analytical skills to the unique, one-of-a-kind case of the masked man. I
avoided it not only because of the daunting task it would be, as we’ll
soon find out, but also because I wanted to make sure the analysis did
justice to his entire body of work. Unquestionably, MF DOOM has one of
the most unique flows of all time, doing certain things in such a way
that no one else does, and now we’ve got proof as to why that is. I
originally thought I would need at least 3 songs to have enough to say,
but after transcribing his song, “Vomitspit”, from his album, MM…FOOD?
(an anagram of his name), there is more than enough here to go on, to
say the least. You can hear the song here. To try and decode some of DOOM’s crazy slang, here’s the Rapgenius page for the song.
The first aspect of DOOM’s rap that stands out is his insane rhyming
skill. Now, a lot of rappers can drop multi-syllable internal and
external rhymes, as we’ve seen, such as in my Mos Def analysis or my Jean Grae Analysis.
But what sets DOOM apart is his special approach to rhyming and the
extent to which he takes multi-syllable rhymes. In this whole rap, 44
bars long, there are no true, strict instances of the simplest type of
rhyme: external, single-syllable rhymes (“External” means they come at
the end of the sentence). Now, there are single-syllable rhymes, but
they are usually mixed up as internal syllables in a complex rhyme
chain. (A rhyme chain is the way a rapper moves from one rhyming group
on the same syllable to another.)
For instance, in bars 1 and 2 (just look at the words beneath the
music for now), he rhymes “beat” with “sleep”, but they are also rhymed
with “jeep”, connected inside a rhyme group on the sound “-ear”,
consisting of “hear”, “blare”, and “stare.” Those two groups are then
chained along with the “-i” vowel sound rhyme, on “times” and “rhymes.”
If we call the “-ee” group A, the second group on “-ear” B, and the
rhyme on “-“ with C, then we get a rhyme chain of:
Where the slash separates the bars. Now, these are very different
from your classic couplet form of the 90s, with its ABAB rhyme forms, or
even some of today’s rappers. But this is really just a taste for why
his approach to rhyme is so complex, and largely defines his style.
But that’s as simple as it gets as far as DOOM’s rhyming goes.
Because most of the time his rhymes are external or internal (inside the
sentence) multi-syllable rhymes. This is very well reflected in his
amount of rhymes per bar. Throughout this whole rap of 44 bars, there
are 496 syllables, and of those syllables, 215 are rhymed. That means
that there are 43% of his syllables are rhymed, which is one of the
highest rates you will find for any rapper. For instance, as quoted in this article here,
Camron has a rate of .41 rhymes per syllable, Eminem has a rate of .38
rhymes per syllable, while DOOM has the highest rate out of any rapper.
Now, this is not very surprising when you consider his approach to what
I call the rhyme barrier.
The rhyme barrier is the natural limiting of word choice for a rapper
when they decide to choose a word. At the start of a rap, the rapper
can choose any words to say. But once he decides to rhyme those words,
his word choice is then restricted to only words that rhyme. How well a
rapper negotiates the rhyme barrier is, for me, a measure of how good a
rapper is. Can they continue to stay on topic, while still dropping
DOOM, however, flips this script. That’s because his approach to the
rhyme barrier is rather idiosyncratic. It is my view that he
consistently sacrifices a consistent dramatic narrative in order to drop
complex rhymes. Now, I would consider this a shortcoming of a rapper
normally, but for DOOM I see it as endemic of his style.
For instance, he raps, “A lot of stuff happens that the new won’t TELL
YOUS / BLUES on L JUICE, SNOOZE all HELL LOOSE.” Now, I’m not exactly
sure what the first line of that has to do with the second line. But it
does allow DOOM to make 8 of 10 straight syllables rhyme. This is
something he consistently does, and is a marker of his style.
There are more metrics we can use to define DOOM’s style. For
instance, out of those 496 syllables, there are 283 words. This means
that the amount of syllables per word, a measure of the complexity of
the words that a rapper uses, is 1.75. This compares as being
substantially more complex than other rates I’ve seen, such as in my Nas analysis.
For example, Eminem’s rap in “Business” has 1.21 syllables per word,
while Game’s in “How We Do” and Nas in the Busta Rhymes song “Don’t Get
Carried Away” have rates of 1.19 and 1.48, respectively. Finally, in a
freestyle of 44 bars with 496 syllables per bar, there are 11.27
syllables per bar. This also compares as being higher than the rates of
other rappers out there. So, DOOM is, overall, a complex, wordy rapper,
something which may be obvious to some of you out there, but now we have
the right numbers to describe it.
