Gonjasufi was ready to quit. The San Diego native turned desert mystic had just released Muzzle, his 2012 sophomore LP, on Warp Records. But despite critical acclaim, he felt broken and disgusted by the music industry.
The onetime yoga teacher had become similarly alienated from his previous profession, too. So he sold his Bikram studio, went on tour and developed a drug addiction on the road. To further compound his misery, he got swindled.
“My tour manager fucked me out there and I blasted my booking agency for not sending me the money that they owed me,” says the iconoclast with the barbaric yawp, born Sumach Ecks. Think somewhere between Captain Beefheart and Tricky, a biblical prophet on psilocybin and a wailing banshee.
“I didn’t have a lawyer and came home broke,” the dreadlocked rapper-singer continues, speaking from his home in Joshua Tree. “The agency dropped me and everyone was scared of me, like I was a bogeyman.”
So he disappeared. He stopped returning emails from the label. He could’ve wound up another talent squandered by an industry that rarely has room for true originals — at least those averse to contemporary trends. But then Jay Z randomly came calling.
Technically, the contact came from Warp Records, which attempted to get ahold of its absentee artist to let him know that one of the most famous rappers of all time wanted to sample him on “Nickels and Dimes,” the finale of Jay Z’s 2013 album, Magna Carta Holy Grail. Gonjasufi initially thought it was an elaborate prank.
“I didn’t think they were serious,” he says. “I thought they were trying to get ahold of me because I hadn’t been returning their emails. I was really on some ‘Fuck everyone, I’m over this’ shit.”
The money from the sample allowed Gonjasufi to relocate from Vegas and purchase a house in Joshua Tree.
“Right now, during the day it’s like Celsius hell,” he jokes. “But the desert nights are heaven to me.”
He’d continued to make music during his sabbatical and eventually was inspired to finish what became Callus, released this week on Warp. His latest deranged opus is a bloodshot and doomed yelp of an album, operating at the nexus between heaven and hell, organic beauty and hideous disfiguration.
The self-produced set is a demonic canticle that captures the dystopian numbness of the summer of 2016, somewhere between the opiated bloodletting of Nirvana’s In Utero, the industrial clank of Portishead’s Third and the white noise in your head when it feels like you’re going insane.
“I gave too much of myself on A Sufi and a Killer,” Gonjasufi says, referring to his 2010 breakthrough, a collaboration with longtime friend The Gaslamp Killer. “I felt like I needed a callus around my heart chakra to protect what’s sacred and shit.”
In conversation, Gonjasufi is just about the rawest motherfucker you’ll ever meet. There’s no pretense or subterfuge. He’s hardcore and deceptively sensitive — overly analytical but determined to find some version of simplicity. Rarely do five minutes pass without him talking about how important it is for him to be a good father to his children. He’d fracture your nose for talking shit, then weep over the fundamental evils of existence. He’s savage but righteous.
“I’m just trying to find a way to channel all the fucked-up torment and pour it into the art,” Gonjasufi says. “I hope this album makes people want to go into the dark and not be afraid of that shit, to believe in themselves and find the messiah within.”
An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com.