Key to the Kuffs is the debut album from JJ DOOM, the collaborative project from producer Jneiro Jarel and masked rapper DOOM (formerly MF DOOM). While both have done great work as individual artists, this album was a joint effort. As such, it’s interesting to note that with DOOM on the mic and Jarel on production, the relationship between their separate sounds is brought to the forefront when considering the full album. This is because no past DOOM collaboration—2006’s The Mouse and the Mask or 2004’s Madvillainy, for instance—clashed as much musically as Key to the Kuffs seems to.
It is this clash that makes the album so engaging. Jarel’s beats—skittering and modern with something of a shaded edge—are different, and DOOM treats them accordingly. As if actively trying to stay ahead of the project at hand, he reacts to these instrumentals on a basic level simply by quickening his raps; the song tempos are not themselves fast—though they do retain a swift, semi-futuristic quality—and DOOM’s adaptation works. Jarel’s production comes to embody the unconventional looseness we associate with DOOM’s delivery, and the practiced rapper doesn’t trip on his words when he’s spitting over the rubber bass twist of a song like "Banished."
Admittedly, Jarel and DOOM’s initial clash works out to be more of a marriage in the end. You go from feeling that the rapper is fitting his flow to the beats to feeling that the music could even be too tailored for the MC—in a good way, one that still feels natural. There seems to be a soft urgency in Jarel’s production that keeps his partner moving and focused, and that really pays off on a number of songs. Over 15 tracks DOOM doesn’t rust over once, and JJ’s jumps to-and-from different styles is likely what keeps so much of the album sounding fresh.
The beats are stimulatingly original, thorough in their variety and not misled by the month’s popular sound. There are also at least two notable transitions on the album ("Bite the Thong" to "Rhymin' Slang" and "Bout the Shoes" to "Winter Blues") that add to the overall appeal of the album. "Slang"—which was excellently remixed by Dave Sitek a while back—is one of Kuffs' harder beats, while the fluttering guitar of "Guv'nor" and the new version of "Retarded Fren" showcase Jarel’s lighter, more cool aspects.
In addition to great production and invigorated rhymes, the album also sees four guest spots from the likes of Damon Albarn of Gorillaz/Blur, Beth Gibbons of Portishead, Goodie Mob's Khujo Goodie and Boston Fielder. The voices of Albarn and Gibbons--on "Thong" and "GMO" respectively--are kept in each track's background; Khujo's verse on "STILL KAPS" is a ninety second song that features only him; Fielder, perhaps the least known of the features, sings soulfully over the grimy electronic backdrop of "Shoes."
JJ DOOM probably didn't use these other talents as people were hoping, but it's also probably a safe bet that they got what they desired from them. After a couple of listens, Key to the Kuffs really boils itself down to its two creators, and they seem pretty engrossed in one another. To quote DOOM, "Not to interrupt/ But anybody else notice time speeding up?"