If you’re a fan of popular music, you’ve no doubt heard Kenny Segal’s music. If you aren’t immediately familiar with the name, you’re still very likely to have heard of the countless artists he’s produced including everyone from Towkio to milo to Busdriver to Anderson.Paak and beyond. And further beyond that, you’ve undoubtedly heard Segal’s handiwork banging in a club or as part of a film or television score or you’ve felt and heard his influence on up and coming producers and artists.
Active in the music scene since he relocated to Los Angeles in the late 1990s, the Maryland born Kenny Segal has put together an impressive body of work. As he prepares to release Kenstrumentals Vol. 2: Summer Rarities, his second set of instrumentals culled from other projects of his and/or crafted specifically for the album, he sat down with Impose to answer some questions and give some insight into the man, the producer, and the artist: Kenny Segal.
I was able to preview the entire album, which releases August 19 and is available for pre-order now with four preview tracks currently streaming on Impose, and I couldn’t help but ask Kenny how he creates such evocative works that manage to tell a story without a single word. “I love to think about each beat as its own little world of sound and I really try to accentuate that,” Segal told me, “Even if something may seem simple on the surface, I try to pay attention to all of the details (even the hiss and background noise) that contribute to creating that little micro-universe.”
Such attention to detail can likely be credited for the impeccable production and craft with which Kenstrumentals Vol. 2: Summer Rarities is made. Some songs reveal a static hiss or vinyl scratch only in the closing moments while others feature a brief burst of melody or tone that adds a depth and texture to a track without ever appearing again. Another trademark of Kenstrumentals Vol. 2 is the organic sound of the tracks, almost as if these tightly produced tunes were the result of a freeform jam session. Kenny spoke on this and explained, “I have a lot of talented friends that play instruments so we mess around and jam at my studio all the time. I often record these and later chop things up into beats. Sometimes a beat might be made up of the remnants of one of these sessions, but often I will cull sounds from multiple sources, so these jams get scattered about on many tracks.
“I also often find myself in situations where I might be playing something new I’m working on and one of the homies will be over listening and because there is a rhodes and other instruments in the studio, they just start jamming out over top of the beat and if I like what they are doing, I’ll throw up a mic or plug in a cable and record some raw stuff that I will later chop up. Most of the collaborations and features on this project are of that nature… not so much that I made the beat with someone else, but they came over and played some dope shit on a beat I was already making.”
Kenny also discussed the inherent advantages and challenges of working on a purely instrumental record. “If you look at my back catalog you will see I definitely gravitate more towards working with vocalists instead of doing purely instrumental albums, so yes it is sometimes a challenge for me. For a project like this though, where I am combining tracks from the past with brand new ones, the hardest part is whittling things down into a cohesive project. I started with something around 30 tracks and as I pared it down into a playlist that made sense and started writing some new beats, there was a lot of push and pull to figure out what actually worked together. Editing yourself is often the hardest thing to do as an artist. there are a number of really good tracks that didn’t make the album, not because they aren’t really dope, but they just didn’t fit once the details came into focus.”
The resulting collection of tracks is incredibly cohesive in this listener’s opinion, almost to the point of a concept album. So many of the tracks were so well done and catchy, however, that I had to ask Kenny whether he was tempted to save any of the beats on Kenstrumentals Vol 2 to pass on to rappers or for use in other media. “A number of the beats on here are instrumentals from projects with vocals that I had put out in the past…”Summer Thots”, “Protect Yo Chain”, “In the Club Like…”, were all instrumentals from my Segal Summer Bootleg Series over the last 2 years. Other’s like “Worlds to Run” were on artists’ albums. And then at least 3 or 4 of the brand new ones are already being written and recorded to by vocalists that I work with, and I’m sure will come out over the next year. And then a few of them I think are really designed more as listening beats than ones to rap on so those will probably stay as instrumentals”
Kenny also spoke on the prospect of other artists using the inspiring and ready-made beats off Kenstrumentals Vol. 2 in their own work, whatever it may be. “Yeah, I’ve dealt with a fair amount of that from my other instrumental projects in the past. My thought are like this…I think the tradition of brand new rappers making free mixtapes out of already released beats that they don’t own is pretty well established at this point,” Kenny explained, “But that being said, when they do that, the purpose is to showcase their talent in the best possible way, sometimes with music that they may not have access to legally.”
“On the other hand what they should not be doing is promoting their mixtape on the strength of the illegal beats they have stolen. And they better not be selling something and making money with music that they don’t own. I recently dealt with a situation where I noticed a rapper I had never heard of tagged me in a series of social media posts with things like ‘in the studio writing to these Kenny Segal beats’, ‘can’t wait to show you my new heat with Kenny Segal’, etc… I had to call him out and say who the hell are you and why are you acting like we are working together? And what it turned out is that he had purchased one of my older instrumental projects and was using those beats for his mixtape. Which I probably wouldn’t have had a big problem with if he hadn’t started fronting like we are working together in some official way. So if you use my beats to rap on illegally: 1. DO NOT SELL IT (this includes putting it on any streaming service like spotify) 2. DO NOT USE MY NAME TO PROMOTE YOUR MUSIC (although you may discreetly credit me as the producer if it’s appropriate, but also put ‘used without permission’). I make a living with my music and using it without my permission is stealing.”
While Kenny continues to inspire and work with other artists, I posed the question to him as to what artists or scenes, both locally in LA and beyond, he finds inspiring. “I am constantly inspired by all of my musical homies that I surround myself with. In LA? Obviously all the members of Team Supreme, but also lots of things outside of my immediate scene. Bands like Bur Gur, The Concentr8s, musicians like Miguel Atwood Ferguson. And beyond LA, I am really inspired by a lot of things coming out of Milwaukee. My boys from Ruby Yacht are from there (milo, Safari Al, etc.), but they are part of a whole art scene out there that is really cool. I love going out there and being around that energy. Also this past year me and my homies have done a lot of work with people coming out of Chicago. It seems like there is some great migration happening right now as all the Chicago heads come out here. And BC, Canada. I’ve had some amazing musical experiences out in Nelson, and the other communities in the Koots.”
Finally, I asked Kenny what he had planned next after knocking out another album of classic beats and coming of almost two decades of performing and producing. “Ultimately I just follow wherever my inspiration takes me…music has had a knack for showing me the path forward up until now, so I think I will continue to follow it’s lead.”
If inspiration and music continue to lead Kenny on the type of journeys found on Kenstrumentals Vol. 2: Summer Rarities, this listener will certainly follow. Kenstrumentals Vol. 2: Summer Rarities is available for pre-order now and will be released on August 19 on all digital platforms and on a limited edition cassette tape from Dome of Doom Records. You can follow Kenny Segal on Twitter, Facebook, SoundCloud, and Bandcamp.