Bernie’s Bluesman is Back, Baby!
Few musicians possess pasts as colorful and unique as that of singer-songwriter Fantastic Negrito. Born Xavier Dphrepaulezz, the eighth of fifteen children to a deeply devout Somali Muslim father, he and his family moved to Oakland when he was twelve, where he quickly began hustling and selling drugs as a teen. He decided to teach himself how to play music after hearing Prince’s Dirty Mind, and was good enough to land a deal with Interscope Records in 1993. Under the stage name Xavier, he released his debut album in 1996, titled The X Factor. Unfortunately, it had almost no traction, which led to tension between Dphrepaulezz and the label. Suddenly in 1999, he was involved in a near-fatal car crash that left him in a coma for three weeks. Interscope then dropped him, which forced him back into a hustling lifestyle. After the birth of his son in 2008, he returned to Oakland and decided to tentatively start writing music again.
In 2014, Dphrepaulezz returned to touring and began sporting a brand new stage name (Fantastic Negrito) and a bluesy, politically-charged sound. He gained so much traction with his 2016 album, The Last Days Of Oakland, that he won a Grammy Award and was enlisted to join Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2016. Now, in 2018, Negrito will soon release a much-awaited follow-up, Please Don’t Be Dead.
Sometimes people worry that the result of overnight success will lead to a watered-down followup product, but luckily Fantastic Negrito hasn’t allowed any droplets to take hold. Please Don’t Be Dead is a raw and angular blues-rock record, dripping with attitude. From the foot-stomping opener, “Plastic Hamburgers,” to the Bruno Mars-esque funk of “Bullshit Anthem,” every track is a winner. Negrito’s howling tenor fits perfectly over the muscular drums and sassy guitars.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Please Don’t Be Dead is the mirror image of its predecessor. There are more tender moments in the set as well, with acoustic guitars and pianos sprinkled within the mixes. One particular highlight on this end of the spectrum is “Dark Matters,” which scraps the blues in favor of a more John Lennon vibe.
All in all, fans of Negrito’s previous work will be overjoyed that Please Don’t Be Dead is another quality release, and considering the current political climate, he may gain a few new fans as well. One thing is for certain: Xavier Dphrepaulezz’s music is definitely not dead.