Sumach Ecks, aka Gonjasufi, went from under-the-radar beat producer and rapper to a dreadlock-shrouded icon with the 2010 Warp Records A Sufi and a Killer, a collection of psychedelic hip-hop tracks featuring Ecks’s craggy, overdriven vocals and production by L.A. beat luminaries Flying Lotus, Gaslamp Killer, and Mainframe.
The Chula Vista native now calls Vegas home, but he recently released a four-song EP, The Ninth Inning, which boasts some strong San Diego shout-outs, most notably the Padres’ friar logo on the cover wearing Ecks’s signature dreads and beard.
Anticipating the January 23 release of his next Gonjasufi full-length, MU.ZZ.LE — he will play a record-release at the Casbah on January 22 — Ecks takes a moment to talk with the Reader about his San Diego roots, his ambitions as a musician, and the importance of teaching yoga.
What’s up with the Padres gear on the record and video?
Born and raised. A lot of heads don’t know their shit. They think I’m from L.A. because I was rolling with Flying Lotus. So that was my way of kind of letting motherfuckers know I’m from San Diego and, you know, that shit shaped me, so it was important for me to bang the SD on these motherfuckers a little bit, you know?
But, I don’t know, man, Daygo now, it’s just too small of a city. Like, I know too many people and I can’t get any work done. Everybody’s knocking on my door and knocking on my windows and wanting to smoke weed and I’m trying to work. So, I had to leave to focus, you know?
It’s crazy. I made five fucking records in SD when I was living there and, you know, I slang ’em on the streets hand to hand and, like, you know, I was just seen as one of those dudes. And I had to leave Daygo to get respect from Daygo.
What venues were you playing back then?
The Underground Improv on Imperial, this was, like, ’95, ’96. There was Rockers in Old Town. That was pretty much it, man, those one-off spots. Mesopotamia, shit like that. It was mostly, like, not necessarily venues but more like just cats meeting up downtown, man. We’d all take the trolley and meet downtown around, like, Pokez...and behind the post office, the Green Circle bar, around there, and on the street with a boombox just rappin’, man. That was the life, man.
Why did you decide to give out the EP for free download?
Well, I felt like there was a lot of attention going to a lot of other cats that are out that are just fuckin’ horrible.... I just kind of got frustrated because I’m signed to Warp, but they don’t want none of my rap shit, know what I’m saying? They want that singing shit, so I’m just sitting on all these songs and I got tired of sitting on ’em. I could put ’em for sale and sell ’em, but I just kind of wanted people to catch up with what I’m doing in real time so when I do shows they’re more in the know and not, like, What the fuck is this shit?
I got tired of touring and playing songs that a lot of people, because they hadn’t heard it, were confused and they had mixed feelings about my shows. You know, they’d be, like, this isn’t A Sufi and A Killer, and I’d be, like, yeah, but this is still me.... I want to kind of widen the spectrum and, like, let people hear the sound that I’m trying to carve in so I can have, like, more freedom in my shows.
Is MU.ZZ.LE following in that vein?
That one’s all singin’, you know. Anyone who follows my older shit, MU.ZZ.LE is more like Sumach than anything. I feel like this is my first record. I love this shit, man. I have my wife on two songs with me, and I’m working on her record right now [BlackHaleMary]. All the production on MU.ZZ.LE is me and Psychopop from Daygo. He’s part of a group called Skrapez.
But, essentially, at the end of the day what I want to be able to do is put out my own records the way I want to put ’em out without having to conform to anybody’s box. And in order to do that — and I love Warp, I nurture that relationship — but I can’t allow any label to box me in and suffocate my expression. Know what I’m saying? So as far as Warp putting out the record that I want, ultimately, the complete me, I don’t know... That’s what I’m working toward and I’m hoping that they’re open to that shit. I’ve turned in a lot of songs lately and they’ve shown interest toward piecing together another record to follow up after MU.ZZ.LE. So, we’ll see, man... I don’t want to have to make up an alias and shit, and this is this style and this style. I just want people to grab my record and know it’s all kinds of crazy, different shit, and that’s why they love buying the shit, because it’s just whatever the fuck.
What are you doing with yoga these days?
I teach. I taught today. I teach every day, man. You know, it’s crazy because I was into the yoga and then Warp hit me and I got to focus on the music so I kind of got out. I started touring, so...I just this year started teaching again, like, a month ago, man. I’ve just been hittin’ it hard as fuck, every school out there.
How does teaching yoga carry over into your music?
I think it’s more about a feeling, man. Like, the feeling that comes from teaching, the contentment and not needing and not wanting anything else because I feel fulfilled, that sound comes out when I record. You know, if I’m all, like, coked up and stressed out and shootin’ dope and I press record, you’re gonna hear that shit in the sound. You know, that desperation, that unclarity, that dark shit come out through the sound. But when I’m teaching and I’m clean and I’m, like, present and confident, then that sound is reflected when I record.
I started teaching again and now here I am recording again, and, shit, I’m fuckin’ recording now, I’m just, like, I’m happy because I’m, like, wait until the world hears this! ■