Over a tender, piano-tinged track, Kanye West toasts the "douche bags" in this song, where he packs in a lot of sometimes conflicting thoughts, punctuated by the dream of running away from it all. While he seems to be addressing a girl (this wasn't long after his contretemps with Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards
), West claimed that the song could be about his relationship with society.
A track from West's fifth studio album, Dark Twisted Fantasy, "Runaway" features rapper Pusha T of Clipse, who at the time was a new artist signed to West's label G.O.O.D. Music.
West debuted the song on September 12, 2010 at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. He said the song was about having remorse for being a fool, then rapped about toasting those who are douche bags, scumbags and jerk-offs. Afterwards the Chicago MC dedicated his performance to his late mother.
West made a 34-minute noir film to accompany this song and the album. Filmed in Prague in August, the promo is based on the life of the mythical phoenix, which West admits relates to his own career. He told New York Magazine: "It's the story of a phoenix fallen to Earth and I make her my girlfriend. And people discriminate against her and eventually she has to burn herself alive and go back to her world. I've been feeling the idea of the phoenix. It's been in my heart for a while."
West added, referring to the controversial incident when he stage-crushed Taylor Swift during her acceptance speech at last year's VMAs: "It's maybe parallel to my career. I threw a Molotov cocktail on my career last year, in a way, and I had to come back as a better person."
Pusha T revealed to MTV's Rap Fix Live that Kanye was adamant about packing as many "douche bags" into their collaboration as possible: "I'm writing a verse, and I come back to the table, and it's something that I'm feeling, and he's like, 'Naw, but I need more douche bag.' And I'm like, 'All right, man, c'mon.' So I go back, and he's like, 'Naw, more douche bag!' He's screaming at me 'more douche bag' at this point.
I just really had to, like, take myself out of it a little bit and then put the perspective of the guy who thinks he can fix it, but he's not being preventative."
Push told MTV's Rap Fix how the song was inspired by his own life: "It starts from a conversation. We're talking, and he's like, 'I like your perspective on that. Put a verse to that.' What he didn't know was [that] I was going through my own relationship turmoil at the time," Push revealed. "I was being a douche bag," he said, adding, vaguely, that he was doing "whatever wrong you can do" in a relationship."
Push added that Kanye was relentless about making the final song just right. "I've never worked with anybody like him," he said. "He just pushes you and pushes you and pushes you. With 'Runaway,' I think I wrote that four times."
The song borrows a drum break from Pete Rock & CL Smooth 1992 debut album, Mecca and the Soul Brother
. Rock discussed the sampling in an interview with UK site The Hip Hop Chronicle
: "The drums are something I chopped up years ago - 1991 actually," he explained. "We were making the album in November of 1991. I put them on the Soul Brother
album. Kanye told me he sampled the drums from that album and then put the music on top of it. When I heard it, I was blown away."
Rolling Stone placed this at #1 on their list of the Best Singles of 2010 maintaining, "In 2010, no other song was so crazily epic or jaw-droppingly gorgeous - not on the radio, not anywhere."
Budweiser used the chilly piano played in the first 30 seconds of this song in a commercial for their Bud Light Platinum that ran on the 2012 Super Bowl. It accompanies shots of a robotic beer factory.
Kanye West performed "Runaway" during his "Free Larry Hoover" Benefit Concert, held jointly with Drake on December 9, 2021. Ye switched up the lyrics to give a direct plea to his estranged wife, Kim Kardashian, who was in attendance. Seizing the opportunity to sing directly to the reality starlet, after chanting three times, "I need you to run right back to me" in the outro, the rapper added, "More specifically, Kimberly."