Classic Rock

URBAN ROOTS

“Human beings are weird. Man, if reincarnation is real I wanna come back as a beaver or something.” Speaking over Zoom from his home in West Oakland, California, Fantastic Negrito is resplendent in a green jacket, golf trousers and gold African neck rings. A burst of black hair sprouts from the top of his shaven head, completing a look that’s part junk-shop maverick, part avant-garde wizard. His words crackle with the energy, charm and eccentricity that fuel his new album Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?, the follow-up to 2018 Grammy winner Please Don’t Be Dead.

“I go fast,” he says with a grin. “I allow about two months, and that’s the time I’ve got to write, produce, arrange, mix and master an album. I was thinking about how these albums were made in the seventies. They were lean and tight, and they were precise. You’d get, like, nine songs, and each song really mattered, instead of having two amazing songs and fifteen others that were – how do the English say it? [adopts British accent] – rubbish!”

Born Xavier Dphrepaulezz in Massachusetts (but deeply informed by his mother’s family in rural Virginia), the singer/guitarist/writer is chatty and good humoured, with a likeably idiosyncratic streak. He’s also packed about nine lives’ worth of experiences into his 52 years, from the million-dollar record deal that came to nothing, to the car accident that put him in a coma for three weeks, leaving him with his right hand partially paralysed.

Oakland, his home town (the family moved there when he was 12), shares this dynamic history. In 1966 the Black Panther Party was founded there. In the 70s, America’s crack epidemic hit the city especially hard. In the 80s, skyrocketing rents drove out much of the African-American population. Political, social and consumerist tensions have left marks on this Bay Area trade centre.

When he was barely

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