“Runaway” by Kanye West (ft. Pusha T)
As stated by Kanye West, Runaway is supposed to be a song where many of the lyrics have a double meaning, pointing to both romance yet simultaneously his well-documented and often controversial dealings with the media.
This musical explosion was supposedly prompted by the time he embarrassed both himself and Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards of 2009. However, whatever message he is supposedly sending to pop media via Runaway can get lost amidst what for the most part reads like a message to romantic interests and one in particular.
But with that noted, we will go through this track section-by-section to try to make the most sense out of what’s actually going down.
The track begins with some sampled vocals primarily via Rick James and buttressed by the equally late James Brown. And apparently, the purpose of this section is to get the listener amped in terms of the actual song that follows.
Now the pre-chorus is perhaps the part of this piece that can be most easily understood as a double entendre, i.e. Kanye speaking to both a lady and the media at the same time. But if interpreted as so, that would mean he is more or less acknowledging, in the second line of the passage especially, that he mistreats the media, not vice versa.
If he’s alluding to his behavior on the 2009 MTV VMA stage and other such questionable public acts, the type of which have helped transform West into a must-see in the world of entertainment, then the said sentiment would make sense.
But it wouldn’t in relation to the subsequent chorus proper, unless Kanye is referring to himself as a ‘d–chebag’, A-hole and ‘je-k-off’. And according to the most widely accepted explanation of the chorus, that is exactly what’s transpiring. Simply put, Yeezus is humbling himself. And in doing so, he is verifying that he does in fact have major personality issues at times.
But again, as far as the actual verses go, they are more squarely focused on the vocalist(s) exploits in the field of romance. When taking the above analyses into consideration, it can be postulated that Kanye is going about proving he is in fact an A-hole not by harping on acts like the MTV incident but rather personal his love life.
So in the first verse, we find him lyrically putting forth that he is a less-than-ideal lover, someone who is “not too good at” romance. And what that means in more practical terms is that he’s a womanizer. Simply put, he is a dude who “could have… a good girl” but instead prefers hoochies, and someone who even already has a partner but is still kicking it to others.
But then, the true manifestation of his A-hole-ish tendencies would be the fact that he then turns around and ‘blames everything on’ his girlfriend, not himself. So it’s like he’s not only a cheat but also emotionally abusive.
Section 4 (“Runaway”)
Later on we are introduced to the bridge, which features the titular term. And as it reads, Kanye is actually advising the addressee, i.e. his romantic interest, to flee from him – expeditiously even.
And all the song’s lyrics considered, he would be instructing her to do so to escape his abuse and mistreatment. Yet at the same time, it would appear she is not actually keen on going anywhere.
So it can be said that the vocalist is trying to force his lover to abandon him, you know, for her own good. And it’s frustrating him that she won’t follow his advice. And if this is meant to be a roundabout message to the media, then there is an interesting implication. The said implication would be that Kanye is saying something like stop “sweating me so much”. Stop harping on every single thing I do or say!
Pusha T takes Over
Then comes Yeezus’s collaborator/sidekick Pusha T. Pusha more directly expounds on the romantic premise above, even if somewhat confusingly. That is to say that on one hand, he too recognizes himself as an impenitent playa. And accordingly, it is up to whatever lady he is dealing with to decide if they want to be with him or not, since he’s not going to change.
But then Pusha turns around and mocks the selfsame romantic interest. He mocks her on the basis that if she were to actually leave him, she would also be saying goodbye to the economic benefits of moving with T.
The rapper then proceeds to criticize “hoes” as basically being gold-diggers. But he understands why they would behave so in the face of true riches, such as those he has to offer. So it’s like he’s critically analyzing the modern state of romance while simultaneously bragging about his wealth.
But as with Kanye the conclusion is the same, that he’s someone who has no intent of forsaking his playa lifestyle. Therefore, it’s up to his women friend to decide whether they can tolerate Pusha’s movements or not.
Kanye West steps back in
West then takes what can be deemed a more realistic or sympathetic approach to the matter in the third verse. He reveals that dealing with women in a romantic capacity is a task he’s always had issues with.
