Another week, another new Kanye track. However, this week is different: on top of the new G.O.O.D. Friday song, Tuesday saw the release of the studio version of “Runaway,” the song that Kanye played at the VMAs, and the subject of the 40-minute film noir short film he’s working on. It also featured the long-awaited marriage of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver, who bookends “Monster”) and Kanye. Here’s the breakdown:
1) “Lost In The World” – Featuring Justin Vernon and Gil-Scott Heron
“Lost In The World” is going to have to wait for you. I, like a fool, downloaded the song once it leaked. It was only after listening that I discovered that, rightfully, Kanye was pissed that the track had leaked early, causing him to (very nearly) put the kibosh on G.O.O.D. Friday for the week. The track was unfinished, and should not have seen the light of day, at least not yet. You should wait to hear it, until the full song is complete.
I will tell you, however, that “Lost In The World” may be the most resplendent song that Kanye West has ever recorded. At any given point, Justin Vernon never feels like he shouldn’t be where he is, all auto-tuned in glory, and he brings the mix together perfectly. It’s the most dynamic song of the set. Gil-Scott Heron shows up to close the song out with a bile-filled spoken word piece about America, complete with bongos coming to he forefront of the song’s beating heart. It’s still a rough mix, but I can’t wait to hear how the polishes up once included in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the newly-named forthcoming album.
2) “Christian Dior Denim Flow” – Featuring Kid Cudi, Pusha T, John Legend, Lloyd Banks & Ryan Leslie
“I got the world in my hand, the master plan / But I don’t know why I keep calling, why I keep / All of these girls at my shows, they lovin’ me / But I don’t know why I keep calling, why I keep calling you.”
John Legend’s chorus may ring like it should have been on 808s and Heartbreak, but here, on its own, it’s a showstopper, and proof that Legend can hold his own. “Christian Dior Denim Flow” is part namedrop-athon of the fashion world, as the title suggests, and, buried underneath, a meditation on obsession with beauty. The song changes gears more than once, but never really feels forced, and packs a swell string section, and potentially one of the best in a good while. The production here is simply flawless – every shift in the song is complemented flawlessly by the ebb and flow of the instruments behind it, making everything come together perfectly. There aren’t any true standouts here, because here, everyone on board pulls their weight. The track is by no means essential, but it’s a nice change of pace, and it al works beautifully.
3) “Runaway” – Featuring Pusha T.
If Kanye West has one thing, it’s swagger. Until recently, he wasn’t the type to say, “I fucked up, I am sorry.” But, following the Taylor Swift incident at the last VMAs, it changed. After a breakdown on Twitter culminating in a public apology to Swift, and a self-penned article in XXL, he’s ready to heal. After all, those same wrongs helped him write this song. And, what a song it is. The far and away best of the new tracks, “Runaway” starts with a sparse piano line plinking in the the dark, one note at a time, until the flawless drum sounds come in, elevating the track up to godly proportions. It starts at the chorus:
“Yeah I always find, yeah, I always find something wrong / You’ve been putting up with my shit just way too long / I’m so gifted at finding what I don’t like the most / So I think it’s time for us to have a toast / Let’s have a toast to the douchebags, let’s have a toast to the assholes, let’s have a toast for the scumbags, every one of them that I know / Let’s have a toas for the jerkoffs, who would never take work off / Baby I got a plan, run away as fast as you can.”
If “Runaway” is nothing else, it’s Kanye allowing his ego to take the day off, singing about how he could never handle intimacy, and even when he finds something he truly loves, he finds a way to fuck it up. His singing voice may not be the best, but the song just wouldn’t be the same if he simply rapped everything. Pusha T slightly tarnishes the beauty of the song, but it can be forgiven: the song is a true power-house, and easily the best track he’s released since “Love Lockdown” or “Heard ‘Em Say,” way back when. In short, it’s a masterwork. With its infinitely repeatable chorus, its sprawling and heartbreaking arrangement, “Runaway” is the kind of song that Kanye West will be remembered for when he’s done making music. I thought that Kanye had run out of tricks to pull out of his sleeve, but this time, I’m completely floored. My hat is off.
