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The A+ List: Kanye West And Silverstein’s “Runaway”

intimate masterpiece

intimate masterpiece

When Kanye West plays “Runaway” live, he stands at a keyboard and just hits one note, and the audience goes completely insane and he wanders around, and he looks at the keyboards and wanders around and the audience is hyped beyond belief, they’re gagging for it, then he hits the same note again and stops again and the anticipation is astounding. The greatest musician of the 21 st century is about to play his greatest hit, the one that breaks every rule, the one that matters so much: it is like a sign from the Twilight Zone to a future that just never happened. It is where pop music as art, as Sgt Peppers or The Low Spark of The High Heel Shoes, meets Modern Sounds Of Country And Western Music, it is just a triumph, nine minutes of sublimity and it starts just here. Just that one note and he hits it again and again and again and when he is ready he takes on his finest moment. A song with so much sadness and power, so rap, so sexist, so mean spirited and yet so filled with feeing and humanity you know what the reply to Pusha T mea culpa has to be:

I did it.

I admit it.

Now pick your next move, you can leave or live with it.

In Silverstein’s cover they are even harsher than P,  they find the song that was hiding in plain view all the time and then they make it their own, they evolve it for a rock band, a hot punk rock band teaching a groupie a most brutal lesson. As though the Kanye West’s brilliant verse never even happened.

West rapped:

“Never was much of a romantic,

I could never take the intimacy.

And I know I did damage,

‘Cause the look in your eyes is killing me,

I guess you’ve got another advantage

‘Cause you could blame me for everything.

And I don’t know how I’m a manage,

If one day you just up and leave”


Silverstein rapped:

“Okay ’24/7, 365 groupies stay on their grind,

I, I, I get it, alright I’ll help you get it,

but now that you’re here either leave or get with it.

I’m not a chauvinist, this is just reality,

you can’t afford guilt on a rock band salary.

Mickey full of vodka, you’re looking like mallory.

Fuck counting money, you should stick to counting calories.

Let me tell you this thing here is where it ends,

unless you’ve got a couple friends that want sharing in.

Yesterday you were outside staring in,

and now you’re here and next week you’ll be here for them.

Every tour bus visit every laminate,

comes with expectations from that band you’re with.

This is everyday business, so manage it,

or runaway now if your ass can’t handle it”

As brutal a verse as hip hop has ever thrown up and Silverstein follow it with the Kanye verse, so between the two it is a romantic whiplash:  from “you can’t afford guilt on a rock band’s salary” (also a vision of the new world order, that’s where it’s at economically) to “I don’t know how I a manage”.

This romantic (sexual) confusion is the essence of “Runaway”: in the first verse the question of fidelity leads to more questions, in the second verse the terms of the relationship are spelled out, in the Silverstein cover, romance is stunted by desire and limitations, and in the end of both songs the only thing left is the fear of aloneness.

And back to those notes on the piano till Kanye’s condemnation or salutation, warning or shout at you “Look atcha”. By the time you reach the chorus, one of the most inclusive shout outs, Kanye joins the douchebags because he doesn’t know what else to do. He doesn’t know how to manage romance.

“Runaway” is about romantic failure. It is about how you lose the people you need to make you live if not happily than with hope. Whenever West sings about love you can see his late mother peering over his shoulder, this is from before his marriage and daughter, though post “Cruelest Winter”. But it is also about cruelest summers, it’s about how men see women as commodities, as though they don’t need them to complete them, they need something else, the Groupies, always dating upwards, staying on their grind, leave or live with it and finally, it is about that lonely piano note always there, always a plink, always sad, always waiting to be left alone. Young, rich, and tasteless, and alone.

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