Kenny Segal takes the poet gang on a sidequest

Inside the producer’s new Ruby Yacht-inspired roguelike.

Kenny Segal’s new game Poet Gang Playing Cards. Edit by Tyler Farmer.

Get our games reporting in your inbox.

In 2021, at a Thanksgiving residency in Joshua Tree hosted by rap label and self-proclaimed poet gang Ruby Yacht, producer Kenny Segal racked up hours on Slay The Spire, a deck-building roguelike his labelmate Devin Bailey had recommended. Segal and Bailey—who raps as Pink Navel—are avid roguelike gamers. The two grew their friendship swapping gameplay tricks for Enter the Gungeon while on tour, and this past October they released a joint album centering their gaming exploits. How To Capture Playful flurries through an anthology of video game references, fashioning them into an intricate reflection on Bailey’s rap career and relationship with cyberspace. The Ruby Yacht duo pay homage to The Legend of Zelda merchant Beedle and spit raps through the eyes of Bowser, bemoaning the life of a video game Boss. Crowning the project is Poet Gang Playing Cards, a deck-building roguelike inspired by Slay The Spire and developed by Segal in tandem with the album.

Choosing cards for my deck in Poet Gang Playing Cards.

Following the Ruby Yacht crew as they build their card decks and battle enemies, Poet Gang Playing Cards is an homage to label lore and one hell of an album accompaniment. The game allows players to fight in three art-forward stances, where you can drop albums, make beats, and publish zines in order to survive. Doobies are smoked and Dee’s C.O.G.S., a black market card dealer, solicits his questionable wares in between-fight encounters. Static-riddled jazz beats narrate battles backdropped by Bob Ross-inspired oil paintings, all crafted by Segal. While most album drops are accompanied simply by artwork or photoshoots, Poet Gang Playing Cards allows listeners to intimately engage with Ruby Yacht through interactive adventuring as their favorite artists.

Segal developed the first demo of Poet Gang Playing Cards during a months-long programming bender in late 2022, transforming a series of scribbled card ideas and flow charts into C# coding language. After stumbling upon a programming tutorial, Segal tapped into a basin of dormant coding knowledge from college and got to work on learning the game engine Unity. “As I was watching that, it all came back—all of my programming knowledge,” Segal told me over the phone, recalling that night. “As I spent some time on this I realized, shit, I can probably just do this myself.” This revelation allowed him to dive into development, obsessively bouncing between trial-and-error and YouTube tutorials to fashion the card-playing mechanics and other scenarios. Within a couple of months, he had a demo sent to the Ruby Yacht group chat and fellow producer Jonwayne for feedback.

Later that year, as Segal began production for How To Capture Playful, the collision between the album and game seemed inevitable. “Our friendship blossomed over [roguelikes],” Segal noted of his relationship with Bailey, “and then the game itself blossomed out of that.” The track “Poet Gang Playing Cards” was named after the game and ruminates on Bailey’s growth as a labelmate. Parallels of real-life and virtual adventures with the Ruby Yacht poet gang dot the track, embodying the gameplay in Poet Gang Playing Cards. Segal sees “Your Move” as another album-to-game connective tissue. On the track, Bailey vows to “fill [their] rhyme book to stack the tension” and “hold out for a faster weapon card,” both odes to gameplay mechanics.

When discussing the personal significance developing Poet Gang Playing Cards has had, Segal told me, “It was an amazing moment … having that feeling of wanting to stay up all night working on something and being so immersed in something.” For Segal, this gaming project has not only been about the art itself, but rekindling a lost passion for programming. He’s currently working on two more games for albums, including an inventory simulator for the lauded Maps with billy woods. As it stands, Kenny Segal Games is blazing a new path in the relationship of music and video games, invoking his adolescence with each script.

Bout to destroy this fool.