Its strange that, up until the date of writing this review (27th December 2012), that there are only 3 reviews of this album on the Amazon UK site. It seems to have been largely ignored by the vast majority of underground hip hop fans...and the critical reception has been varied. The irony of this has been the inclusion of the JJ DOOM record on many of the 'Best of 2012' lists, appearing in most top 50, top 20 and some top 10 lists of various publications & websites in their recap of the best music of this year.
My reaction on first listening to the whole record was one of uncertainty. There were tracks (Guv'nor, Bite the Thong, Winter Blues among others) that instantly grabbed my attention but there were others I didn't instantly take to (Borin' Convo, GMO, Bout the Shoes). Historically with DOOM albums, be it self titled albums or under another moniker such as Madvillain, it can take a while for things to 'click'. Unsurprisingly this was also the case with Key to the Kuffs.
This is an excellent album, with all the quirky production that put me off slightly during my first few spins soon finding their groove across the whole record. DOOM is on fire as usual with some great quoteables and often some crazy rhyme schemes. No one can touch this guy when it comes to quality lyricism and in my opinion he has always embodied the best of hip hop sensibilities. It's amusing that, in a music genre which has always demanded keeping it 'real', the best rapper has made a career being as unreal as possible. Wearing a metal mask and staying credible is no mean feat.
This album was naturally compared with DOOM's most successful collab, that of his work with Madlib on the incredible Madvillainy. While I would agree that Key to the Kuffs is not on that level, it certainly isn't that far off overall. Both are 5 stars albums to me, but there is room for manouvring within that rating, with Madvillainy just shaving it. Being from the UK its great to hear the anglophile leanings of this record. Of course, had DOOM been allowed to return to the US after his tour (a tour which allowed me to see him live) he would have likely made a totally different record to this one. Jarel should also take a lot of credit for being able to accomodate DOOM's creative vision here.
Ultimately most DOOM fans seem to be waiting for both the new Madvillain record and Swift & Changeable. It would be unfortunate if the fervour for these records has resulted in the JJ DOOM record being effectively overlooked, as it really is a worthy addition to his already glowing resumé.