Resting on top of a resilient establishment where influences from Middle-Eastern sounds, to re-imagined hip-hop, to bustling old-sounding records lay, is an enigmatic singer/rapper, Gonjasufi. Properly known as Sumach Ecks, the distinctive singer had been making music for 20 years on his own, before realizing the means to create a full-length debut. Talented and beguiling, the singer’s music is a tale of genuinely open words and whether he’s singing about giving it his all, renouncing her name after she’s left, or even envisioning life as a sheep, there is an unmistakable magnificence about A Sufi and a Killer and thus, it is a superb release in every sense of the word: a masterpiece, if you will.
On Flying Lotus’ previous album, Los Angeles, the California beat-maker featured Gonjasufi on the penultimate track, “Testament.” On that song, Ecks’ vocals were surrounded by mystical music that catered to the singer’s blissful delivery and enchanting presence. Rather than clouding it with heavy bass and speedy drums, the music was grimy and ominous, with Ecks’ voice singing with a mesmerizing cadence. But, much like “Camel,” with serrated beats, swirling music and interspersed vocals, the production on A Sufi and a Killer follows a similar path. It’s stirring, head-nodding, breathtaking music that shifts styles with a turn of a knob and masterfully, at that. At the end, he’s left singing himself to sleep, “It’s finally made, baby” and rightfully so, there’s every bit of reason to relax and rejoice.
Back, before we even heard word of an album by this so-called Gonjasufi, there was a strong lack of quality hip-hop for the last few months. Los Angeles had come and went two years ago and while Blockhead and Oh No showed up to feature solid hip-hop albums for 2009, there was virtually nothing to be seen between December and March. Slowly and gradually, word began to build around the lo-fi aesthetic of blending Eastern vibes with hip-hop beats and what could come of it. A single was released, a few videos were shot, and the legend of Gonjasufi would arise into something not only worthwhile but intriguing.
Fortunately, for us that is, Ecks isn’t just a legend in his mind but a true master of weaving cryptic lyrics with even better music – in a nutshell, he’s achieved anything and everything we could have asked for. The progression on “Candylane” takes you by surprise because before it you have this trippy, almost psychedelic trance music, and after it is this electronically charged synth machine; yet in between those songs is a disco-ready, funky serving of soul. These ideas all work under an umbrella that not only deflects rain but allows for a few drops to drip in: adding dimension and dynamic skill to his already impeccable style; combining such unheard of differences never sounded better.
Even though everything was produced by three heavyweights in Flying Lotus, The Gaslamp Killer and Mainframe, they each find ways to coalesce their own styles to showcase all of Ecks’ talents as a musician. For as much as the support lies in the beats, to promote and suffice his music, Ecks is the true star of the show with music that is every bit amazing. Early on, he’s feverishly singing, “And I don’t ever wanna see her/you again” to the backdrop of a guitar, piano and drums as if he’s inside some kind of western saloon on “She Gone” and later, he’s defeated in solemn admittance, “I gave you love but wasn’t enough” on “I’ve Given” – before a fierce organ comes crashing in. In the end, both are viscerally charged representations of what A Sufi and a Killer is: sincere and at times, bluntly honest, utterly captivating and exceptionally crafted, it’s a special album that will soon become, very simply, essential.