To listen to Fantastic Negrito, born Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz, is to soak up a stunning array of sounds, forms, moods and ideas. Perhaps this is the byproduct of his stunning array of life, from being born in the middle of 15 children in Massachusetts to a strict Muslim father to being in foster care in Oakland by 12 – attendant with dealing drugs and carrying guns – to teaching himself guitar after hearing Prince’s “Dirty Mind” and even sneaking into music classes at Berkeley University.
He felt ensnared by a record deal in his twenties, breaking free only after a car crash damaged his hand and caused a coma. He opened an illegal club in LA, left music for years, then returned renamed and seemingly reborn in 2014, ascending from the ashes and near misses of his past. It was a sky-scraping ascension, too, as his albums earned three Contemporary Blues Album Grammys between 2017 and 2021.
Sure, they had to choose a category, but calling Fantastic Negrito’s music blues is like calling the ocean a lake. There is a Princely amount of rock, soul, funk and beyond, even occasional slivers of gospel. He’s called his music “black folk music for everyone,” fitting as his recent album and film explore the unlawful romance of his servant Scottish gramma and African American grandpa in Virginia seven generations ago. He creates music for everyone while fulfilling his expressed purpose of pummeling the current polarization that shuts down love and intellect.
While one might expect Dphrepaulezz’s history to breed anger, instead hope, joy and love abound. Even in songs exploring topics like mental health and racism, he romps and rollicks through Hendrix’s dreams, somehow sounding vintage while exploring new sounds, riffy without becoming formulaic, heavy while cradling melody.
Biography by Mary-Lynn Wardle