“30 Hours”? A Take on a Hook

On Kanye West’s “30 Hours” off of Life of Pablo, the Kareeim Riggins produced beat features a sample of an Arthur Russell tune, “Answers Me”.

What is fascinating about this sample is its use in the hook: “…drove thirty hours”. West sings this in tandem with Russell’s vocals. This creates the assumption that each time that sample comes back, Russell is singing “thirty hours”.

When you listen to the Russell song separately, it is a different story entirely. Russell is singing “where the islands go”, not “thirty hours”. So could West of confused what was sung as “thirty hours” in a sort of creative accident? There is freedom in having a frame work that is still fuzzy. Things can not so much get lost in translation but transformed in translation. For instance, there might not be much we know about 15th century performance practice of certain Iberian vocal pieces. Singers have to shoot from the hip with what is given to them and establish something new in the process.

Or did something more intriguing take place here? Realizing what Russell sang, did West contort the lyrics to fit his artistic intent? It is like the person that changes the phrase in a game of telephone on purpose. She takes what was a given and flips it on its head. Don Giovanni is an 18th century opera by Mozart. Peter Sellars set the opera in a way that spoke to the tension of poverty, race, and drugs in urban environments during the late 20th century. This is not what Mozart originally intended.

Whatever Kanye West actually did for the hook of “30 Hours”, the means of which he could have went about it are miniature lessons in of themselves.

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