March 16, 2010

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Those curious about context or my thoughts on “A Sufi and a Killer” ought to head to Pop and Hiss. This is for completists and those inordinately interested about the man behind one of the year’s best debuts. 

I read somewhere that with you were really into baseball growing up. Were you pretty good?

Yup, I grew up in San Diego. I was born out here and pretty much always into baseball through my youth, until I started smoking weed and discovered rap music.

What position did you play?

I was a center fielder and lead off hitter. I pitched too.

You a lefty?
Nah, I was right handed. I was the fastest man on any field straight up. My first year playing I batted eighth and would get up to bat and everybody would immediately grab their gloves to go out to the field because I’d strike out everytime. But after I hit my first single, the whole shit changed. It was symbolic for my life and how I approach music. I struck out for a full year and then the last two games I learned to hit the ball and for the next year, I’d be constantly getting on base and stealing second every single time stole second the next year

You play in high school?
I played ball until the 9th grade, then I started smoking weed man and that shit changed everything. Once I heard Bob Marley, it was all over, and then they went on strike and it was really done.

So was it about that time when you got into hip-hop?

Yup, I was like, I’m a go this way, so I started spinning, DJing at all the garage parties in Diego.

What was the scene like in San Diego. I imagine you must’ve stood out considering it can be a pretty conservative crew-cut type city, especially in the Gaslamp District.
It didn’t become like that until 2000. This was in the early 90s and during that era, the Gaslamp was the spot to be, it was where all the underground acts were coming through. Tres cho (sic?) C-4 Villains…it was actually an artistic spot with all sorts of thrift shops and shit. It wasn’t until around 99 and 2000 when shit changed. They started reconstructing it, put the ballpark up, and the crew cut crowd moved in.

Were you a big Padres fan?
When they had Tony Gwynn and Fred McGriff, after that I lost it.

So basically when Jack Murphy became Petco?
For real, that was some symbolism for sure. Jack Murphy was the shit. I remember going to Jack Murphy and seeing the Chicken, that’s some of my strongest memories. Seeing some cat hit a home run and hearing the crowd erupt.

So how did you first come to love hip-hop?
In ‘93 and shit. It was just a movement and it had meaning and there was passion in the music. There was so much aggression and honesty. I’ve never have been to NYC, but I feel like I know New York because of Black Moon and Smiff N Wessum. But I loved De la and Tribe and Public Enemy. There was so much variety then. Leaders of the New School and all the west coast shit going down.

What changed for you?
Now everyone’s trying to copy one sound, and its all about bitches and money. It’s been like that since 2Pac got killed. It’s like in baseball, I just lost interest.

Were you a big 2Pac fan?
He was just the hardest motherfucker. Music-wise I wasn’t into him at the time of his death. I was into him in the early days when he was Bishop in Iuice, and then everyone jumped on his shit, but I stopped liked him because he was shitting on Mob Deep. It was like, ‘C’mon, that’s Prodigy,’ you can’t be dissing him. And then the whole masses jumped on the bandwagon.

He’s like Hank Gathers — he died on the court giving all his heart. Looking back on the whole shit, he was ahead of his time. I didn’t realize how strong of a soul he was until he left. Jay-Z said that he opened the game and I agree. If he hadn’t died, Kanye west wouldn’t be out of snatching microphones and singing in auto tune.

You not a Kanye fan?
I’m not trying to diss dude, but it’s like c’mon son. This rap shit needs another 2pac, someone with that much conviction, who is respected and feared, and who can step up and snatch the mic back.

The weird thing about Kanye is that it seems like he intends to be a force for good and he’s obviously a gifted and passionate musician, but his insecurities pretty much cripple any chance anyone could have of really taking him seriously.

Like you said, you can tell he’s a good dude. But the thing is, you can own your own thing provided you have a strong team behind you who tells you when something is a bad idea. Without that, you can get lost. I mean, basically killed gangsta rap all by himself.

When he beat 50?

That was it. He’s done a lot of good, he’s a genius but you cant try to pull a Ol’ Dirty Bastard, homie. I’m not trying to bash dude. I’d like to meet him. A lot of my friends have met him and they say he’s a pretty intelligent cat.

