By Hailey Nuthals, Highlighter Editor
When it comes to blues rock artist Fantastic Negrito, the name doesn’t lie. The artist, whose real name is Xavier Dphrepaulezz, has made a style of blues that’s infused with soul, roots, and rock in a way that’s undeniably amazing. Even NPR recognized the talent when they declared him the winner of their 2015 Tiny Desk Concert Contest. He’s had his music used in TV shows as acclaimed as “Empire,” and just recently released “Last Days of Oakland,” a monumental LP. After a career that had quickly bloomed when Jimmy Iovine picked him up for a record deal and then crashed when Dphrepaulezz himself literally had a car crash and was in a coma for three weeks, nearly losing all his playing ability in his right hand, Dphrepaulezz has come back to the scene with fresh energy and a renewed passion. Recently, WSN got to speak with him while he was on tour about his career and new album. (This interview has been edited for brevity.)
WSN: If you were to picture a specific person listening to your newest album “Last Days of Oakland,” who would they be? What sort of person would be, so to say, a super-fan of this album?
Xavier Dphrepaulezz: Well, I think they would have to be a new person that would be invented. Young and old, multicultural, multiracial, it’s just… that’s a good question, because I feel like this record really plays across the spectrum. I get grandmothers and kids that write me about “Last Days of Oakland.” When I imagine it, it’d have to be a new beginning with all those new layers. That’s what I see on the road, even in Europe. So many people show up to the shows. When I look at the feedback, the spectrum is ridiculous. Let me think about that…. They’re thirsty. They’re the people that are thirsty. The person who’s been looking for an answer to all this insanity, looking for an artist to speak on it. They’re open-minded and progressive and they want artists to say some real shit. That person. And now that I say that, it makes sense. That person transcends all the labels…. Even now, I’m in the south, the red states, and the music transcends all those boundaries. I feel like i’m in a conservative, red-state audience, but I think the thirst transcends all that in the human spectrum. Maybe I have some unrealistic faith in humanity, but that’s what I believe.
WSN: Who would benefit the most from listening to the album – those whom it empathizes with, or those who don’t yet understand the topics you address within the album?
XP: I think probably people that are not familiar. It’s good to be in the place where people don’t know you. I love going through Europe where no one knew who I was and I had thirty minutes, one man, one guitar, to try and connect with people. I’m doing the same thing here, in North Carolina, Virginia. You get 30 minutes to try and connect with people. I learned that from busking on the streets, learned how to connect with people who didn’t necessarily want to hear me… The greatest revelation that ever came into my life was that I needed people. And that’s not prevalent in our society, this philosophy that we need each other. It seems like you can either be in business with your friends or [with the] the bank – you gotta pick… It’s very important that people connect and work together, and that’s how you’ll get through everything in this world, in this life. That’s why I belong to a collective. The greatest changing point in my life was realizing that.
WSN: What do you anticipate the critical response will be from “Last Days of Oakland?”
XP: Well, you can’t please everybody. Not the people who unfollowed me because I was out there campaigning with Bernie [Sanders]. I’ve been called everything, every racial epithet. You can’t please everyone, and if you’re looking to, it’s gonna be a disaster. The people with love in their hearts will get together and go towards the light – they’ll gather. If we get knocked down, we’ll get back up. If we get knocked down again, we’ll get back up. If we get knocked down and we can’t get up, we’ll help each other till we’re back up…
In “Last Days of Oakland,” my message is that artists will rise. This is our time. Let our voices be heard. Let’s let the truth be heard. I wanna thank the people of the great city of Oakland, because I had to get through them first.