Fantastic Negrito is an enigma. The Oakland-based singer-songwriter’s persona is an amalgamation of the beautiful, the humble and the absurd, complete with a taste for the unconventional. Negrito (real name Xavier Dphrepaulezz) lived in obscurity for 11 years. This was a turbulent period of Dphrepaulezz’s life, for in 1999 he suffered a near-fatal car accident and spent time in rehab.
There is no doubt he has made an impressive progression since, with his 2016 album The Last Days Of Oakland propelling his musical career to acclaim and winning the Best Contemporary Blues Album award at the Grammys. Bernie Sanders insisted that Negrito play at the primaries in Nevada and New Hampshire during the Democratic presidential nomination of 2016 after hearing the song Working Poor – a politically charged number encapsulating the struggles of America’s working class. His next album, 2018’s Please Don’t Be Dead, repeated the Grammys success of its predecessor.
Negrito’s latest, the interrogatively titled Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? is an experimental plunge into the political consciousness, tackling issues of race, confusion, love, hate and the divisions across all parts of American society. The journey is paved through Negrito’s fluid creativity in blues, gospel inspired funk and contemporary hip-hop, and served up as a smorgasbord of appetising tunes.
The absurdly named opener Chocolate Samurai is a subject of a surrealist painting, a character straight from the subconscious. It oozes an erotic mojo that liberates the soul. The song’s structure is evocative of prime Stevie Wonder, the bassline reminding of Higher Ground with its iconic wah-wah sound, and just like the title of said track, it stimulates the senses… to a higher ground. Within is a politically charged message, for it is loosely based on those at the heart of the Black Lives Matter protests, and the Black Panthers of 1968. The ambiguity of the title sets the listener up, given it isn’t mentioned in the track.
The album is wide in its influences, for the 52-year-old is influenced by contemporary artists much younger than himself. The more hip-hop inspired tracks like I’m so Happy I Cry compare with the likes of Childish Gambino with the artistic use of funk rhythms and awesome use of backing choir and vocals featuring Tank And The Bangas frontwoman Tarriona Ball, tackling matters concerning the loss of youth.
The stand out track Searching For Captain Save A Hoe is another Wonder inspired number, but oozes sex appeal with its low mood beats and erotic guitar riffs complimented by the rap break by E-40 midway through. This is Negrito at his artistic best, fusing fragments of genres, soul, blues, rock, the avant-garde and hip-hop all into one headymusical brew.
Negrito creates a musical gallery in which each song is a well-crafted piece of folk art, bringing together fragments of genres to create something from the great unknown, something deeply provocative and enchanting. The answer to whether we’ve lost our minds yet is simple; at the end of this album, yes we have.