The man behind the final track on Jay-Z's 'Magna Carta... Holy Grail' on his fave HOVA moments
Jay-Z's twelfth full-length studio album, Magna Carta... Holy Grail, features the rapper’s long time beat-making heavyweight compadres. A sixteen-track compendium, it’s laced with production magic by Pharrell, Boi-1da and Timbaland, who helped the Brooklyn-raised lyricist create some of the most memorable tracks in rap. But it’s the album’s closing track that’s arguably one of Hov’s most personal tracks to date.
The mastermind behind the track is the 35-year-old, San Diego-born underground king Sumach Ecks, known simply as Gonjasufi. Fresh off the high from his second indie release MU.ZZ.LE, he can be found teaching yoga in the dry lands of Nevada and waxing lyrical about the metaphysics of this thing we call life.
Dazed Digital: How did the collaboration with Jay-Z come about?
Gonjasufi: I’ve been wrestling with God. I learned the importance of stillness and what that means. I found it on a mat in a yoga room. Everything we think that’s really chasing us – everybody, ever motherfucker on this planet – all the goals, aspirations and dreams, all that shit wants you more than you want it. It came by not chasing, but by speaking to God. That song I wrote, I’m still going through it. The reason it’s relevant now is because I spent thirty-fuckin'-five years being nickels and dimes and all that other shit. This isn’t a song about money, that’s my daughters laughing in the beginning. That’s shit I’ve gone through. Everyone relates to that shit.
DD: Jay-Z referenced the comments Harry Belafonte made towards him and Beyoncé in his version. How did you feel when you heard the finished product?
Gonjasufi: I felt honoured. I felt numb for a minute. It was so much feeling it was overwhelming. I’ve had my own opinions based upon being frustrated by seeing him successful and where he’s at – blaming him for a lot of things that I felt. I feel more reassured that the All Mighty is in control because that’s a powerful move for him and for me. That was calculated. Even for him to get inspired by how it went down. That’s God working.
I’m not really listening to my own shit, right. In my whip at that time, I didn’t even have a CD player. I was listening to Gospel stations for the last three or four years. I’m in this rental car and I have a stack of CDs and for the first time since it came out I’m thinking, "Man, ['Nickles and Dimes'] beat is sick!" Someone who’s off the streets, who used to hustle slinging nickels and dimes. As soon as I thought that, I thought about Jay-Z. I thought it would be sick if he would do a remix to this.
Dazed Digital: It's probably self-explanatory, but what was initially behind the track?
Gonjasufi: When you find yourself mad at others and forgetting it, you gotta ask yourself why. Jealousy is a disappointment in oneself; I just let go. I felt like I was still struggling even after touring the world and having all these records out – but I was fuckin' scraping. Letting go of the jealously helped me reach the stillness that I found. I ain't kissin' no ass, and I ain't grabbed my ankles and sucked no dick to get here. And I’m not gonna start now. My family is my focus: my children, my wife, and my friends. That’s who I’m in this for, man. I feel I’m right on point and the message is being heard. I look up to Jay-Z. I learned a lot from him.
My best friend was like ‘Nah, Jay-Z’ and I was like 'Fuck that shit.' I was really into ‘Pac. Once Pac was gone I was like, fuck rap, I’m done.
DD: It seems as though 'Nickels and Dimes' is going to be a standalone track. This might really open doors for you. Are you ready for that?
Gonjasufi: Fuck yeah I’m ready. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t. I’m ready because I’m not chasing it. I know the message. I’m not compromising shit - he came to me, man. That song was already out. I felt like he was talking directly to me on that shit on more than one level – on a third, first and a second person. So for me, of course I’m ready, this is what I was born for.
Is the world fuckin’ ready, you know what I’m saying?! We’ve been ready, me and all the heads I grew up with. We were ready from the get-up. We’re waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with what we’re doing.
DD: Were you into Jay-Z's previous music?
Gonjasufi: I was down with Jay-Z in like, 2004. Reasonable Doubt – I slept on that, at the time. I’m from the 90s. For me, it was more Nas. My best friend was like ‘Nah, Jay-Z’ and I was like 'fuck that shit.' But I was really into ‘Pac. If Pac didn’t like it, I didn’t like it. Once Pac was gone, I got jaded off of rap, man. I was like, fuck rap, I’m done.
Favourite Jay-Z moments:
Fade To Black
When Jay-Z came out with Fade to Black, I saw him in the studio. I saw how he worked. I was engulfed ‘cause I’d never seen an artist bring us into the lab like that. He got that shit stored in a rolodex in his head. My whole crew is about that, but he took it to another level. After I found out, I started doing that shit.
The Dynasty and Blueprint
Then I heard "Big Pimpin’" and shit I respected it, but I didn’t buy any Jay-Z music. But when I heard "The Dynasty" and "Blueprint 2", I was like "Yeah this shit is hard. I like the motherfucker." I was blaming him for a lot of shit, but he was the top dog.
Other favourite HOV moments:
"Kingdom Come" and "American Gangster". But I started looking for Jay-Z records after "The Dynasty". From that point on, all his shit's been solid. It was before, but I was a 'Pac fan, so at the time, I wasn’t into that shit.
I felt like he really lit the fire from under Nas. Everyone wants to hear "Ether" from Nas. I wanna hear a whole record like that. It was a move everybody enjoyed. I don’t think he's really invested in that.
Show You How
You can tell he ain’t writing that shit down. He’s taking snapshots at these bars – that’s why he can space ‘em like that. That’s an art form, you can’t front on that.
I think that [Magna Carta] has a lot of bangers on it and I think Flying Lotus had a lot to do with that, man. You can hear some Danny Brown in Jay-Z. The gap between underground and mainstream is closing, homie. The truth is, Adrien Yonge who produces on the album and me: we’re from the fuckin’ streets.
That’s Rick Rubin. I’ve been trying to get Rick Rubin for ages. I always felt if I could get to Rick Rubin, he would understand the situation. He'd put me in a space to knock out the record that I have in me. That’s why you like that shit, ‘cause that’s Rick Rubin, man.