Newly reprinted on vinyl, this collab between Jneiro Jarel and the elusive MC features remixes from Thom Yorke, Beck, and more. It remains one of the best releases to feature DOOM’s name this decade.
Key to the Kuffs has aged into excellence in the nearly five years since it first came out. It can still feel a little weird hearing MF DOOM with a couple MPH off his fastball, but that only puts more stink on his trick pitches—like his how’d-he-rhyme-that internals and a thematic villainy that’s never felt more at home on some off-the-grid corner of the Deep Web. And while Jneiro Jarel never went as far afield as Madlib or subverted classic hip-hop and R&B like DOOM’s own production did, his beats weren’t afraid to be at least a bit unnerving—just a notch below the potential to be an Organized Noize for the West Coast bass crowd.
It might’ve been the Butter Edition that made it a bit clearer: Released a year after the original August 2012 pressing of Key to the Kuffs, the limited edition expanded reissue tacked on a bonus disc with four outtake tracks and five remixes that brought in some serious indie-crossover star power. That disc got another limited run on its own as a 12” picture disc half a year after that, and while it wasn’t exactly impossible to find, it seems like it nearly slipped through the cracks. That release, the Bookhead EP, is getting another lease on life from Lex Records. It’s not really any different from the Butter Edition bonus/2013 12” that came out a few years back, but it deserves another go-round as one of the best releases to feature DOOM’s name this decade.
As a short but potent dose of hook-free haranguing, the title track has aged into a strong fan-favorite deep cut with one of the better JJ beats to come from that whole collection. DOOM rapping about escaping from the grind by losing himself in reading (”From the mean streets of the ‘Can I get a dollar, dude?’/Above measure, the singular pleasure of solitude”) would be a pretty good public library PSA if Jarel’s beat didn’t lurk like the synthesized soundtrack to leafing through the poetry books of Aleister Crowley. “Pause Tape” is a little less focused, featuring DOOM at his most thematically free-associative (“Quicker than a sleight of hand, like, damn/Telepathy and telekinesis, faster than Instagram”). It’s also one of two tracks (along with the quickie “The Signs”) where Jarel has enough time on the mic to turn his workmanlike voice around a few unlikely turns of phrase (”Never compromise, keep it real/Never peek at you/Rolling through the jungle/Glowing eyes like a kinkajou”). Then there’s “Viberian Son,” the counterpart to the “Part II” instrumental that showed up on Key to the Kuffs. DOOM’s verse is practically a cameo, but his lines about talking to your kids instead of hitting them register more memorable than Del the Funky Homosapien’s scattershot phrases.
”Bookhead” aside, and no slight to Jarel, the major draw here is the collection of remixes that fill out the EP’s later stretch. The indie/art-rock contributions ramp up DOOM’s griminess in oblique ways without losing sight of the fact that the tracks are supposed to knock. Dave Sitek collabed with Jarel on one of the better remixes on 2010’s Gazzillion Ear EP, and that formula pays off again with the Sitek remix of “Rhymin Slang.” More a customization than a transformation, it pares back the synth riff that made the original seethe and foregrounds the tape-hiss low end and adds some more expressive drum kicks and a brief Latin percussion breakdown that gives the UK-banished DOOM a postcard from New York. Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke turn the unlikely target “Retarded Fren” into a lurching chamber music nerve-rattler that toes the orchestral line between suspense-thriller score and “Looney Tunes” gag. And the plinky, clunky robot piano funk of Beck’s take on “Banished” is Exhibit Q of what he could do if he decided his Midnite Vultures mode was more worth resurrecting than Sea Change.
That said, the two most fascinating remixes are the ones that inspire what-ifs, coming from two acts known for putting distinctive fingerprints on their production work for rap artists. BADBADNOTGOOD have done more thrilling work in recent years than their remix for “Guv’nor,” but it still fits DOOM’s more diabolical side. And “Bookfiend,” the title cut reworked by Clams Casino, gives us a glimpse at the villain in Jack Kirby mechanized Day-Glo environs, cloud rap where the atmosphere’s laced with crackling cosmic rays. Either one of these acts could make for a revelatory full-length collab with DOOM, new frontiers for a vet who feels weathered by experience without necessarily feeling straight-up old. For now, we’ve got one-offs like the ones on this EP to keep us guessing—which is what DOOM does best, anyways.