A terrific collaboration between two of hip hop’s maverick talents.
Noel Gardner 2012
A common quasi-joke about UK hip hop has it that Slick Rick is the best rapper that Britain has produced – even though he only counts on a technicality, having moved to New York some time before becoming an MC.
If you want to make this a little more contemporary, you can use DOOM – born Daniel Dumile in early 70s London, his family emigrated to the Big Apple not long after. He’s racked up a large discography under a variety of names – MF DOOM and Madvillain have probably brought him the most success – but this is his first collaboration with producer Jneiro Jarel, the ‘JJ’ of the moniker.
Many of DOOM’s albums have had a loose theme tying them together; on Key to the Kuffs it’s British culture, hence the relevance of his birthplace. Mercifully, this doesn’t amount to a full-blown 42 minutes of whimsical Anglophilia, but instead manifests itself in fleeting references to UK landmarks and TV shows, plus tracks called Guv’nor and Rhymin’ Slang.
The former seems to be mainly about DOOM’s mic skills, and the latter about the general wackness of other MCs, but there’s hardly anyone out there dealing in braggadocio more enjoyable than this MC. His syntactic leaps and zeal for the least obvious rhyme is endlessly profitable, and he even gets romantic on Winter Blues, helped by the string-soaked production of Jarel.
Key to the Kuffs may in fact be JJ’s finest hour, surpassing his Dr Who Dat? and Shape of Broad Minds releases. He sources an array of samples from TV shows featuring stereotypically-accented cockneys; he unleashes creepily creaky beats that could have graced the first Wu-Tang album; he plonks DOOM on electro-influenced club tracks (STILL KAPS and the extraordinary Wash Your Hands, literally about the importance of toilet hygiene); and is wholly unfazed by big-name guests.
Speaking of which: Damon Albarn is reduced to a dub-echoed vocal sample on Bite the Thong’s chorus, while Portishead’s Beth Gibbons is treated similarly by GMO and sounds more sorrowful than ever. But ultimately, there are only two stars that matter on this terrific album.