When did you start rhyming?
I started rhyming in ’93 and I started spinning around ‘91 and 92, and then around 96, 97, 98, I hooked up with the Masters of the Universe, and that’s like one of the hardest crews out of California. Everyone who knows what’s up knows who they are. We just started rolling tough, showing up at some shit called the Underground Improv that showcased all of Diego’s hardest acts. You’d get everybody coming through there.

Other than Jayo Felony and Mitchy Slick, San Diego hip-hop never got much love outside of the city. Did you feel that was the case?

For sure. There was a lot of dope shit. Mitchy Slick, NMS with Orko Eloheim and Big Jus from Company Flow was big and Masters of the Universe. But those were the main cats, Jayo, Mitchy, and and the mss project that’s masters of the universe righ thtere those were the cats jayo mitchy and Ol’ Gold and Big June. But everyone in the Masters of the Universe is brutal. We get more love in France and elsewhere overseas then we get in America.

Is it just a matter of Los Angeles being so close that it overshadows everything in Diego?

LA is two hours away and casts a big shadow, but there was a crossover. The Project Blowed shit was brutal and all The Freestyle Fellowship dudes came down to Diego all the time, but it seemed like it was always about the Bay to LA and back. No one understood Diego. Abstract Rude would come down all the time to hang out with us and show up at the Underground Improv. His cousin stayed out here during the early 90s and that’s how I met him. But it was just like the LA scene was so strong that they deserved it. But at the same time, I think my exposure right now will bring Diego the attention it deserves.

I’m trying to do with the guys in my crew, but I’m like just don’t shit on me when you get on. I know what we’ve been through, I don’t need other rappers trying to diss me. Motherfuckers that do know that I’ll come straight at them and it’ll be worldwide chaos.

I think that’s how it is though. People never seem to pay attention until someone else co-signs. I mean, “A Sufi and a Killer” is a great album, but I bet Warp wouldn’t have put it out, had Flying Lotus not rode for it.

Yup, that’s just how it is. It’s crazy how the co-signs work. Thom yorke posted up some really nice shit the other day on Twitter, and I told my homie and he was like, ‘yo man, you were nice before the co-sign.’ But it’s still a good look, it feels good to have heads I look up to, digging my shit.

So when you did leave Diego to live in Vegas?

I moved in ‘05 just because I needed a house. I was living in a one-bedroom apartment and I had some deaf neighbors that lived above. They were deaf, but they heard more than motherfuckers that could hear. I couldn’t walk in there without them complaining. I needed a fucking house and I needed to get away. I knew too many people and I was trying to sing this music. I started recording in 04-05, and I could hear my neighbors smirking and laughing at me. It was a distraction—those neighbors listening and critiquing my shit. Even my own crew dissed me about that singing shit. It was bullshit, I don’t have to put their raps on, but I believe in them so much that I’ve got to. When I got to Vegas, I was able to space out and bang as loud as I wanted to. It was the best decision I ever made.

You’ve credited yoga with helping you tap into a deeper consciousness and musical creativity. How did you get into it in the first place?

In [San] Diego, I was pumping fuel at Lindbergh Field. I was a supervisor driving big 8,000-gallon trucks, pumping jet fuel on the airplanes — it was a really toxic environment. Before my daughter was born, I’d been bumming it on the streets, sleeping on couches or in my car, then I met my girl, got her pregnant, stopped doing drugs and got a job. The job at Lindbergh was the only job I could get because of the way I looked, and then one day, one of my boys visited me at work. He was a yoga instructor and smelled the fumes, and was like, “You gotta change jobs.” He invited me to work at the front desk at the yoga spot he worked at. So I did and went from working the desk there to taking classes, and then to the Bikram Training School.

Was it pretty difficult to get through?

It was brutal. Normal classes are 105 degrees, but during the training it was 133 degrees. In that first week, I felt like I died, probably because I almost did. I had to get an IV put into me, and my kidneys nearly failed from the heat and strain. I cramped up from my toes to my jaws. My abs jumped out of my stomach by a foot. I was convulsing. I had to squeeze every muscle out of my body. It was by far the most excruciating pain I’ve ever been in. I broke my hip bone and pelvis and femur in an auto accident in 1998, and that couldn’t touch the pain I endured at Bikram.

I felt like I died on the mat and was reborn and sweated out all these inner demons. That was the first time I was able to stop smoking weed. Instead of seeing myself in the first, second and third person, I started going to the fourth and fifth and sixth. I practiced everything in my meditation and started seeing how many of my selves I could see. It was the first time I’d ever been able to entirely empty my head.

