The new album from the metal-faced rapper is a collaboration with producer Jneiro Jarel, made over the past two years since DOOM returned to England, the country he was born in. And he tries his hardest to let you know he’s back in town. There are snippets of Cockney chatter samples scattered throughout JJ’s electro beats and DOOM even references ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ at one point.
But the villain doesn’t sound completely at home. He’s always been an outsider, but with his US accent and references to dollars and American football he sometimes comes across like a tourist asking directions to Li-chester Square. And even the inclusion of British music icons Damon Albarn and Beth Gibbons isn’t entirely convincing. Unless you read the tracklising you wouldn’t know Albarn features on the track ‘Bite The Thong’. The Portishead-lite beat of ‘GMO’ and rhymes laid down over it are a highlight of the album, but Gibbons’ whispered vocals almost evaporate before they reach your ears.
But when he gets it right, he’s one of the best. And some of the tracks on ‘Key To The Kuffs’ are fine additions to his long and consistent career. ‘Banished’ is the fastest I’ve heard him rap for a while, and ‘Winter Blues’ features an earnest and brilliant love letter to the embrace of a woman.
Let’s be honest though, the hit rate isn’t great. Out of the 15 tracks if you took just ‘Gov’nor’, ‘Banished’, ‘Borin’ Convo’, ‘GMO’, ‘Winter Blues’, ‘Retarded Fren’ and ‘Viberian Sun Pt. II’ you’d have yourself a stirling EP.
Of course, it is not just a DOOM album. There are a few tracks where other rappers take his place and a couple of JJ instrumentals, including the fantastic sci-fi chillout jam ‘Viberian Sun Part II’, which sounds like it’s blaring out of a Café Del Mar on Mars.
With DOOM playing more shows in the UK than ever before, it is cool having him in the country. But with his fans holding their collective breath for the second Madvillain album and his collaboration record with Ghostface Killah, perhaps ‘Keys’ is not the most welcome distraction. Still, it’s an interesting footnote of an American rapscallion in London.