Today, we’ll be continuing our look at lyrically exceptional songs with a special track from the one and only, MF DOOM.
Yesterday, we looked at “The Bones of an Idol” by The New Pornographers, and examined the cryptic and poetic lyrics penned by Carl Newman and sung by Neko Case. But after last week’s overexposure of indie bands, it was time to switch things up.
There are really only so many indie rock songs one can review before the need for more intricate lyrics grows too strong to resist. And when it comes to writing intricate, if sometimes cryptic lyrics, it’s hard to find a better example than MF DOOM.
Because DOOM is somewhat of a lesser-known name (as far as mainstream music is concerned), let’s take a quick look at the rap villain’s origin story.
MF DOOM, born Daniel Dumile (read: doo-mil-ay) is an English-born, U.S.-based rapper who uses the name MF DOOM as his super-villain stage persona, based off of the Marvel character Dr. Doom from “The Fantastic Four”. Over the years, Dumile has taken on a number of different monikers, and been a part of several collaborations with other artists.
Dumile first entered the rap scene in 1988 under the name Zev Love X, as a member of the group KMD with his younger brother DJ Subroc and another MC by the name of Rodan. Then in 1993, just before the release of their second album, Subroc was killed in a car accident. In the same week, the group was dropped from Elektra Records, and the album was shelved.
After the death of his brother, Dumile retreated from the rap scene until 1997, when he emerged as MF DOOM for the first time with the release of a handful of singles. In 1999, he released his debut album, “Doomsday”.
Since then, MF DOOM has collaborated with big names like Talib Kweli, Ghostface Killah, Danger Mouse, Madlib, and more. Our song today comes from a collaboration he did with Madlib dubbed Madvillain, during which they released MF DOOM’s arguably most successful album, “Madvillainy”.
Coming in at just under two minutes, “Strange Ways” is one of the shorter songs on “Madvillainy”, but it also packs one hell of a punch. Also, it’s one of the few songs in which DOOM doesn’t curse at all, so there’s that too.
The main themes that runs through “Strange Ways” are police violence and war profiteering. DOOM breaks the song up into essentially two halves. In the first, we see him rapping from the perspective of a police officer, pointing out the problems of stereotypical thinking.
“Wreak havoc, beep beep it’s mad traffic
Sleek and lavish people speaking leaking to the maverick
He see as just another felony drug arrest
Any day could be the one he pick the wrong thug to test
Slug through the vest… Shot in the street
For pulling heat on a father whose baby’s gotta eat”
Here, DOOM points out the injustice being done in his community and around the world, as struggling families are torn apart by fear-driven “officers of the law”. In the next stanza, DOOM poses a poignant question, while at the same time calling for the reforming of a broken system he likens to a monster.
“Now, who’s the real thugs, killers and gangsters?
Set the revolution, let the things bust and thank us
When the smoke clear, you can see the sky again
There will be the chopped off heads of leviathan”
In the second verse, DOOM widens his scope, turning to the problems of war, and pointing out who really stands to profit from it.
“Some will go of they own free will to die
Others take them with you when they blow sky high
What’s the difference? All you get is lost children
While the bosses sit up behind the desks”
Here, DOOM points out a cruel truth about war, equating soldiers and terrorists, because at the end of the day, they both end up killing innocents in fighting a war for people who get to stay safe and away from its horrors.
“It cost billions to blast humans in half, into calves and arms
Only one side is allowed to have bombs
It’s like making a soldier drop his weapon
Shooting him, and telling him to get to stepping
Obviously, they came to portion up his fortune
Sounds to me like that old robbery/extortion”
Finally, we get another poignant observation on the real motives behind some wars. The last line calls back to the first verse’s question: “Now, who’s the real thugs, killers and gangsters?”.
Alright, that’s all the space we’ve got for today. I hope you enjoyed looking at MF DOOM’s “Strange Ways”. Tomorrow, we’ll pick up again with another lyric-heavy track.