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Key to the Kuffs Kyle Ellison , August 24th, 2012 05:58

DOOM is the man's name and you better spell it with all caps. Only, the man behind the mask is Daniel Dumile, and you may know him by any one of the names MF DOOM, Metal Fingers, Viktor Vaughan, King Geedorah, Zev Love X, or one half of Madvilain, Danger DOOM – and now – JJ DOOM. While strictly speaking at least five of these aliases are an extension of the same character, it's clear from viewing his career through this wide-angle lens that here is an artist who thrives off of his own creativity. It's also evident that DOOM likes a change of surroundings, but it was immigration officials rather than his own invention that brought the London-born emcee back to the UK in 2010.

Not to be kept quiet for long, DOOM teamed up with producer Jneiro Jarel (that's the JJ part) on Key To The Kuffs; an album that finds the supervillain coming to grips with his new South London home and all the UK-inspired references that go with it. In case you might suspect some kind of hackneyed 'DOOM does London' job, though, in a character-defying move he has left his crowbar at home and cockney references serve as little more than a backdrop for his usual lyrical capers. What glorious capers they are too, jumping right into the record's first and perhaps finest rhyme on 'Guv'nor': "Catch a throatful from the fire vocal / Ashing and molten glass like Eyjafjallajökull / Volcano out of Iceland / Go conquer and destroy the rap world like the white men."

While his influence has been vast, at his best DOOM remains peerless in terms of dexterity of expression and concept. One rapper's plain and empty boast, is DOOM's abstract brag or vital token of advice; That's coming from a guy who knows the rap game better than the back of his own mask. On 'Retarded Fren' he moves "like an iceball, off-guard, soft, hard – ask him if he give an F like report card," while on 'Bite the Thong' he taunts the younger generation: "Go for the club, kid, one-hit wonder / Killing it – a brilliant career move blunder."

The most significant treat here though is the sombre 'Winter Blues', finding a tender, merlot-drinking DOOM in a rare moment of vulnerability. The song finds our villain in a weary state after the day's hustle, slinking back to his girl's house (presumably through the window) to recharge off the touch of her flesh. "Each and every day, making cash with Satan / can't eat, can't sleep, it's exasperating," he admits, before indulging in his deep desire for loving, human contact. Set to Jneiro Jarel's sleepy strings and pulsing beat, this is not just a beautiful song, but a welcome and unexpected extension of the DOOM character fifteen years after it first emerged.

Not everything on Key to the Kuffs is so vital, and the fact that I've mentioned just one Jarel contribution is probably telling of his importance here. The presence of an outside producer as opposed to recycled cuts from his Special Herbs collections is a definite advantage, but for the most part the spotlight is DOOM's, even when Damon Albarn and Beth Gibbons turn up for curiously low-key cameos. Moreover, as long-awaited hook-ups with Ghostface Killah and Madlib remain on the cutting-room floor for now, JJ DOOM might not be the collaboration that everyone wanted to see, but ultimately hip hop needs this guy – in whatever incarnation he decides is necessary.