However, back to his rhymes. As I said before, most of the time his
rhymes are external multi-syllable rhymes that are couched within rather
conventional rhyme chain and sentence phrasing schemes. Representative
for this is the music from bars 3-6:
For this discussion, it’s important to know what a bar is: a bar is
simply a musical duration of time, just like an hour is a measure of
chronological time. A bunch of bars together make a verse or hook, and
the verses and hooks together make a song. The bars are represented in
the music above by the vertical lines that separate the musical notes,
such as between the word “hologram” and “even” in the image above.
(As a disclaimer, this article will make use of notated sheet music,
but I PROMISE even if you can’t read music, you will be able to
understand it.) Furthermore, those curved lines under the noteheads,
such as from “real” to “hologram”, represent basically sentences. These
are also important for categorizing rappers, as we’ll see.
So, let’s have that music again:
(For now, just look at the words below the note-heads. We’ll get into
reading those in part 2 of my DOOM analysis.) You can see that there
are 4 multi-syllable end rhymes in total: “hologram” with “swallowed the
ham” and “sand sandwich salad” with “man’s bland ballad.”
Another good representation of this is bars 13-16:
Here, “funky socks” is rhymed with “monkey pox” at the end of a
sentence. This example, along with the last one, are also good examples
of DOOM’s conventional sentence phrasing and rhyme chaining. Notice how,
compared to our first example (“it’s the beat…”), the rhyme groups here
are chained much more conventionally. In this and the last example,
they are simply AB, where A represents the “any whos / any shoes” group,
and B represents the “funky socks / monkey pox” grouping. Furthermore,
observe how each sentence falls completely within the barlines
(remember, those vertical lines such as between “whos” and “seeds”,
which, again, is just a measurement of musical time.)
We can also describe this by measuring how many sentences there are
per bar. There are 44 bars, and there are 54 sentences, so there are
1.23 sentences per bar. Now, this contrasts with someone like Busta
Rhymes on “Holla”, the sheet music of which you can see here,
and for which I will be having a full analysis in the coming days. In
that song there are 36 sentences in the first 24 bars, for a rate of 1.5
sentences per bar. DOOM, meanwhile, does not make much use of
syncopation. For instance, in a rap of 44 bars, there will be 176 beats,
because there are 4 beats per bar. Of those 176 beats, 135 fall within a
sentence, and only 18 of those 135 are skipped by DOOM – for instance,
in bar 3, between “real rhymes” and “not your everyday hologram”, a beat
is skipped by DOOM and doesn’t have a note/word placed on it.
This means he has .13 syncopated beats per every on-beat. That is a
low figure. For instance, for Notorious B.I.G.’s first verse on
“Hypnotize”, out of 72 beats over 18 bars, he lands on 60 of them, and
skips the other 12. This means that he has .2 syncopated beats for every
on-beat. (Busta and Notorious B.I.G. are 2 rappers who will get their
own complete blog post coming up over my 30 day Kickstarter campaign,
which you can donate to at this link here.)
Furthermore, with 54 sentences and 496 syllables, there are 9.18
syllables per sentence. In Notorious’ rap, however, there are 30
sentences over 18 bars, for a rate of 1.66 sentences per bar (much
higher than DOOM’s 1.23 sentences per bar), but also only 5.93 syllables
per sentence, much lower than DOOM’s rate of 9.19 syllables per
sentence. Also, there are 383 words, and 496 syllables / 383 words =
1.30 syllables per word.
So, for the most part, DOOM does not make the structure of his raps
very complex, while it is the musical content of those raps that is
But then again…
Time for a little Music Theory 101. Because this is easiest to show
visually, I made the video down below to explain how to count beats and
bars. Watch the first 6 minutes of it to understand. I say it’s for
rappers, but it’s also very useful to the intelligent musical listener
as well. You can also skip ahead for just a summary.
Basically, a beat is a musical unit of time whose length in seconds
can change between songs, because sometimes songs are fast and songs are
slow. It is the rate at which these beats come that changes. There are 4
beats per bar, and usually 16 bars make up a verse in rap music. This
is important because we can also categorize and describe rappers by
whether their rhymes always fall in the same place relative to the beat
and bar, or in different places.
So let’s now use this to describe our first example from above, the opening bars of the song:
Even if you’ve never been taught how to read music, you can still
understand the above image. Compare the rhymes of “hologram” with
“swallowed the ham.” You can tell that they still fall in the same place
in the bar: at the end, with the “-ogram” and “the ham” part of the
rhymes being in the same exact position. Just look at how the noteheads
over them look exactly the same. This means that they fall in the same
place relative to the beat of the time signature. As explained before,
the beat is the underlying pulse in all music that is what rappers count
You can see that the rhymes “any whos” and “any shoes” and “funky
socks” with “money pox” are all in the same place in the bar, and
relative to the beat. They come at the end of the bar, and each
pairing’s noteheads above them look the same.
However, the most mind-bending aspect of DOOM’s rap is how he
subverts this tendency, how he places his rhymes in almost the same
place from bar to bar, but not quite. Because DOOM uses incredibly
nuanced rhythms that blows the complexity of almost any other type of
music – rap, electronic, classical, country, more – out of the water. As
a demonstration of this, listen to the song with DOOM’s rhythms played
by the triangle first with the underlying beat in the background played
by the drums, and bob your head to it. Then, I repeat DOOM’s rhythms,
but without a beat. Now, try and tell if you can see where the beat that
was played by the drums is falling.
A lot harder to tell where the underlying beat is now, isn’t it?
Let’s find out why. One of those beats counted by the bass kick can
be divided in half to make an 8th note. That 8th note can be divided in
half to make a 16th note. Now, this is usually the metric level that rap
makes use of: 16th notes. They are rather simple and can be heard
easily by a listener or rapper. However, that doesn’t mean that the beat
can’t be split into other groupings – for instance, 5 16th notes
(called quintuplets), instead of 4 16th notes (called “quadruplets”).
That is what Andre 3K does in his first verse on “Aquemini”, as I
explain in my article here. This also means that you can divide them into 7 – septuplets – or 9 –nontuplets? Notuplets? Whatever.
But those divisions of 5, 7, and 9 are a lot harder to hear. However,
DOOM makes ample use of those divisions. As you can in the video, he
divides the beat into 7 on the words “Break it rolling”, and “through
ya hood”, such as in the music below (the numbers over the brackets
indicate how they’re divided, if it’s not by 4):
He also divides 2 beats together into 9, such as on “While he’s in his oratory” and “glorious like a horror story:”
Now, just how fine is DOOM’s sense of rhythm? Let’s do some math. The
beats per minute, a measurement of how fast a song is, is, for
“Vomitspit”, 94. That means that each beat lasts .64 seconds. That means
that each quadruplet sixteenth note lasts .64 / 4, = .16 seconds. But a
quintuplet sixteenth note lasts .64/5 =, .13 seconds, and a septuplet
sixteenth note lasts .64 / 7 = .09 seconds. He makes use of a 32nd
septuplet notes, which would last .045 seconds, such as on the “hood” of
“through ya hood.”
You can hear how long that would last in the video below:
Two final points. Note how the structure of the song, a freestyle (a
song with no chorus but just one long verse), supports DOOM’s display of
his superior rapping skills. He doesn’t have to stop for a chorus,
where rhythms are largely repeated and the amount of rhymes are reduced.
Furthermore, he can make it just one long verse, more than twice as
long as what is normal (16 bars), so he can just go, and go, and go.
A final idiosyncratic aspect to DOOM’s raps are the large pauses he
takes between raps. Now, when an emcee raps, they are constrained by
some of the realities of actual spoken speech. For instance, in a normal
conversation with your friend, you wouldn’t take huge pauses in between
your sentences when you’re giving your side of the conversation, unless
you can’t think of something to say, or something like that. So rappers
have to stick to this – no large pauses in between sentences. DOOM,
however, does take large pauses in between sentences, and that gives his
work part of his unique DOOM flow. For instance, you can see this in
between, most notably, “Funk me” and “I’m like any whos”, but he also
does it between “horror story” and “the mask is like Jason”, “monkey
pox” and “instead, she want to…”, and so on.
So, as a short summary, DOOM uses incredibly complex rhythms and
rhyming tendencies, couched in a wordy, sentence-heavy style. However,
the structure of his sentences are rather conventional, in order to
strongly support just how radically innovative his rhythms and rhymes
are. You can see all of these in the video below, where I play the
rhythms of his words as the green bar follows along to the music and the
bass kick counts the beats.
Thanks again for reading!