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Five-Minute Q&A: Fantastic Negrito

The roots rocker on gentrification, the blues, and what he misses most from the Oakland of his youth. 

 

A failed major record label debut, a nearly fatal car crash, and finally a big break via the NPR Tiny Desk: Fantastic Negrito, the Oakland-raised roots rocker born Xavier Dphrepaulezz, has the origin story to match any of the Delta bluesmen to whom he’s increasingly compared. Dphrepaulezz will make his Outside Lands debut on August 6 and, as he puts it, look to “take the bullshit and turn it into some good shit.” 

How’d you transition from doing neo-soul 20 years ago to now mostly blues?
When I was first exposed to black roots and blues music, I just didn’t really get it. I remember hearing Skip James and thinking, Where are the drums, man? It took really living and really failing. All these things really prepared me, later in life, to reconnect with black roots music.

Your album, The Last Days of Oakland, is about gentrification and displacement. Do those issues resonate in the same way when you’re on the road?
There are just so many new people here—and there’s some good in that, too. But you can’t have only wealthy people. That resonates with people. You can feel it everywhere. There’s a shift, and it’s dangerous. 

What are some of your best memories of the Oakland that you’re afraid is being lost?
We’d go to the Eastmont Mall—it was really happening back then. Now it’s a ghost town. But man, that was a real dose of Bay Area culture. As a little kid, I loved places like the Lux, on Broadway, where we’d see all the martial arts flicks. And I remember going up to Telegraph right at the beginning of hip-hop and punk music. There was this real sense of culture—that something amazing was happening. 


Originally published in the August issue of
San Francisco 

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