast as you can,” coupled with the confession, “and I don’t know how I’mma manage/If you just up and leave,” that really puts you inside of Kanye’s nutty, conflicted, needy head. It’s typical argument stuff (“go!…no, don’ go, ever!”) but it’s really effective in conveying how confused he is, and coupled with the three minutes of auto-tuned moaning, it’s pretty scary. When I wrote about 808s & Heartbreaks here, I compared the heavily distorted auto-tune to a “malfunctioning HAL-9000,” and its extended, tedious moaning, as the beautifully simple and elegant beat keeps playing along, is disturbing and darkly funny. It’s like the world’s going on around Kanye as he’s lying on the floor, drooling, tears coming out of his eyes, snot dripping from his nose. There’s absolutely no “need” for this to be stuck on the end of an excellent, clever pop-rap song, but it feels vital and really puts you inside of heartbreak. It’s tedious and annoying and seems like it’ll never end.

Strangely, the last three minutes of “Runaway” have me thinking of this scene from David Gordon Green’s All The Real Girls. Following the break-up of the two main characters, this Mogwai-scored time-lapse montage interrupts the movie. It’s a way to show the world keeps going on, even as the main character’s lives are stopped by heartbreak. “Runaway”s beat is the world, moving along, shifting up and changing, and Kanye’s vocals are the out-of-his-head devastated guy circling the drain.

Written by Brandon

December 7th, 2010 at 10:32 pm

8 Responses to 'Kanye West Week: “Runaway”'

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  1. Another well written breakdown. I think another line that highlights the typical dude mindset is the “I guess I did you a favor, cause you can blame it all on me” line. It’s an obvious guilt trip tactic that is appealing because it deflects blame.


    7 Dec 10 at 10:51 pm

  2. Chad-
    That’s a good one I missed and maybe even misread. My first thought was that it was an example of Kanye’s ego, like “this isn’t ALL MY FAULT” but yeah, there’s a back-and-forth dynamic going on there.


    7 Dec 10 at 11:42 pm

  3. the second half of pusha’s verse (after the mai tais line) when the synths start rising is maybe the most beautiful musical moment kanye’s ever cooked up. it manages to suffuse all the assholish bravado of the verse with this weird sense of melancholy. and then everything just dovetails perfectly with the “i’m just young, rich and tasteless” line, which is itself worthy of some serious unpacking, i think.


    8 Dec 10 at 4:27 am

  4. hey-
    Yeah totally. I think that “young, rich and tasteless” line kinda goes back to what Chad said above too. Just this sense of deflecting or saying/confessing/”admitting” something before anyone else can say it. I guess in a way, Pusha turns douchebag at the end of his verse, ha.


    8 Dec 10 at 4:50 am

  5. the moaning is turribly grating. But it leads well into Hell of a Life


    8 Dec 10 at 4:19 pm

  6. Marcus-
    That’s a great point about it. I was talking to someone else about this and made the point that the transition between the two tracks is too good to lop the moaning off…

  7. “Yeah totally. I think that “young, rich and tasteless” line kinda goes back to what Chad said above too. Just this sense of deflecting or saying/confessing/”admitting” something before anyone else can say it. I guess in a way, Pusha turns douchebag at the end of his verse, ha.”

    that’s certainly part of it. but there’s also this sense of resignation about it, like he realizes this shit he’s doing is unacceptable but change is hard. i think it’s the “just”. it’s sort of like the relationship version of the really complex, contradictory expressions of guilt and pride w/r/t to selling dope that were all over HHNF and the WGI4C tapes.


    9 Dec 10 at 4:10 am

  8. That never ending feeling of the that happens once we get lost in the vocal distortion here is unmatched. I’m not exactly, what I’d say to Kanye West if I ever got to meet the dude, but I’d just want to say that I’m happy this album became so obsessed with heavy vocal layering. It is an effect that most rappers would not ever consider to do, and Kanye makes his album that much more emotionally resonant because of it.

    On “Runaway” about two minutes into the ending, this voice just becomes a spine tingling mess that hurts to listen to and whole unrecognizable. But, it isn’t because it grates on my ear, but because I just want to make this end for the dude. There is too much selfishness that Kanye display to make him the most sympathetic figure, but after the album highlights the amount of bullshit that one has to put up with being a black person in America–and specifically one put in the media spotlight–I just want to rush and help the dude. Obviously Kanye never forgets this, but so many days I connect so strongly to his work is because I know that there are pitchforks ready to charge at a Black man who gets too powerful and is ready to upset the apple cart. That is not to be paranoid, but listening to the album I kind of wonder if Kanye was questioning if he would continue to be in such a great position in the world? And, if he couldn’t survive, then what about all those far less fortunate then him? And if the media could not accept a Kanye, then how they could they ever accept a Chief Keef? And, if they cannot accept either, why should they accept me?

    David Turner

    29 Apr 13 at 4:32 am

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