Written By: Fletcher Bonin
With a name like Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that Fantastic Negrito chooses to use a stage name. However, his stage name is more than just a moniker that is easier to pronounce than his given name. His name, like his music, is a celebration of black culture. His latest album, entitled The Last Days of Oakland is thirteen tracks of pure blues, R&B and roots. Closing in on fifty years old, Negrito’s music has taken on a reflective turn. The album’s title no doubt refers to his upbringing in Oakland. He has detailed his experience as a drug dealer while living in this California city as a young man. No doubt the trials and tribulations of this livelihood emerge as songs and lyrics on his latest album.
The Last Days of Oakland is as good as roots music can be, with steady, repeating guitar chords and lamenting, mournful refrains. With a voice like a beautifully rusted pipe, Negrito wails on each track with vocals that range from deep grunts to falsetto croons. Expect themes of pain, suffering, redemption and love, like any great roots album. Assuredly, it is Negrito’s vocals that give the album its life. Though on many tracks he is closer to talking than singing, he has perfectly captured the tone of old school roots. And yet his lyrics bring an essential modern quality to his songs. There is so much to study within the layers of Negrito’s latest project, and so much to enjoy.
My favorite track off The Last Days of Oakland is ‘Rant Rushmore’. This song is just classic roots music, with beautifully arranged instrumentals and pitch changes for the ages. He croons, “most of my fear, sitting right here with you, for the rest of my life, all this pain came from the games that your mama’s and your daddy’s played and abused.” As the song swells into the refrain, he sings “slave ship drama, and the beautiful dream it seems has tied to a bitter scene, I’m eating cold macaroni for dinner, I’m a lifelong sinner.” Over the course of these lyrics, Negrito changes pitch at least three times, and this, combined with the power of the lyrics themselves, gives the song a richness and a texture that lingers long after the song ends.
Other tracks I really enjoyed were ‘Lost in a Crowd’, ‘Working Poor’ and ‘Scary Woman’. The Last Days of Oakland is the exclamation point on Negrito’s career devoted to creating bluesy-roots music in its purest form.