JJ Doom – “KEYS TO THE KUFFS” Review

JJ Doom – Keys To The Kuffs
Genre: Hip-Hop

Label: Lex Records

JJ Doom is a collaborative project between the MF Doom, at this moment in time known as Doom, and producer Jneiro Jarel – and “Key To The Kuffs” is their debut release. Now, if you consider yourself a hip-hop fan and find yourself wondering “who exactly is this Doom character?” then maybe you should consider otherwise… 

Doom is the hip-hop’s underground myth-like legend – perhaps primarily due to his metal face mask and constant change of name. Not only is he known for his mysterious identity but for his deep, gravelly vocals, unusual delivery and almost nonchalant delivery. Admittedly, Jneiro Jarel is new to this reviewer – but his production on this album has been a great introduction. “Keys To The Kuffs” is 15-tracks and 42-minutes of hip-hop – full of British references, pop culture and constant samples.

The first track Waterlogged acts as an introduction and is very similar to the intro track for one of Doom’s past collaberative albums (as Madvillain), “Madvillainy” – samples over a simple, warped beat and random sounds coming in and out but this time with English accents with a them involving the term “guv’ner”. Then the single Gov’nor follows, which just has this really nice laid-back production and has the standard Doom lines injected with a humorous quips but nothing really astounding.

Banished takes a turn to a more sinister side, both production and rhyme-wise. Doom ups the pace and sounds more over a very bassy-electronic production that’s pretty El-P-esque. Some of the lines are a lot more engaging and personal, as he references his recent troubles with his American Visa (“Villain got banished / Refused out the U.S., He ain’t even Spanish”) and hints towards the maybe not-so-about-the-music nature of some hip-hop artists (“What a gnarly scene / Publicity stunt, get paid on some Charlie Sheen”).

Bite The Thong comes after, featuring Blur/Gorillaz’s Damon Albarn, Doom keeps up the more energetic flow and Jarel’s electronic influences continue. However, Damon’s guest appearence seems nothing more than just saying “you go / we go” in such a barely audible manner due to the heavy reverb and being swamped beneath other layers in the track. However, there is a nice outro section with a sampled speech over a version of the groove that appears in the next song, Rhymin’ Slang. In this song, Doom just doesn’t seem to fit with the production, and along with being 2.20 minutes in length, it’s makes it one of the forgettable tracks on the album.

Next up is Dawg Friendly which picks up, and only Jarel raps and gives a nice refreshment, making the atmosphere a lot of lighter in contrast to Doom’s husky vocals. The production almost has a Wu-Tang feel, with a throbbing bass groove with sampled dog snarls along with an outro section in a similar nature as Bite The Thong. However, Doom returns on Borin’ Convo, which has this almost trombone-deep bass and just sounds like an instrumental personification of the man himself. He also opens up with a great line, “The supervillain get kicked out your country / And said the Pledge of Allegiance six times monthly” – however the consistency soon drops, especially with mediocre lines like “Things could get uncomfortable and sticky / That’s why he wear the metal mask, kick me”.

Eighth track Snatch The Dough is a 46-second bite of airy synths, a simple beat and more sampled speeches. Then GMO comes after and hits you especially due to the strumming guitar, throwing back to the heavily instrument-orientated production heard on “Madvillainy”. At instrumental parts, the track reaches sombre depths thanks to Portishead singer Beth Gibbons’s mournful guest vocals. There’s also second part of the song that Jarel comes in on, but only for one verse. Then there’s Bout The Shoes, which opens with these noisy bangs before winding into a synth line and Boston Fielder comes in with reggae-influenced vocals, almost creating a natural hybrid of electronic and more traditional music styles.

Then Doom jumps in as soon as Winter Blues starts, talking about his love for a girl and driving off in a car with her and swooning her (in not so innocent ways). Jarel’s production for the track resonates a soothing Nujabes vibe – which suits the lyrical theme nicely. Still Kaps features Khujo Goodie and references to his collaberative project with Jneiro Jarel, Willie Isz. However, this too becomes one of the tracks that are easily forgettable too with both the instrumental and lyrical aspects of the track falling short of memorable, suffering from just being… well, bland.

Retarded Fren however brings back the shots of adrenaline with click-clacks, boom-bap and Doom’s harsher rhythm – however the majority of the lyrics don’t really make any sense, a lot of it just constructed with words or exaggerated phonetics that just rhyme. Despite the nonsensical side of it, the song is infectious just by the sound and Doom’s flow. Viberian Sun Part II is a sensual instrumental track, with rolling clicks like a card in a bike wheel’s spokes, echoed claps and a luscious synth groove that plays between the left and right speakers while bassy implosions carry on throughout.

Then it seems that JJ Doom saves the best for last with Wash Your Hands, which is really just and explicit and humorous take on sex and hygiene. Doom just says some outright disgusting yet chuckle-worthy stuff like “You so fine sista / What I gotta do to get your bovine visna?” and “I’m just saying wash ya hands, fam / Before you put ya nasty thumbs in her underpants, damn”. Even the production is sort of humorous, considering as it sounds like something that would be in the charts backing a rapper boasting of popping champagne bottles and women. Then the outro features these crystal-like keys, as speech samples are again played; the last explaining to slang term ‘muppets’.

This album, to put it simply, is a grower. Despite all the negatives I’ve mentioned, it’s hard not to fall in love with this album after several listens, which is probably what it needs to be fully understood and appreciated. While at times Jarel’s productions marginally overshadows Doom in grabbing your interest, the duo definitely manage to create some interesting vibes and atmospheres. The ideas are great but it seems like the execution was just a little off.

If you’re a fan of all things Doom, then this is definitely worth checking out and putting the time in for, but not suggestible as introductory material for someone who’s new to him.

7.4/10
Favourite tracks: Wash Your Hands, Banished, Gov’ner.

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