Sumach Ecks, the San Diego-born, Vegas-dwelling yoga teacher better known as hip-hop shaman Gonjasufi, released his debut album, A Sufi And A Killer, with a warning. “I don’t want it to be too easy for the listener,” he said in 2010. “I want it to hurt a little bit. I want it to get into a spot in the head that hasn’t been hit yet.”
Ecks’s intention to flex the comfort zones of hip-hop and electronic music move an audacious step further on his sophomore release, MU.ZZ.LE, a mini-album of 10 darkly evocative tracks that burn steady for just under 25 minutes.
Like a young, yogic Tom Waits more enamored with Madvillain than vaudeville, Ecks performs vocal contortion work that grinds from ghostly whispers to melancholy moans to deadpan raps (sometimes all in the same track) without ever breaking character. In “The Blame,” a slow cruising murder ballad that could appropriately join Tony Soprano’s drive time mixtape, Ecks offers a spooky competition of low/high-octave vocal dubs that avow “I am the killer in the name of me.” Meanwhile, “Venom”—a dreary track of haunted maraca rattles that creep like black mambas behind dooming bass thuds—creates a logical marriage of dark vocals to darker beats.
But as with most marriages, the most interesting moments on MU.ZZ.LE. come when the backing instrumental gloom is challenged by Ecks’s messages of karmic altruism. On “Nikels And Dimes,” the hip-hop yogi extols tiny acts of charity (“A penny that you throw on the ground could save someone’s life”) in protest of the shady reverb behind him. Late in “Feedin’ The Birds,” Ecks’s wife descends for a minute to combat plodding synth grunge with dulcet coos about breaking bread. The results of these bursts of levity are as stark as Quran verses scrawled on Vegas brothel walls and recall why Sumach Ecks remains a rare, unsettling voice.