When you set your collaboration bar as high as Madvillainy, all future collabos are subject to over-scrutiny, but MF Doom spent 2012 rekindling his love of the super-hero team-up, joining Ghostface Killah for the DOOMSTARKS single and partnering with abstract rapper/producer Jneiro Jarel for this slab of smart and wild. Make that U.K.-inspired smart and wild as the now 41-year-old Doom reflects upon his birthplace of London in the year his hometown is hosting the Olympics, although there's no Danny Boyle-ish wide-eyed sense of wonder here. There is, however, Blur's Damon Albarn, who lends some songwriting and a mumbled hook to "Bite the Thong," the album's crooked, key track. Portishead's Beth Gibbons is on board too, cracking through the track "GMO" with her icy siren song as Doom goes forks over knifes in a Kool Keith fashion, warning "Whoever uses canola oil, you're soul will boil/For a longer time than it takes a diet cola to spoil" before making Chuck D jealous with the simple and direct "Breeds of a needless variety/In the name of greed we get a seedless society." No surprise then that the angry, environmental-minded cut falls on the bitter side of prickly, and welcoming moments -- like the electro-rocking "Rhymin Slang" -- are scant on Keys to the Kuffs, to the point where if you're not insider, it could be to a fault. Jarel is a fair partner and best as a hypeman or techno-minded partner behind the scenes, and while "Guv'nor" is so Brit it smells of fish, chips, and Beckhams, it's a distracting or absent concept elsewhere. Still, Doom drops "Depends on your status or your stacks, sir/Whether you benefit from the prior or the latter-er" as if it was nothing, and with plenty more of these moments hidden inside, fans will find that Key to the Kuffs goes from confusing letdown to intriguing mystery after just a couple listens.
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Review by David Jeffries