JJ DOOM: Keys to the Kuffs

Sequestered in London, cult hero MF DOOM teams up with Philadelphia producer Jneiro Jarel for perhaps his darkest effort yet. Damon Albarn and Beth Gibbons guest.


Keys to the Kuffs

Label: Lex
US Release Date: 2012-08-21
UK Release Date: 2012-08-20

Ever since 2005's DangerDoom release, or perhaps more appropriately the Doomposter allegations, once-prolific MF DOOM has felt like an artist once again content to slink around in the shadows. The excellent (if divisive) Born Like This released in 2009, but otherwise most of DOOM's notable releases have been relegated to rumor and hearsay: a sequel to Madvillainy, the Ghostface-collaboration LP Swift & Changeable, or the Masta Ace album with DOOM production that turned out to be Ace discovering DOOM's Special Herbs beat series from the early 2000s and picking out his favorite instrumentals. It's been a half decade that's felt appropriately mired in fan fantasy considering DOOM's obsession with comic book storylines, but coupled with rumors of alcoholism having an increasing affect on his vocal performances and this summer's revelation that a return trip to his birth country of the United Kingdom resulted in his being sequestered there with a non-existent Visa, it's been increasingly acceptable to believe DOOM might just be an icon of underground hip-hop's renaissance lost to the subtleties of life outside a recording studio.

Enter Jneiro Jarel, aka Dr. Who Dat?, a Philadelphia producer by way of Brooklyn whose teaming with DOOM made headlines last year and, unlike all DOOM's other projects, has actually come to see the light of day. While this project could be approached with trepidation by those who are unaware of Jarel's pedigree (he may not be as prolific as Madlib or J Dilla, but he certainly carries their torches with each release) or simply bitter it exists while others don't, Keys to the Kuffs has been an increasingly enjoyable listen as the weeks have gone by. Initially, DOOM does not feel like he's in his usual zone -- if you felt like his drawls and slurs on Born Like This distracted from its message, Keys to the Kuffs will certainly be more jarring. And while DOOM's typical playful language still abounds, this time it feels decidedly more abstract, more words sounding similar for the sake of his knowing they would. It's not fair to say that you can't expect substance from Keys to the Kuffs, but if you're not aware of the references within his couplet-sized jewels this album threatens to fly over the heads of many by feeling purely non sequitur.

While much of Keys to the Kuffs is found basking in the immediate joys of stringing up words and making rhymes out of jokes and innuendos, there are times where the disc has more evident purpose. Interestingly, two of these moments don't have any DOOM on them at all; "Borin' Convo" arrives in the middle of the album with a solo rap from, presumably, Jneiro Jarel, a guy who's not exactly known for dropping 16s yet delivers one of the album's more invigorated moments, if only because his vocal provides a refreshing contrast to DOOM's slobbery drawls. Khujo Goodie, who'd previously cut a similar collaboration LP with Jarel as Willie Isz, appears on the track called "STILL KAPS" (a reference, but apparently not sequel to, Madvillain's "ALL CAPS") and spends just over a minute gracing listeners' ears with the Goodie Mob's classic blend of conscious and pimpin'. There are also features from Damon Albarn (slipping past almost completely unnoticeable) and Beth Gibbons, whose ghostly vocals feel more like GonjaSufi's haunting future-folk than the Portishead crooner.

The best is saved for last with "Wash Your Hands", as DOOM displays the sort of humor that made his early-2000s run feel so vital. Sonically, Jarel's beat feels like a cross between an adult swim. title card instrumental and a NIcki Minaj minimal/maximal screwball. And DOOM approaches the beat just right, skewering the pop world's infatuation with clubs and public unprotected sex all while warning listeners against the prevalence of AIDS through not-so-subtle context clues. It's a peak we don't see often on Keys to the Kuffs, though "Winter Blues" flirts with greatness - it easily feels like the most mysterious of DOOM's tracks, an ode to brown skin that's awfully melancholy, anchored by a recording of a woman explaining exactly how important melanin is to every human being. DOOM may own the highlights here, but through found sample segues like that, the tracks which have nothing to do with DOOM at all ("'Bout the Shoes" is a Boston Fielder track and "Viberian Sun, Pt. 2" is a sequel to an instrumental from Jarel's Shape of Broad Minds project) and the way many of the tracks are just more immediately ear-catching because of Jarel's Low End Theory style density, JJ DOOM feels like more of a Jarel project that just so happens to have DOOM atop the majority of it.

Keys to the Kuffs is often a deeply bleak record, but it's also one that becomes more and more enjoyable as its quirks sink in, a trademark of both artists. It's certainly a niche album, but one that will find endless replay value for those who have been following both artists from their beginnings and have learned to look past - or never learned how to see - the things critics detract from them. Perhaps it's not the DOOM-related album listeners have been pleading for the past four years, nor as focused a listen as his last effort, but Jarel's production efforts make it a must-try for hip-hop fans on their own and rhymes from DOOM, well, we all should know by now that even if they're mostly just icing it's still highly addictive, delicious icing with plenty of substance for those with the properly tuned taste buds.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.