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Monday, May 6, 2013

Rapper's Flow Encyclopedia - MF DOOM Analysis

As long as I’ve been avoiding it, it’s time to take my exceptional 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.
Shall we?

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 complex rhymes?

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 complex.

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.

How To Count Beats & Bars

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 by.

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.

See The Video Here

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:

See The Video Here

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.

See The Video Here

Thanks again for reading!


  1. Nice analysis dude, too many people sleep on DOOM

    1. Thanks man! There's another analysis on him here that includes some stuff not told here.

  2. nice i really like MF Doom aswell:D i like the album, "hoe cakes" is ma shit:):) but i like "Madvillainy" best as a whole.. really tho, dont even try to compare MF with Em lol.. Em would slay him on a track! i.e. listen/decipher songs like "All i think about" / "Shady Xv" / "Right for me" / "Psychopath killer" / "Raw" and its clear that he is on another lvl then MF.. i enjoyed the post tho

    1. I think you're being very ignorant in stating that Em would "slay" DOOM on a track. DOOM is just as, if not more talented than Em.

    2. did you even read the article? what a stupid thing to say

    3. I love Shady, but if i had to pick between the two i wouldnt hesitate to pick DOOOOOOOOM all day baby

    4. Thanks man! Just hit me up at and I'll give you the whole MF DOOM chapter from my upcoming book for free...thanks man!



  3. hey, I am new to this site and I'm enjoying the analysis very much, but I wanted to ask about the rhythmic subdivisions - surely these rhythms sound right with computer playback, but these exact subdivisions are very hard to execute by most acomplished musicians without rigorous preperation.
    it seems to me like rapping has a lot to do with jazz, that rappers can rap on the beat or laid back/pushing forward.
    sometimes in jazz you just push any number of notes into a beat or two just so that the target note will fall where you want it rhythmically, or to blur the rhythmic phrasing (coltrane does this a lot in his more traditional stuff), and so the actual duration of each note isn't measured, just the overall time of the phrase. do you think that the exact notation is relevant, from your perspective? it seems to me to be more of a liquid approach to rhythem.
    by the way, the jazz comparison also calls to attention the longer pauses (something you hear a lot in bebop soloing) and the momentary compromising of coherence (kinda like "playing out" the way eric dolphy does it, where he generally plays inside the scale but then would play notes outside the scale, following motivic logic.)

    1. Hey man!

      >surely these rhythms sound right with computer playback, but these exact subdivisions are very hard to execute by most acomplished musicians without rigorous preperation.

      Agreed! :)

      The answer lies in an understanding of how transcriptions can function. Transcriptions of music can either be for 1.) performance purposes, or 2.) cataloguing purposes. Performance transcriptions are made so that people can transcribe the music, and then give it to someone else to perform. Cataloguing transcriptions, the type that I do, are simply so that we have the most accurate representation of the music possible. There are certain subtler aspects to a performance that are left out of performance transcriptions, because to write them in might confuse the performer. Cataloguing ones don't worry about that. For the rest of the story, check out an article I wrote here:

      As for this:

      >it seems to me like rapping has a lot to do with jazz, that rappers can rap on the beat or laid back/pushing forward.
      sometimes in jazz you just push any number of notes into a beat or two just so that the target note will fall where you want it rhythmically, or to blur the rhythmic phrasing (coltrane does this a lot in his more traditional stuff), and so the actual duration of each note isn't measured, just the overall time of the phrase. do you think that the exact notation is relevant, from your perspective?

      You would def want to read this next article too then; all I need to convince you to do so, i think, is to tell you the title: "Kweli vs. Beethoven: What Does Jazz Really MEAN In Rap?"

      Enjoy man! Hit me up at for more stuff like this, and another explanation for your questions :)



    2. Hey man, great article! I was redirected here from reddit by way of the Nas article! I just had a couple quick questions if you wouldn't mind :)

      1. Why Vomitspit? It's an amazing song don't get me wrong, but given the article about Nas' technical talent I can't help but think Figaro would have been a great song to mention/break down in either article.
      2. Secondary to that, what are your thoughts on Figaro? I see it as one of, if not THE most technical display from an emcee.

      Not trying to challenge you, you're the expert here, but I was curious about your thought.

    3. Hey man, I would LOVE to answer your questions, could you just email me them at so I could do it on a less-annoyingly formmated platform? haha...Sorry, Blogger's comment sections' abilities kinda suck, and I want to be able to include video/pics/links/etc. and stuff, so I think it'd be better all-around for everyone...thanks again for writing man! Glad you liked it :) and If you write me..I'll hook you up with the whole chapter from my forthcoming published book about MF DOOM!