Los Angeles-based singer, rapper, producer, DJ and yoga teacher Gonjasufi cut his teeth in the ‘90s San Diego hip-hop scene before heading to LA in the mid-2000s. As well as work with fellow San Diegan, Gaslamp Killer, he was also featured on a Flying Lotus track in 2008, which lead to his signing on Warp Records. Gonjasufi released his debut album, A Sufi and a Killer, in 2010 to critical acclaim. His genre-defying style brings together psychedelia and hip-hop under his unique vocals; the follow-up, MU.ZZ.LE, pushed further into experimental territory. Callus, Gonjasufi’s third album, incorporates more punk and rock sounds than his previous works, with contributions from former Cure guitarist Pearl Thompson. Most recently Warp put out Mandela Effect, which features remixes of songs from Callus as well as some new material.
You had a couple of hip-hop releases in the 90s, when you were living in San Diego. What made the San Diego scene unique? Are there elements of the sound that can be heard in your more recent material?
Growing up in SD next to the ocean is what shaped me….my pops surfs so I grew up inhaling negative ions for breakfast lunch & dinner in the 80’s and I was heavily influenced by T&C Surf, G&S, Vision street wear… Powell Peralta… ya know “the search for animalchen”… such a special era. To experience it realtime was some special shit! But SD, in the 90’s, like most American cities was infested with ignorant racist right winged stiffs…. who lived to tarnish “the good life” so i had to learn the art of becoming invisible… some of my early recordings reflect all of this I was knee deep in rap music. The creativity and message is exactly what I identified with. Now that I’ve been in the desert for over a decade, away from the water… I feel worn in and dehydrated as fuck… I’m sure you can feel the dry heat in the recordings… it’s like I’m dry heaving into the mic… the beating from the sun definitely has a direct affect on my attitude and approach to recording… even living.
Who are some of your favourite artists coming out of San Diego today? Is there still a thriving underground?
my friends… Skrapez, Santino, Prayers, Odessa Kane, Angels Dust… Hezuz, Creatures, Drumetrics, Johaz, Mus1, RLK, Resist, ric scales, Real J Wallace, There’s more I know I missed… I fuck w Rob Stone… I like seeing the younger generation make it….
How did you end up working with Flying Lotus? Do you think you’ll collaborate with him again?
Timing… I believe it was Mainframe who ended up showing me a beat tape from flylo… had 20 or more gems on it… I just recorded the songs I liked and emailed them to Steve. We finally hung a couple months after the songs had been tracked. He was the one who went to Warp and showed them the music GLK and I had been working on. About working together again… it may come full circle… it’s all about the energy… depends how the vibe is… when I work with heads I need first dibs on tracks otherwise wtf are we really doing… in order to get the best from me, you have to be willing to give me your best work. So if he ever wants to give me first dibs again… then it could pop off…
I understand you used to teach yoga, do you find it helps you creatively?
It always helped me to get out of my head and reconnect with the inner child, who happens to be a big wave rider surfin’ the ocean in my heart… so yeah… being part of other people’s awakenings keeps me awake and is such a heavy responsibility… more than an honor. My perception of teaching yoga has changed. The energy, clarity and freedom I feel when I teach, I know enhance the experience of performing onstage.
Your latest release, Mandela Effect, features remixes of songs from your last LP, Callus, by a variety of other artists. How did you decide who worked on the project?
It was easy… I reached out to some of the artists who I am inspired by and my Warp team in LA helped push me to realize the vision. The ones who continue to push the envelope and aren’t tryin’ to sound like anyone other than themselves. I fuck with everyone on that album. Tuff!
Interview by JJ Nozell