I’m unsure if MF DOOM is still stranded in London (he was apparently refused re-entry to the US last year, on account of visa troubles), but I’d like to think that he is. It’s good for the old town to have the world’s finest living rhymester in residence. And though last year’s Keys to the Kuffs may have been a relatively shoddy offering, DOOM sounded a million miles happier than the cranky recluse that penned (the admittedly vastly superior) Born Like This.
Conceivably, DOOM’s physical proximity may also be helping some of his London listeners unriddle his writing, as if he were some Buddha emitting great waves of lucidity wherever he lowers his ample posterior. Personally, I find myself on such a critical roll that I’ve even been turning my attention to some of his more aggressively enigmatic couplets, and with some degree of satisfaction and even (arguably) success.
Take, for example, the following little monster from Madvillainy’s renowned “Figaro”:
“Everything that glitter ain’t fishscale/
Lemme think, don’t let her faint get Ishmael”
A lovely sounding line, to be sure, and one that initially impresses with its near-perfect symmetry – the first line is nine syllables, the second is ten, but we remove the eighth syllable of the latter (get) we are left with a sublimely pat example of syllable-for-syllable rhyming.
It was this parallelism, in fact, that led me to consider the first three syllables of the second line – Lemme think – as a kind of joke. As many emcees stress, all rhyme writing is improvised to a degree, it’s just that it’s done pen-in-hand rather than mic, and in an altogether more leisurely fashion.
Lemme think, then, seems to be an open rumination on the part of the emcee as to how he might rhyme the next six or seven syllables… only it’s disingenuous, a feint (as opposed to a faint), since Lem-me-think covertly corresponds with Eve-ry-thing. Dig? The faux-spontaneity belies design.
And in this instance, that Lemme think aspires to be doubly misleading, since it not only obscures rhyme, it also obscures sense…
Let’s go back to the first line. As any good hip hop fan knows, “fishscale” denotes pure uncut cocaine. But while DOOM’s substitution of it for Shakespeare’s “gold” artistically evokes the glisten of fish skin, we are seemingly left with little more than an updated cliché bobbing meaninglessly on the surface of the verse.
The second line, however, seems to describe a precise occurrence – don’t let her faint. Could there be a connection, here, with that cocaine of questionable purity? It may very well not be proverbial, after all. Seduced by the allure of intoxication, a woman hoovers up a line and abruptly discovers herself in dire straits, a la Mia Wallace. Lemme think, then, becomes a rumination as to what to do about it – in this case, get Ishmael.
Who, though, is Ishmael? Well, there are two that come to mind. There’s Ishmael of Moby Dick (an allusion arguably validated through its rhyme with “fishscale”), then there’s Ishmael from The Bible, Abraham’s son. Both are united through a native element – water: the latter Ishmael thoughtfully preserved from death by the angel Gabriel, who tapped the Zamzam well to slake his thirst.
Mia Wallace, of course, required an injection – or a shot – to return to the land of the living. An average glass of water could easily seem inadequate to the task. Holy water, though (as one would expect Gabriel to provide), would be a different matter.
And what kind of liquid might the famously tipsy DOOM deem “holy” – a whole different kind of shot….
“A shot of Jack, got her back…”
The tasty Mad Lib remix of “Figaro”: