Our appetite for underworld fare is insatiable. For evidence, see Tarantino box office figures, the best-selling HBO box sets or all 300-plus episodes of The First 48. L.A.-based rap duo The Kleenrz follow such grim fare in hazmat suits, picking apart the aftermath of the illicit, one song at a time.
Comprised of Freestyle Fellowship’s Self Jupiter and producer Kenny Segal (Team Supreme, Milo’s So the Flies Don’t Come), The Kleenrz have recorded dark music, casting themselves in the role of crime-scene cleanup artists, since their eponymous 2013 debut. Their sophomore follow-up, Season 2, was released on June 10 via The Order Label, the rap distribution arm of Alpha Pup (co-founded by Jupiter, DJ Nobody and Alpha Pup boss Daddy Kev), and features L.A. rap luminaries Myka 9 and Busdriver, among others.
The densely worded, progressively scored vignettes on the album improve upon the duo’s previous efforts. Jupiter, who’s already spent decades crafting intricate cadences, manages to find new rhythms between the pockets of Segal’s sinister suites. Segal, of course, reprises his role as one of L.A.’s best producers.
We recently met with Jupiter and Segal at Segal’s Jefferson Park home to discuss the inspiration behind The Kleenrz and the new album, their collaborative processes and more. After the interview, Segal served chicken tacos that would put your favorite taco truck to the test. When we left, every plate was spotless.
The Kleenrz and The Order Label have given L.A. Weekly readers a free download of Season 2 single “The Breakup Breakfast.” With assistance from Team Supreme compatriots
What sparked your interest in for-hire crime-scene cleaners?
Self Jupiter: It stems from the film Nikita. When I got out of jail, I had this thing I wanted to do that I never really finished. From there, we expanded on the idea and got into the world of hitmen and stuff like that.
Kenny Segal: He played me a song called “The Clean-Up Man” that had never come out, which had the original concept of the whole thing. Once he brought me the concept, I kind of went on one myself. I’m not great at coming up with the idea, but once someone gives me that idea I’m really good at fleshing it out and going at it from all angles.
For research purposes, have you ever talked to, or searched Craigslist for, someone who specializes in that kind of work?
Segal: There’s this new show called Spotless that’s literally about a crime-scene clean-up specialist who gets involved with the Mafia. I did hit up the music supervisor from the show. He loved our music. They’d already done the whole first season at that point, but he told us they would consider our music if there’s a second season.
Are you fans of crime novels? What are some of your favorites?
Jupiter: Yeah. But more importantly, just novels. I’m a big Dean Koontz fan. I’ve read all of his shit. I pretty much did 10 years in prison, so there were times where you were on lockdown for months at a time. You have a library person coming through, and you can get books. I swear I read over 2,000 or 3,000 books over that period of time.
“Langoliers” takes its name from the Stephen King novel of the same name. How many King novels have you read between the two of you?
Segal: Stephen King has a couple of books that are dope, but I felt like the endings were cop-outs. I haven’t read a Stephen King book in a few years, but I read that book Needful Things. The book is so tight, but then the ending was [terrible].
Did you watch any movies or TV shows for inspiration when working on Season 2?
Segal: There was a moment about halfway through the record where I started thinking about the order of the tracks and the story, and getting all of the samples that go in the beginning and the end. I definitely watched a lot of that show Spotless. For the first album, I watched La Femme Nikita again, and Point of No Return, which is like the American version of La Femme Nikita. For our video for “First 48,” we had a marathon viewing party of First 48 episodes. The video is supposed to look like an episode of the show.
Jupiter: For me, it’s so easy to delve into this world. If I want to go there, I can go there. And Kenny knows which beats put me in that headspace.
Segal: I like to sample a lot of film soundtracks. They often have really nice chords and textures that you don’t always hear. Film soundtracks have a lot of atmosphere and a lot of chords that are pensive. They have emotion to them, but not the normal “happy” or “sad” emotions you tend to hear in songs.
How much of this record was inspired by actual events? “Breakup Breakfast” sounds particularly personal.
Segal: I think Jupiter was staying here, and a mutual friend of ours said something about how they were going to go have breakfast with someone they’d just recently broken up with. He said something weird like, “We’re just going to finalize everything from the breakup.” Then they left and I was like, “That sounds so funny.” The actual story of the song has nothing to do with that, but that was the spark.
Jupiter: A lot of it is fictitious, but the mind is crazy. I don’t know if people really get some of the things I do say.
In your mind, has the audience for narrative-heavy rap dwindled?
Segal: I don’t know about narrative-driven hip-hop, but I think it’s a really exciting time for an artist like Jupiter. Lyrically, things are in a bit of a bad place. But style-wise, all of the things that [Jupiter and the Fellowship] were doing that was considered "too weird" to most hip-hop fans is now mainstream. Today, the more you can style, the better. I feel that a lot of young fans hear Jupiter’s new music, and they’re tripping off of the styles. Then, when they hear that it actually makes
Jupiter: I hope that this comes across as fun. Like, ‘This is fun for the guy that’s rapping.’ I hope that translates.
Is making the beats a collaborative process?
Segal: Some people I know will hand artists a full song — it has bridges and chorus parts. When I first make a beat, I leave it pretty open. The beats are often sketches when I give them to Jupiter, and he’ll write to that. It’s not that he’s helping make the beat, but once he lays down the initial lyrics, that will inform me. Then I’ll complete the song around whatever concept or idea he brings to it. That’s how the Milo album [So the Flies Don’t Come] was made. That’s how most of my stuff with Busdriver is made. When those guys get the beats, they’re usually pretty simple. Sometimes I’ll add parts, sometimes I’ll take stuff away. It does go back and forth. To me, we’re making a song together. It’s about the song we’re creating.
Jupiter: Producers produce an artist.
Many of the beats on this record are so intricate. The drums aren’t quantized. Jupiter, how difficult was it to rap over these beats?
Jupiter: I never actually asked Kenny about his process. He’s not the talker on that one. But I know a little bit about music. [laughs] My granddaddy played with the Duke Ellington band. All of my family has always been involved with jazz. ... I don’t always think rap. I’m mostly in the [jazz] element. And Kenny brings those elements in. It’s playful, [jazzy] and it’s hip-hop.
In recording an album, what are the advantages of an isolated producer-rapper relationship? Are there any disadvantages?
Segal: Most albums that have that dynamic, to me, those are the albums that have a cohesive artistic statement.
Jupiter: Not every rapper is super in tune with beats. They don’t make the right decisions. I see it from both sides. Some people I know used to shit on producers. They used to be like, “We don’t have to bow down to the producer. We can get somebody else. Fuck that beat.” I’d be like, “That’s a dope beat. You don’t want to pay for it? You don’t respect it?” My point is that some MCs care less about the beats. But that’s a producer’s art.
Segal: When you work with someone on a whole project, you really start to get in tune with each other’s art. A lot of the time, my beats have just a few elements. The art is pairing it with the right vocalist and the right song. I’ve placed beats on albums with a lot of different producers, and those songs rarely turn out like that.
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What’s the likelihood of a third Kleenrz album?
Segal: A lot of it is about schedules. I have projects I have to work on for the rest of the year. It’s about the next time I’m in the right creative zone and free, and Jupiter is in the right zone. At this point, now that we’ve refined the process, I think it will happen a little bit quicker. This record was way too fun for it to be the last one. Or maybe we’ll do a project that isn’t a Kleenrz project.
Jupiter: Definitely. And with all I have going on at The Order Label, I’m facilitating all of the artists that respect me and want to come through with what we got going on over there. It’s a good thing.
The Kleenrz's Season 2 is available now.