The San Diego hip-hop scene isn't exactly the most talked about topic in the music world. Hell, it's not even covered enough in San Diego. But it inched closer to national recognition recently, as former CityBeat editor Peter Holslin says so eloquently.
San Diego native Gonjasufi scored a major win a couple weeks ago. On Jay-Z's latest album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, Jay taps Sufi for the closing track, re-using the instrumental from Sufi's "Nikels and Dimes" for Jay's spell-checked song, "Nickels and Dimes." That's right: a San Diego-bred artist just went from relative obscurity (well, relative to Jay-Z anyway) to being featured on the biggest album of the year.
For those unfamiliar, Gonjasufi is a yoga teacher-turned-rapper-turned-singer of the experimental variety. He came up in San Diego as part of the venerated crew Masters of the Universe, along with rappers like Orko Eloheim and Odessa Kane. In 2010, his album, A Sufi and a Killer, made a huge splash in L.A.'s avant-garde Low End Theory scene, a hotbed for dirty, lo-fi instrumental music from the likes of Flying Lotus and Tokimonsta.
"Nikels and Dimes" originally appeared on Sufi's 2012 EP, MU.ZZ.LE. Jay's version updates it slightly with a few glossy production elements and, of course, new verses from Jay himself.
It's an interesting choice by Jay to remake this song. On the original, Sufi sorrowfully pleads for those in privilege to help out those of us who are less privileged. You wouldn't think that a guy who spends most of an album patting himself on the back for being filthy rich would take to this song. It may even seem hypocritical of him.
But it turns out to be pretty fitting. On Jay's version, he talks about all the great things he's done to help out his homies. Whether you want to take him for his word or not, the very visible charity is what he gives to Gonjasufi with this song: a co-sign. Sufi's a respected artist among music critics and indie music circles. But Jay's co-sign opens him up to a completely new, completely huge audience.
It's something Jay's done before. On "Moment of Clarity" off 2003's The Black Album, he gave a shout-out to conscious rapper du jour Talib Kweli. Though Kweli could never blow up on a national level, Jay's nod of approval certainly opened up new lanes for him. As far as underground rappers go, Kweli is pretty well-off, both in terms of finances and respect. There's no reason to think the same could not happen to Gonjasufi.
Here's hoping it does and that he can shine an even bigger light on what San Diego has to offer.
Quan Vu is the founder and editor of local music blog sdRAPS.com. He has also written about local and national hip-hop acts for San Diego CityBeat and the San Diego Reader. You can nerd out on rap trivia by becoming BFF's on Facebook or e-mailing him directly.