DOOM’s career has been in a weird place since releasing 2006’s The Mouse & The Mask with Danger Mouse. After more than half a decade as one of the most prolific artists in hip hop, he stopped releasing music. Reports of imposters taking the stage at DOOM shows became more and more common, and he fled what little spotlight he had. In 2009, he finally released a new album, the frequently excellent Born Like This, but the return of the Doomposters at his concerts, which culminated in Mos Def dropping out of a series of shows they had planned together, completely drowned out the positive notices that album received. To top this all off, about two years ago DOOM decided to actually show up to a few shows in Britain but when he tried to fly back to the US he was denied reentry into the country. He has resided in South London ever since, isolated from his family, and his new home and being cut off from his wife and children have heavily informed his newest record Key to the Kuffs, a collaboration with Jneiro Jarel. Key to the Kuffs is far from the best album either artist has released, but the best tracks stand up nicely against the highlights of each of their catalogs. Following immediately after the intro, “Guv’nor” sounds fairly conventional as far as DOOM’s career goes, but it’s followed up immediately by “Banished,” which sounds the further from DOOM’s previous music than anything else on the album and is the track that wears the influence of British electronic music most proudly. After these great first tracks, the record struggles to maintain momentum, but there remain standouts. “Bite the Thong,” featuring Damon Albarn, and “GMO,” featuring Beth Gibbons of Portishead, involve Jarel treating these guests’ vocals as if they were just another sample to be dropped low in the mix for texture. I honestly didn’t really register them on the first listen. “Winter Blues” is both the best song on the album and the most personal song DOOM has ever recorded, dealing heavily with his forced separation from his wife. If you’ve never listened to a DOOM record before, this is not the album to go for. It’s far too uneven, and the beats are much more out there than the rest of his already weird career. For DOOM fans, though, this album is indispensable, both for the standout songs and as a look at DOOM in a period of transition, both personally and artistically.
JJ DOOM - "Guv'nor"
JJ DOOM - "Winter Blues"