MF DOOM has narrowly avoided having his metal face emblazoned on the proverbial milk carton since his last full length Born Like This. The masked villian is so reclusive, in fact, he rarely appears at his own shows anymore; something he readily admits, preferring instead to pay a Saddam Hussein-style body double to don the famous mask and lip-synch. Key to the Kuffs looks to pick up the slack, offering fans the brand-new material they’ve been starving for. The production is handled by eccentric beatsmith Jneiro Jarel (hence the “JJ”). People with any familiarity to DOOM will recognize the collaborative formula and the result is good if not predictable.
The Vaudeville Villain is in top form throughout the album. Which is to say: he’s the same masked savant-garde wordsmith he always was. He still maintains the trademark slow-drawl, freeform flow mixing elements of catastrophic imagery sprinkled with relatable humor. What’s new is Jniero’s production. After a couple of tracks, it becomes clear why DOOM chose to work with JJ. The off-kilter producer does an awesome job of balancing on the razor thin line between letting his own unique style shine and making beats that adhere to DOOM’s legacy. The result is a nice blend of sample-based cartoonery from DOOM’s past and JJ’s synth-driven syncopated beats.
As far as subject matter is concerned, it ranges from pure comedy (“Wash Your Hands”) to a deeply introspective love ballad (“Winter Blues”). “Wash Your Hands” is a very literal and amusing track about, well, hygiene. In a very Del! moment (i.e. “If you Must”) DOOM extoles the merits of being clean at a strip club. The track is complete with references to sexual cleanliness over perhaps the most club-ready beat on the album. In stark contrast, “Winter Blues” is best summed up in the first few bars:
“Melanin on melanin/ Your dude need to recharge off your velvet skin/ Make ‘em feel like, like twelve again/ Soon as you give the green light I’m delvin’ in…”
The synth-work is dreamy and melancholic however the uptempo drums breathe the life into the beat. This matches the theme of depression cured by a woman’s touch. In similar fashion, “Viberian Sun, Part II” is a winding, sleepy interlude grounded by a simple chord progression, deep kick and eventually a subtle clap. If it seems eerily reminiscent of Dr. Who Dat’s “Viberian Twighlight” (parts one and two) that’s because Jneiro has a few aliases of his own. Of course there is still the typical off-the-top lyrical randomness we’ve all come to expect from Metal Fingers. An exerpt from “Guv’nor:”
“Catch a throatful from the fire vocal/Ashing and molten glass like Eyjafjallajˆkull/ Volcano out of Iceland/ Go conquer and destroy the rap world like the white men.”
There is a British theme to the album, though I find it less pronounced than reported. DOOM recently relocated to the UK but aside from a few cockneyed slang references (see “Rhymin’ Slang” and the single “Guv’nor”) the only other obvious homage is in the guest appearances. Gorillaz fans will initially be pleased to hear frontman Damon Albarn is featured. That will likely turn to disappointment, however, as his cameo is as subtle as a recent El-P album feature. The fellow countryman and past collaborator sings a distorted and vaguely audible hook, which never matches the rhymes Doom provided for the Gorillaz’ “November Comes.” This minimal level of input is repeated with the cameo from Portishead’s Beth Gibbons. That being said, there’s a few head-scratching appearances on tracks that don’t feature DOOM at all.
JJ DOOM is neither the hip hop album of the year or a throw-away collab. It’s a solid DOOM album to add to the catalog of previous releases. It may not be terribly original but DOOM’s tried-and-true formula of lackadaisical flow and abstract dialect is still one of the most recognizable and oft-imitated styles in hip-hop. That alone will make this release an instant classic to the legions of DOOM fans.