What did you take from the process?

It allowed me not to fear anything. I stopped being afraid of myself. I had previously been afraid of the ocean, but I went into it for the first time. I had feared hitting different parts of dark spots in my mind but I learned to stay there until I built light. It’s part of the quest for enlightenment, going to these dark spaces until you can find light physically and metaphysically and then applying that to the world. People say that fear isn’t real. Fear is definitely real but what you do with it is your reality. I found a way to use it positively and elevate myself and my work.

I think that pretty accurately describes why psychedelics can be a good thing.

Exactly. You get through it and know so much more – you just realize not to take as many shrooms next time.

I read somewhere that you were sober during the recording of the album, but did tons of psychedelics and shit during the mixing process. Is that true?

Pretty much, during the recording I was just teaching yoga and practicing. I cracked coronas every now, but I didn’t smoke pot for two or three years—from ‘05 till 07.

You still not smoking?
Right now, I haven’t smoked in five months because I’m cutting a gang of new shit. Reality is so intense and my clarity is sharp as fuck. But weed smells beautiful as fuck too and I’m looking forward to mixing down again, and smoking a bunch of dope and dropping a bunch of shrooms me and AGDM. We almost killed ourselves, trying anything and everything trying to get the album right.

I feel there’s nothing wrong with that provided you don’t actually kill yourself. If you get one song perfectl because a drug afforded you a level of insight you couldn’t have had sober, then that’s one song that will be indelible.

For real. You can’t tell Jimi, Miles and Coltrane, ‘what the fuck are you doing.’ All the stuff from the earth is here for a reason. My strongest addiction is to my family and yoga – that always grounds me. I can do drugs and do yoga. Out of of all my friends, I’m the only cat who can drop weed at a split second for two years. I’ve done it before, I’m doing it now. It’s like ‘nah, I’m good,’ just pass me the Corona. With yoga, I’ve found something that can keep me on the ground.

Are you still teaching yoga?

I took a break. I haven’t taught since December because I’m just focusing on the record, but one day I’ll start teaching again.

You’ve said in interviews that it was only after the yoga training that you “found” your voice. Had you been singing before that or just rapping?

I had sung before, I was always really into Tricky and Massive Attack, but my singing wasn’t as strong as it is now…. I didn’t really start an aggressive rap style until after my training. Before that, it was like a low-key chant. After the training, I was rapping aggressively. I learned to approach the mic without thought and with pure emotion, cutting rap albums in the same session. I found a balance using both creative outlets.

There’s been a lot of dudes lately who have switched from rapping to singing? Do you think it’s a matter of a lot of people getting sick of the genre?

I credit Andre 3000, he’s one of the hardest rappers on the planet and then he dropped that Love Below and Stankonia and that shit changed the world. “Hey Ya” took over the planet. I haven’t heard anything as hard or as smashing as that.

Did you hook up with Gaslamp through your old San Diego ties?

I was recording out here in Vegas and Will heard some stuff and liked it, but we’d known each other forever. He used to work at a record store, and he would tell the owner, buy anything this dude has or he’ll blow up the store if you don’t buy it. Boom, glass everywhere. He was the one who originally co-signed for me. At first, we didn’t get along. I saw him as some younger dude who had a lot of money and all the girls and he was this big DJ. He knew that I felt that way towards him. I’d be hanging out with all these girls and then he’d come along and take my girl from me and walk away. I was like ‘fuck this motherfucker.’ And then, one time I needed a ride home and he wouldn’t give me a ride. So I was like, I won’t ever forget this, you’re a piece of shit. That’s just how it went down, but we grew into each other.

Then one day we were chilling at my boy’s house and Will was playing me some chops he’d done on some Ethiopian beats. I was like, “What are you going to do with it?” He didn’t know, and I told him I wanted to sing over it so he gave it me, and then I didn’t record anything and moved to Vegas.

Later on, I had a recording session with Blu and Mainframe. I walked in and Blu was in the studio sleeping, he hopped up and was like ‘what’s up, bro,” and went back to sleep. We ended up shrooming and taught them the Pranayama and ended up recording to it. Later on, I played it to [Gaslamp] and he went berserk. From there on, it was light-speed ahead.

