“Buckle your seatbelts / You’re in for the ride of a lifetime.” Your wet-work specialist is here to “kleen” the rap game, or at least make it more interesting by investing in the truth. Yes, his name is Self Jupiter. And no, there’s no need for questions. He’s had a job like this before.
For the unfamiliar, the lyrics above are from “Jupiter’s Journey,” Self’s solo track off of seminal West Coast rap group Freestyle Fellowship’s 1991 debut album To Whom It May Concern… It’s not clear whether Self Jupiter knew these lyrics would come true, both for listeners and himself. I think so, but who knows? Maybe it’s just “fun to fuck with people in the night.”
Born Ornette Glenn, after jazz icon Ornette Coleman, Self began his rap career late in high school — long after the peers he grew up watching and clowning around with in drama class. It’s been a wild ride since then. He’s been on the corner, behind bars, on stage at the famed and often forgotten Good Life Cafe, and inside the booth, releasing four albums alongside P.E.A.C.E., Aceyalone and Myka 9 as part of Freestyle Fellowship, in addition to his much overlooked 2001 solo debut, Hard Hat Area.
Today, while Self continues to be “filthy by association” (check his Twitter), he’s making moves on the solo tip. His most recent project, art-rap noir masterpiece The Kleenrz, dropped in July, released on fellow LA rapper Nocando’s Hellfyre Club (an imprint of Alpha Pup Records) and produced by Project Blowed beatsmith Kenny Segal.
The Kleenrz is dark, yet bright in the right places; pulpy, yet playful. It is high drama at its finest. “I can go dark, but then I can go light too,” says Jupiter. “Not everybody is into that dark stuff all the time. So it’s good to give them a taste [of something else]. And for the people that are [into the dark stuff], they got that, too.”
“Filthy” scrapes along like coagulated blood wiped from bay windows, with Self inhabiting the mind of a crime scene cleaner all too invested in his job. And the rest of the record deftly continues this underbelly narrative, albeit from different, yet equally intriguing, vantage points. Self’s laconic delivery, his carefully constructed and demented yarns, combined with Segal’s deftly dragging and sparse productions, wash over your dirty rap mind like Listerine. The original flavor, none of that new blue or orange shit. In other words, it will slowly clear out your gray matter with all types of enzymes. “For me it’s always been that slow melodic thing,” says Self when asked about the pace of the record. “People are more apt to listen to you.”
Off the mic, Self splits time between listening to beats from LA producer-collective Team Supreme and jazz greats like Davis, Monk and Ayers and reading as much as possible. Idiosyncratic? Sure. But that’s Self Jupiter. Don’t box him in. He’s morbidly hilarious and broodingly comical. His mind is always ticking. “My biggest inspiration on a daily basis is just the people of Los Angeles,” he says when asked about writing. Which is just another way of illustrating that Self isn’t spoiled. He doesn’t need a high-end studio full of bud, brews, and women in order to write. He only has to walk down the street and look at the park bench people.
But why is Self Jupiter still relevant? Why is The Kleenrz one of the most innovative and ambitious projects in rap this year? Because it’s easy to hide behind hip-hop cliches and self-mythologize a la the people’s favorite “bawse,” Ricky Rozay. Listeners are familiar with that side of hip-hop. It’s comfortable. Even though, more often than not, no one really knows any mafia dons.
So maybe that’s just it. If no one knows any mafia dons or gangsters, then that life, or the picture of it, can be blown to cinematically enticing proportions the size of sir Ross’s portentous paunch. And that’s why Self’s work is risky. It strays from the tried and true formula. Unfortunately, such departures often alienate hordes of listeners. Listeners who don’t want to hear about the guy who cleans up the bodies, only those who squeeze first and asks questions last. The idea that they may need someone to clean their kitchen after a loved one slips and hits their head while making dinner is all too real.
Fortunately, Self has always been above that. Go listen to any Fellowship record. He welcomes the uncomfortable with open arms. Today, he’s exploring the boundaries of narrative in hip-hop while simultaneously exposing your favorite rapper for being faker than a unicorn. (See “Mr. Sandman,” an allegory for revealing truth through art. It’s brilliant.)
For those digging The Kleenrz, Self says part two is on the way. “It might be a little weirder. I’m going to start getting a little more twisted and having Kenny make some more twisted polyrhythmic shit.”
And apart from his work with Segal, Self is also working heavily with Long Beach funk/jazz sextet Slippers on his next album Burgundy Fats (due in February 2013), and Get Your Ass to Mars, a collaborative effort with Myka 9 and Aceyalone.
Though, it doesn’t stop there. Self has ideas for an album under his new moniker, Jupracobrah, as well as a spoken word/jazz album with a Blue Note-esque album cover. “I want to be somewhere in Brussels, smoking Cohiba cigars. I want to turn into a jazz artist or something,” he says while chuckling. I guess we’ll find out if he’s fucking with us soon enough. For now, Self continues to kick rhymes sans strawberry cream filling. So grab your latex gloves and chemical cleansers. If hip-hop really is dead, Juprahcobrah knows exactly what to do with the corpse.