All of the articles you will read about him cite his troubled teen-life, numerous setbacks, and near death car crash, yet he describes his journey as “The American Dream.”
Lets speed through his timeline really quick:
Raised in a strict Muslim family with 14 siblings, then moved to gang-controlled Oakland where a world built on rich music culture, disobedience, and drug dealing was quickly emerging. He left home at 12 and never came back.
Fast forward two years, Dphrepaulezz’s father dies. He is shuttled between foster homes. He was then entrenched in a life of small-time delinquency.
At 18 he discovered that Prince was a self-taught musician and so he began teaching himself how to play.
He snuck into Berkeley music classes to get a formal education — and in 1993 found himself being signed to Interscope for a $1m contract by Jimmy Lovine himself.
If you thought the rest was history, you’d be wrong.
Going by the name of Xavier, his debut album The X Factor was released in ‘96. Neither he nor Interscope was happy with the work and so his next few years were spent in musical purgatory — unable to leave his label but unable to excel under them.
A near-fatal car crash left him in a coma for three weeks, broke all four limbs and maimed his hand, ultimately releasing him from his contract… but also his ability to play the guitar.
Going back to the hustle was only natural. Dphrepaulezz transformed his warehouse home into an illegal nightclub that soon attracted a variety of celebrities due to its exclusive vices. He split his time between managing Club Bingo and performing music in a number of Afropunk/negro rock projects.
He moved back to Oakland and began growing medical marijuana to support his newborn child.
To soothe his son one evening, he picked up a guitar for the first time in 5 years. From there he forced his twisted hands to play again. Freshly inspired, he began churning out blues tunes with black roots–Fantastic Negrito was born.
Fantastic Negrito is firmly rooted in both black experience and black music, including blues, R&B and a variety of roots music.
He created this new persona at 45, and landed a spot on NPR’s Tiny Desk Series a year later, exhibiting that success can come at any point life.
“I thought my story was over. But that was when I realized I finally had a story to tell — and it seems to remind people of their own story,” he said in an interview with The Guardian.
It doesn’t seem right to talk about Fantastic Negrito’s music without personal input. The music is so imbued with Dphrepaulezz’s soul and experiences that no thoughtful conversation can be derived without having him in the room, breaking it all down for you. Even the title of his debut album, The Last Days of Oakland, stands as a testament to that.
With themes such as racial inequality, human rights, police brutality, classism, and poverty permeating each song, it is very clear that there’s a lot more going on here (he even threw in a twist on the Lead Belly classic “In the Pines”). Roots music has been edging into the mainstream over the last few years. The Black Keys, Alabama Shakes, Mumford & Sons, and Jack White are all examples of this.
Fantastic Negrito stands apart from all of them.
The authenticity of Dphrepaulezz’s trials and triumphs are painfully relatable. He’s a man of many tastes and talents and this project is a true representation of that.