4) “Don’t Stop!” – Child Rebel Soldier
A perfect juxtaposition to the last GOOD Friday track, and even more of a clash with “Runaway,” “Don’t Stop!” is, quite simply, a fucking explosion. At just under four minutes, you get approximately 30 seconds where the presiding crew, Child Rebel Soldier (aka Kanye, Pharrell, and Lupe Fiasco), rap breathlessly over a warped horn section and a tribal beat. This is the kind of hip-hop that really doesn’t, for whatever reason, get made anymore, and that’s a shame – This is exciting, and it’s a shame that this didn’t make it to the tracklist of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but I sincerely hope we see a record from the trio in the very near future.
5) “Take One For The Team” – Featuring Keri Hilson, Pusha T & Cyhi the Prince
It’s very possible, now that the new record is a month away, that Kanye is ready to let his guard down, and drop some sick fucking beats. “Take One For The Team” is built around a warped beat-boxing sample, mixed into a sinister beat, and thrown into a blender. “Why every ghetto bitch gotta smell like Love Spell? Or that goddamn cucumber Bath & Body works?” Kanye is in asshole mode here, and it makes for brilliant hip-hop. Arguably, though, Keri Hilson’s Janelle Monae-esque groove steals the show, and balances out the entire act – “Never mind me, Ye have fun, if the cops ask, that’s my gun, that’s my weed / Anything you need, I’mma take, I’mma take this one for the team.” It’s essentially a muddled message for the defense of Bro Code, but it plays perfectly, so it doesn’t even matter.
Bonus points are awarded for the line: “She don’t clean, but I bet she got a vacuum mouth.” Thank you, Yeezy.
6) “Don’t Look Down” – Featuring Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco, & Big Sean
Another stomper, but slowed down just enough to come across as heartfelt. “Don’t Look Down” acts as a loose companion piece to the short film for “Runaway,” the track (pardon the pun) soars with the help of the players, most specifically the consistent show-stopper, Mos Def, who gives us one of the best choruses this side of John Legend’s “Christian Dior Denim Flow” chorus. This track is the one that, so far, I’m the most disappointed isn’t making it to the album, because it works so perfectly – even Kanye’s talkbox solo doesn’t come off as over-the-top — In fact, it almost completes the song. If anybody thought that the task of putting out a new high-production track every single week would drain Kanye of his creativity, let this serve as proof that the pressure suits him — He’s released 9 new songs, a new single, a 35-minute film, and has completed an album – He’s not stopping any time soon.
Plus — Runaway: The Film
“Runaway” is an important track. It’s possible that Kanye knows this, because he’s used it as the central piece for his new music video, titled “Runaway,” which is not so much a video as a batshit insane short film, lasting just over half an hour. This is a big task, and the video looks, quite frankly, beautiful.
The film is essentially a central narrative, used to piece together a handful of images, performances, and clips from the new record. In it, Kanye comes across, takes in, and subsequently falls in love with, a phoenix. Yes, as in the mythical bird. It sounds over-the-top, and it is — however, what it lacks in grounding, it makes up for with self-awareness. Halfway through the film, a guest at a dinner party leans over to him and says, bluntly, “Your girlfriend is very beautiful… do you know she’s a bird?” He responds, almost puzzled: “I guess I never noticed before.” A few minutes later, after a choreographed-with-ballerinas performance for the big song of the (half)-hour, “Runaway,” a large bird is set on the table for dinner, and the phoenix – rightfully – responds by screaming.
Essentially, there is no deep plot to the film. Boy meets phoenix, boy falls in love with phoenix, phoenix learns what it is to be human, phoenix explodes into flames, like any good phoenix. However, there is an undercurrent of lost love built in to the story. Partway through, the phoenix explains to him that if she does not burn, she will turn to stone. “I’ll never, ever let you burn,” he tells her. Kanye, or the character he’s playing, represents a desire to hold onto something rare and beautiful – here, most likely representing love itself – and coming to terms with the fact that, one day, you’ll have to accept that beauty of that nature is fleeting.
Though, the film is not all narrative. Even if the plot of the film bores you, the scenery shots, flame effects, and fireworks throughout the film are a thing of beauty. The scenes where the phoenix is meeting a rabbit and a sheep in (I’m serious) Kanye’s yard are, at least peaceful, and at most poignant. This isn’t a throwaway video like most artists put out these days. “Runaway” is a callback to a time where music videos were, at their core, an extension of the music that they represented. Though the narrative may not follow the plot of the song, it does represent the same thing: It’s about learning to care for what you have, and knowing when to let it go.