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MF DOOM: Master of Poetic Sound

During the sixth week of my introductory poetry analysis class, I was tasked with reading excerpts from Christian Bӧk’s Eunoia. The topic for that week was sound: ways in which poets manipulate rhyme, assonance, alliteration, consonance, and a host of other sonic phenomena to evoke attentive response from readers. The excerpts from Bӧk’s work certainly reflected this attention to poetic sound in a remarkably unique way. 

Spanning across 5 poems, each piece is written in univocalic form (using only one vowel throughout an entire poem), and aptly named  Chapter A, E, I, or U, based on the vowel used. For example, Chapter A would be composed of lines such as, “Awkward grammar appals a craftsman”. This, of course, resulted in remarkable amounts of assonance (repeated vowel sounds), and Bӧk’s ability to combine this assonance with a flurry of rhymes fostered an exceedingly pleasurable reading experience (especially when reading out loud). 

My first response to reading Bӧk’s work was, however, not one of unequivocal surprise at the exposure to a new sonic experience. Eunoia was certainly a wildly enjoyable testament to the creative ways in which poets can bend the English language to their will, but I could not, for some reason, shake the feeling that I had heard this unique sonic deliverance somewhere else. It did not take long for me to recognize where this feeling of familiarity was coming from. The colorful assonance, the surprising rhyme schemes, the unique sonic imagery; reading Eunoia felt, to a tee, like reading a verse from the late rapper MF DOOM.

Although I have been a fan of DOOM’s unprecedented poetic capabilities for a while now, seeing the blatant similarities between the mind-bending univocalities of Eunoia and heavily assonance filled work of DOOM nevertheless forced an even greater recognition of the late rapper’s skill upon me. In DOOM, we see a rapper who was able to seamlessly mesh classic poetic sound devices into captivating and colorful storytelling. To be certain, there are an amalgam of rappers who implement these same sound devices throughout their musical work. I’d argue, however, that there are few who are able to consistently use these sound devices as a means of both complementing the lyrical content of their work and providing pleasing musical substance as well as DOOM (especially when it comes to his use of assonance).

An example of DOOM’s poignant use of assonance comes on the song “Rhinestone Cowboy” (from the album “Madvillainy”) when he raps, “Known as the grimey limey, slimy– try me blimey! / Simply smashing in a fashion that’s timely / Madvillain dashing in a beat-rhyme crime spree / We rock the house like rock ‘n roll / Got more soul than a sock with a hole”. Remarkably, almost every word used throughout these 5 lines contributes to assonance through either the long i (grimey, limey, etc.), short a (smashing, fashion, Madvillian, etc.), long e (beat, spree, we, etc.), short o (rock, got, sock, etc.), or long o (roll, more, soul, hole, etc.) vowel sounds. Within five lines, DOOM manages to create assonance with four out of the five vowels in the English language. 

Another keen example of the way DOOM extensively plays with assonance comes on his song “Rhymes Like Dimes”. DOOM writes, “Yo, yo, yo, y’all can’t stand right here / In his right hand was your man’s worst nightmare / Loud enough to burst his right eardrum, close-range / The game is not only dangerous, but it’s most strange / I sell rhymes like dimes / The one who mostly keep cash but brag about broker times”. Here, we see him utilizing the short a (can’t, stand, hand, etc.), long a (game, dangerous, strange, etc.), and long i (right, nightmare, etc.). Additionally, he is able to implement this extensive use of assonance without it ever getting in the way of the general flow of his lines. He is able to seamlessly maneuver his way from rhyme to rhyme with a pleasing eloquence in the repeated vowel sounds. 

DOOM spent almost the entirety of his career as a distinctly “underground” artist, purposefully branding himself as a mysterious figure and dodging the appeals of the main-stream. Nevertheless, his ability to smoothly incorporate large amounts of sound devices into his lyrics proved extremely influential to a number of artists of our current generation. Most notable of these disciples is Earl Sweatshirt. Earl, on multiple occasions, has expressed just how greatly the work of MF DOOM has affected his own style of writing. It is no surprise, then, when we see his use of densely assonance filled flows. This is perhaps best exemplified in his verse on Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids”. He raps, “Alright, close your eyes to what you can’t imagine / We are the Xanny-gnashing / Caddy-smashing, bratty assy / He mad, he snatched his daddy’s Jag / And used the shit for batting practice”. I highly recommend checking out the entire verse, as it is riddled with these long a (caddy, bratty) vowel sounds from start to finish (he keeps it up for eight more lines after the lines quoted above). This heavy use of DOOM-esque assonance is a clear representation of the gravity that DOOM has held in influencing modern underground rap acts. 

DOOM was, by all accounts, a master at bending poetic sound devices to his will. Although I placed emphasis on his use of assonance, a deep dive can be taken into the ways in which he utilized phenomena such as alliteration, internal rhyme, cacophony, and many, many more devices. Almost all poets search for ways in which to grasp audiences with keen sonic deliverance. Emphasis is placed on nearly every syllable, in hopes of finding just the right collection of words to elicit a response in readers or listeners. To that end, DOOM, almost every time he touched the microphone, brought a mind-bending approach towards manipulating the English language in the most colorful, lively, and poignant of ways.

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