Given the turbulence of the current political climate, the past few years have witnessed a resurgence in socially conscious hip-hop, with Kendrick Lamar, Run the Jewels and Common all releasing notably politically engaged albums. ‘Run!’ is clearly a segment of such a lineage, in its both oblique and explicit evocations of contemporary American politics. The most undeniable of these is the reference to ‘Hillary and Trump… debating like kids in school eating lunch‘ before Banks declares ‘we not included in America’s cult‘.
This sense of political otherness and detachment is mirrored in the references to Forrest Gump, a character ostracized from conventional American society. However, such allusions also recall Frank Ocean’s ‘Forrest Gump’ from his 2012 opus Channel Orange, a song in which Ocean explores his love for another man. Given Banks’ attempts to integrate his own homosexuality into hip-hop’s heteronormative conceptions of masculinity and braggadocio, the parallel only deepens his sense of disconnection from picket-fence America, his alienation exemplified in his command to ‘run Forrest run’.
These dreams of escape are realised in the Latin inflections of the track’s minimalistic rhythms. However, they are also heavily reminiscent of Azealia Banks’ ‘212’— once more, Banks is invoking the music of black America to draw historical parallels between institutional racism and the nightmarish vision of America he conjures, where ‘they used to beat you ‘till you black and blue, now blue shoot black in the back‘ and ‘the boys on the block pull the trigger just for fun‘. The equation of police brutality and gang violence reaches its logical conclusion with the track closing with an ominous, impersonal gunshot; the implication is that it is irrelevant who fires, because the victim is equally dead. The thwarted dreams of escape and progress it represents make for a bleakly appropriate conclusion to a track embroiled in the current and historical travails of black America.
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