JJ DOOM: The Best of What’s Next

Music Features

Hometown: New Orleans/London
Band Members: Jneiro Jarel, DOOM
Album: Key To The Kuffs
For Fans Of: J Dilla, Ghostface Killah, TV On The Radio

In 2010, iconic underground rapper DOOM (formerly known as MF Doom) set out on a European tour. When it came time to return home, the UK-born MC was denied re-entry into the U.S. and has been living in London ever since. Despite this turn of events, the past few years back in his country of origin have been creatively fertile. DOOM has collaborated with the likeminded, off-kilter, hip-hop and electronic producer Jneiro Jarel (who also records as Dr. Who Dat?, Shape of Broad Minds, and Willie Isz, among others). The two established a Postal Service-style arrangement (the band, not the government agency), working on beats and rhymes and emailing them across the Atlantic Ocean to each other. Key to the Kuffs is the resulting album, a record comprised of Jarel’s lush, futuristic, experimentally-minded beats and DOOM’s insistent, clever, pop culture-referencing rhymes. Some friends show up for guest appearances along the way, including Damon Albarn, Portishead’s Beth Gibbons and Southern rapper Khujo of Goodie Mob.

“We just connect on all musical levels,” says Jarel via email, describing what led him to join forces with DOOM. “We wanted to challenge things a bit. I wanted him to rap on beats that some rappers would be scared of.” Jarel might be talking about tracks like “Banished,” built around an up-tempo bassline and drum pattern with an eerie organ melody floating in the background. The beat feels slightly out of sync, a challenge that DOOM is clearly up for, as he deftly fast-raps around and through the kick and snare, touching upon his visa situation several times. “Wash Your Hands” is another example, a chopped-up electro beat that DOOM handles with great aplomb, rapping about women and personal hygiene.

Jarel had to relinquish his pedantic tendencies while working on Key To The Kuffs, especially given the nature of this long-distance collaboration. But the two decided to trust each other’s artistic instincts. “We just seem to work very well together… This album would have never dropped if we let our perfectionist sides take over,” Jarel says. “We just decided to let the bird free. Otherwise, every track I would have redone, and it would be a completely different album.”

Still, the record took some time to complete. Jarel would send beats, some new and some old—the beat for “Guv’nor” was produced eight years ago—and DOOM might take up to six months to send a track back with his vocals recorded. Then Jarel would clean up the song and add elements like strings or live drums. “It was very simple for the most part,” he says.

For longtime fans of Jneiro Jarel and DOOM, Key to the Kuffs is both characteristic of their previous output and a step in a new direction. For newcomers to their music, the album is a breath of fresh air in the sometimes-stagnant world of hip-hop and electronic music. “I let DOOM take the steering wheel on the [album’s] direction,” says Jarel. “I love the fact that he said he didn’t want to do what he’s done already. He is a different man and he has grown up and I think he represents that in Key to the Kuffs.”

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