Deluxe editions, second editions, anniversary editions, and the like, are rarely worthwhile experiences. Try as they might, labels are notoriously bad at hiding the painful reality that re-releasing an album is essentially just a marketing technique that targets a proven audience: the listeners who already have the original album. Given this bitter reality, the news of the upcoming release of the “Butter Edition” of JJ DOOM‘s Key to the Kuffs, was received with more annoyance than excitement. Sure, the artwork was altered, the songs were sequenced differently and there were a few extra songs, but would it really be different? Surprisingly, the answer is yes.
Still centered around DOOM‘s involuntary exile in London, the Butter Edition varies from its predecessor in its perspective on that exile. When we interviewed DOOM last year, he gleefully told us that he felt like Napoleon, but the album itself largely lacked such an amused take on his situation. While DOOM was far from utter depression or rage, other than “Wash Your Hands” and “Borin Convo,” there was a notable humorlessness to the project, especially in comparison to his previous works. Of course, DOOM‘s appeal goes beyond his ability to be funny and the album actually featured him exploring rather uncharted emotional territories (see: “Winter Blues”), but on the whole, it seemed out of character, as if the insurmountable supervillain had actually been bested by his exile.
The Butter Edition presents solitude much more positively. On the third track, “Bookhead,” which notably replaces the frenetic and pissy “Banished” from the original album, DOOM actually claims that solitude is necessary, restorative. He suggests traveling to the Amazon rainforest if you want the best solitude, “the good stuff,” but he also claims that you can find solitude locally. This could be a sly reference to his ability to mingle with his own fans after shows without being recognized, but less specifically it can be seen as a commentary on the type of celebrity identity he’s fashioned. When DOOM removes his mask, he truly is no longer DOOM. Few rappers have that privilege. In other words, DOOM has been able to successfully find solitude within celebrity without having to live in the shadows. That’s a feat.
Beyond featuring a new perspective on solitude, the Butter Edition also further showcases Jneiro Jarel‘s rhyming abilities. On “The Pause Tape” and “The Signs” JJ steps up to respectively talk smack and discuss the exploitation of poor blacks in popular media. He’s not quite on DOOM‘s level lyrically, but his presence and his confidence confirm the pair’s rather unanticipated chemistry, especially on “The Pause Tape,” where both emcees interject their flows with crudely poor, yet funny impersonations.
Humor also makes a notable appearance on the intro to “Viberian Son,” which replaces “Viberian Sun Part 2” from the original release and entails DOOM calmly and comically reflecting on contemporary changes in parenthood before being interrupted by Del the Funky Homosapien. Hilariously, this interruption causes DOOM to quickly drop his calm tone and start yelling at his kids a la Homer Simpson. Del then finishes up the track with an engaging off-cadence verse that ends with DOOM humming as the beat fades. The entire track is jarring yet heartwarming, much like DOOM.
In the end, the Butter Edition makes some very interesting and worthwhile modifications to its predecessor. Adding a dash of humor and a minor positive spin, it tells the honest story of an artist finding solace within an unexpected situation. This solace is far from completely satisfying – DOOM still gets “Winter Blues” and fears genetically modified organisms (“GMO”) – but it dually feels more like a more complete DOOM record and a more solid collaborative project. With that in mind, this doesn’t necessarily supplant the original Key to the Kuffs. The image of a DOOM as a despondent castaway is just as interesting as the image of DOOM as grouchy, yet happy and sociable extended vacationer. The latter just feels more familiar.
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