Or stated more plainly, he’s never been a compassionate lover. And in reality, even though he may have come off as being heartless earlier, if his girl were to actually get fed up and leave him, he’d be devastated.
What “Runaway” is all about
So as implied earlier yes, listeners have to use a bit of imagination to put together all of what’s going on here.
In true hip-hop fashion, the vocalists are shameless as far as presenting themselves as womanizers. But concurrently, Kanye West at least is mature enough to understand that behaving in such a manner is not ideal.
Or getting straight to the point, he has personality flaws. And this is not something only fans of the MTV VMAs have noticed but also Yeezus himself. However, in relaying this conclusion, he puts it into the context of how he is an imperfect lover.
And if the primary addressee is to be interpreted as a personification of the mainstream media, then basically what Kanye is saying is that they have to excuse him at times. And why? Because he has now, in his own artistic way, humbled himself by admitting, contrary to how he usually behaved in public back in the those days especially, that he isn’t flawless.
Facts about “Runaway”
This song was released on 4 October 2010. Kanye released it as the second single from his “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” album. And the labels that put it out are West’s own GOOD Music as well as Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records.
Kanye acted as both a writer and producer of this track. Other musicians who served both roles on Runaway are:
- Jeff Bhasker
- Mike Dean
- Emile Haynie
In addition to the above, the following are acknowledged as co-writers of Runaway:
- Pete Rock
- Malik Yusef
- John Branch
- Pusha T
Pete Rock is a name that hip-hop historians would recognize as being one of the top artists in the game back around the early-1990s. And the reason he is noted as a co-writer of Runaway is because a track he dropped in that era, “The Basement” (1992), is sampled therein.
As noted, the late Rick James (1948-2004) and James Brown (1933-2006) pop up on this song also. Kanye sampled vocals from the former’s track titled Mary Jane and more specifically it would seem a live performance of the song. And the latter’s 1974 track “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” is also utilized.
The same artist that drew the cover art for Runaway, George Condo, also did so for “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”.
This song, as with most of the aforementioned album, was put together in Hawaii. Hawaii was where Kanye escaped to after the Taylor Swift fiasco at the 2009 MTV VMAs.
Pusha T is a rapper who made a name for himself as part of the sibling musical duo known as Clipse. During his participation on this track, Kanye made him do something he wasn’t used to, which was rework his verse a number of times before one was finally accepted. But it was also Pusha’s participation on Runaway that led to him being signed by GOOD Music, where he has become more of a staple in the hip-hop community and eventually went on to become an executive in that powerful organization.
Somewhat ironically, considering that many deem Runaway as a response to 2009’s Kanye West / Taylor Swift controversy, is the fact that the first time Yeezus performed this tune live was at the 2010 edition of the MTV Music Video Awards. However, prior to his performance Swift herself rendered a song entitled Innocent. Interesting to note is that “Innocent” is also theoretically about Kanye.
Yeezus actually put out a short film entitled Runaway. This film is a composite of nine music videos, if you will, based on songs from “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”. Runaway itself plays a prominent role therein, taking up approximately a third of the 35 minute runtime.
The clip features a model by the name of Selita Ebanks. In the clip, Selita plays the role of Kanye’s romantic interest. And the video was filmed in the Czech Republic capital of Prague.
The imagery associated with Runaway relies heavily on a (White) ballerina-inspired motif.
Did “Runaway” chat? How successful was this song?
Runaway was a notable though not major hit by Kanye’s standard. It charted in about 10 countries and broke the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 in the process. It ended up going double-platinum stateside.
Furthermore, it was also a massive success as far as professional music critics go. For example, Rolling Stone actually deemed this track the top song of 2010.
Below are some of the countries where “Runaway” made it onto the charts:
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
- United States
FYI, it was a top-10 hit in Belgium.
Who sings the background vocals on “Runaway”?
Actually there are prominent singers handling the aforementioned duty. The first is American singer Tony Williams. Another popular American singer who goes by the name The-Dream also contributes background vocals to this piece.