By Simon Vozick-Levinson
Updated July 30, 2020 at 05:31 PM EDT

Image Credit: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.comKanye West‘s “Runaway” held 11 million pairs of eyes in rapt attention when he debuted it at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday night. But how compelling is the song itself without all the televised spectacle, when it’s just another MP3 on your iPod on a random weekday? Now that NYC radio DJ Funkmaster Flex has debuted West’s studio version of “Runaway” online, we have an answer. And I like “Runaway” even better this way than I did at the VMAs.

Away from all the pyrotechnics and backward-bending ballerinas, it’s easier to hear how much effort West put into “Runaway.” The production is up there with his best recent work, layering ominous synth thrums in several shades over the coldly plinking keys that open the track. His lyrics are plain-spoken and unpolished, perhaps too much so at times, but there’s no denying their emotional power. While West’s last album was widely praised for its vulnerability, the dominant mood on 808’s & Heartbreak was self-pity. Here he casts a much harsher and more critical eye on his own flaws, especially in that sure-to-be-divisive chorus: “I always find something wrong/You’ve been putting up with my s— just way too long/I’m so gifted at finding what I don’t like the most,” West admits, later adding, “Never was much of a romantic/I could never take the intimacy.” Some might see mere shock value in West’s apparent description of himself as a “douchebag,” a “scumbag,” and other less printable terms, but to me his self-loathing feels bracingly real. As a nerdy rap blogger, I am also professionally obligated to note that the Clipse’s Pusha T hands in a typically sterling guest verse. (I am a sucker for an Ichabod Crane reference.)

What do you think of West’s “Runaway” now that the studio version is out there? How does it compare to “Power,” “Monster,” and the other new tunes he’s released lately? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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