It was one of the studios that Dilla used to use, right?

Yeah, it felt like Jay Dee was there with you when you were recording, so I knew I had to do it right. I saw the Stussy Dilla documentary they just did and it was cool, but they left out a lot of the shit about who Dilla was hanging out with during his last days. He was fucking with Mainframe and Blu and AGDt a lotI never got to meet him but I wish I had. I recorded a track over some shit that Mainframe showed him and he apparently liked. I don’t know. I could’ve gotten on that “Jay Stay Paid” release, but I don’t want to be on some posthumous hopping in the bandwagon. But I laced the Black Thought track anyhow No one’s heard it, because I don’t want to realied it and capitalize off the man. I’d rather wait and pay Ms. Yancey for the track than all these dudes that release it without consent all Dilla’d out.

My favorite track off that record was the one from Danny Brown.

That’s my dude. He’s a beast, no joke. He packs a lot of shit in delivery, he’s witty and he’s a comedian. He doesn’t care what people think and you can tell from his lyrics that he’s an intelligent dude.

You ever check out Bobo Lamb?

No.

You should he’s a comedian, he’s been on HBO and that was like Dilla’s older brother, not blood, but you know. We recorded a singing album, there’s various cats that I’ve done sessions with, but I can’t say shit.

What was it about Dilla that you think has caused so much posthumous attention?

I don’t know. Beyond more than just drums and shit, he just changed shit up. Now everyone’s trying to sound like him. There was so much great material that I didn’t even know was Dilla, like the Pharcyde or the Tribe stuff. He was just the most slept on. He didn’t get the respect he deserved until after he died. In the end though, it’s just his soul, you can tell by what he did, it’s all in there on every song. His shit had. conviction

I hear a little George Clinton in your music. Are you a big fan or is that just a coincidence?
Just a coincidence. I like him but never got really hard into Funkadelic.

Listening to G-Funk growing up, I’m sure it’s in there whether you like it or not.
For sure.

How did you end up working with Flying Lotus?

Through Will and Mainframe. Will was playing him all the shit we were doing and just fucking handling business. I recorded “Ancestors” before I even met Steve. Will and Mainframe had played me some of his music and then we went to his crib, and he was like the other dude who can hang with me when we smoke. He’s a video game fanatic and just a cool motherfucker.

Have you been working with him lately?
We haven’t been able to hook up in a while. We’re just in kind of different spaces, but I’m sure we’ll connect again. He gave me a bunch of beats a wile ago. I’ll go to his crib and he’ll play me shit and I’ll be like, ‘I like this shit right here.’ Then he’s like ‘you like that weird shit.”

What do you think of what they’re doing at Low End Theory?
I support what they’re doing. I mean I got “Low End Theory” on tape. It’s a good thing and it’s a good venue. I support anything those guys do –I’m with that shit. I just wish that heads wouldn’t go around trying to sound like Flying Lotus. He doesn’t sound anything like the first record anyway, he’s always going outside his parameters.

What do you have going on for the rest of the year?

Right now, I’m just focusing on trying to get the live set right. I find it hard to get a band to play that shit, but it’s like do I just step on stage with the instrumentals and smash them up or can I piece a band together. I really want a band to do new shit, not just play live versions of old tracks. Otherwise, I’ve been working on the new album. I’ve been working with a new producer out in Vegas, he’s an electronic guy and he’s got some pretty hard ass shit. Otherwise, I’m just in Vegas being a family man and taking it as it comes, trying to stay open and looking to connect with fans on the same level of love for this shit. I’m trying to do something that hasn’t been done. I don’t want to redo the record. I can’t even listen to the record at this point. When anyone puts it on I make them turn it off, but the second record is going to be smashing.

When did you actually finish recording “A Sufi and a Killer?”

In 2006-07, the mixing I did in 08 and 09. Basically, just most of 08 and then it took 09 to get everything ready. It took forever to do the artwork. But I’m embarrassed of it.

You don’t have anything to be embarrassed about.

Well, the one thing I do know is that I poured my living everything into that record, and that I’m comfortable in letting go with out. But none of it’s even close to what I’m doing now.

Download:
MP3: Gonjasufi – “Ancestors”

MP3: Gonjasufi – “Snaps”
MP3: Gonjasufi – “Pipedreams”

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