The Six Fifty: The 650 Stay-At-Home Playlist: plug in with the Bay Area’s one-and-only Fantastic Negrito

March 19, 2020

Fantastic Negrito  mental health  have you lost your mind yet? punk blues early hip-hop bay area

Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz was singing on the streets just six or seven years ago, fresh off of giving up music for the better part of a decade.

After a major record deal in the 1990’s — and a near-fatal car accident that left him in a month-long coma — Xavier stepped away from music, and spent his days growing cannabis. He came back to it by way of his idea for a man and his guitar as a superhero-type origin story. That’s when he hit the streets. That’s when Fantastic Negrito was born. The long hours of busking on the sidewalks of Oakland and the subsequent self-titled album that followed set him up for an early 2015 breakthrough via NPR’s Tiny Desk performance series.

Two Grammy awards later—in the category of Best Contemporary Blues for his first two albums “The Last Days of Oakland” and “Please Don’t Be Dead”— and Fantastic Negrito has become a torchbearer for the Bay Area music scene of the modern moment.

"I finished the third album already, it’s done it’s mixed, mastered, ready to roll. It’s called “Have You Lost Your Mind Yet.” I was writing a lot about people that I knew that were effected by anxiety, mental health, just going through awful shit, but still functioning. I wasn’t kinda writing about, the guy talking some stuff on the corner. That’s an easy observation or take on mental health. It’s more about people I knew. What guys I was working with, friends that I’ve had for years, people in my band — there came the subject of, have you lost your mind yet?"

"As far as the audience, my audience, they’re a strange tribe. They’re all over the world. They’re kinda scattered. They’re their own tribe, so they vary. My audience continues to be eclectic and they always find a way."

"I came up with Fantastic Negrito. I got guys together. I thought, ‘hey, this could be done.’ It’s the opposite of what the music business likes — a middle-aged guy that’s playing music, but it’s genre non-specific and they don’t really know what to do with it. But it finds its way. And that’s not what they teach you in music 101. I feel I’m already in that position. So what you do is you open your doors. You let people in.

That’s not the publicized, sexy way to do things, but simply open your door. I got about five new people that I’m working with, youngsters striving to be music producers, engineers, I got a kid that does film. We have the urban farm project that we’re doing called Revolution Plantation. I’ve always thought that way, it’s good when you open your doors and let people in.

Now if someone gave me a grant to do it, I would just multiply, and probably never shut the studio down. I’d love to do that: never shut down the studio, and just have it going all the time, so I could really open the door to develop interesting, artists that are not afraid. Those are my favorite artists. That can represent what the Bay Area really does.

In the Bay Area, we are some eclectic motherfuckers. I don’t know if we’re still represented that way. I think we used to be. There used to be such a diversity of different music happening that was actually represented on the world stage. Ten, twenty years ago, Too Short, Hammer, En Vogue, Green Day, E-40 were all happening at the same time. Tony! Toni! Toné! That is a very good representation of how different the Bay Area is, all these different artists doing these different things. I long for those days."

"I live in new directions. Blues purists hate me. I don’t think I have a twelve-bar blues song on my record. People decide to put me there. I feel like yeah, a bluesman but a very strange one. I feel it’s in the spirit, in the feel, in the essence.

I can’t stand cliché blues myself, sorry. ‘We’re a blues band,’ all the cliché twelve-bar blues, ‘I woke up this morning.’ All that shit. The people that did it originally, were fucking genius. They did it. Now it’s over, we gotta find new ways. That’s kinda the journey of being Fantastic Negrito. Punk, blues, early hip-hop, all the things that we loved, they were different and edgy and made us feel a certain way. That’s the bus I’m chasing, always, that bus."

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