Lex Records

As every good supervillain knows, a period in exile doesn’t necessarily spell the end. For DOOM (formerly MF Doom, formerly Zev Love X, and so on) his exile — in this case to London after an immigration mix-up — coincided at a point when it seemed he might finally be out for the count. Allegations of stand-ins and the release of the patchy Born Like This suggested that the seminal rapper might be flagging. This release, a collaborative album with Jnerio Jarel (aka Dr Who Dat? aka Shape of Broad Minds, and, again, so on), sees a return to form that few fans anticipated, but most hoped for.

From the start KEY TO THE KUFFS heralds DOOM’s affection for his place of birth, and current home, London. Guv’nor eases in with a self-assurance that recalls Madvillain’s Accordion, an abstract lyrical unpacking of all that is to come; it’s coupled with an emotive quality that avoids histrionics, a rare quality in any rap music. From there the album takes a number of different directions. At times it is menacing, on Rhymin’ Slang the listener is informed that “they say rap is haunted by the living dead”.

Other times it’s funny, Wash Your Hands dispensing hygiene advice on a par with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Bathroom Skank. Jnerio Jarel’s production is dense but dynamic, a mix of chugging keyboards and spacey sample work. It comes to the fore with Winter Blues, the album’s high-point, where the interplay with the strings of Boston Fielder and the Muthawit Orchestra provide a tender bed for DOOM’s love song to his wife. On Borin’ Convo a heavily filtered loop and booming kick drum create an elephant beat that seems perpetually on the verge of falling over. Jarel’s work is balanced between craft and instinct, neither leaning too much to one side or another, and it compliments DOOM’s lyrical flow without ever drawing anything away.

The more high-profile collaborations on KEY TO THE KUFFS are vocal contributions from Beth Gibbons (Portishead) and geezer-with-attitude Damon Albarn. Neither makes much of an impression on the record, but the co-signs show how DOOM’s outsider appeal has grown in recent years. For most rappers this sort of thing would spell an end, or at least a toning down of their individual quirks in order to gain acceptance. However, DOOM seems galvanised by the spot-light: the week before the album’s release JJ DOOM appeared on Radio 4’s Loose Ends. To be clear: DOOM performed live – and in mask — on Radio 4, with Clive Anderson in the same room. The supervillain is back, and as super as ever.

Words: Andrew Spragg

Listen to a full stream of JJ DOOM’s KEY TO THE KUFFS here.

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