Album Review: Fantastic Negrito – Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?  (Cooking Vinyl)

Drawing in as many diverse elements of African-American music as you could care to name, Fantastic Negrito has presented a heady gumbo of an album which will surely garner a further Grammy nomination, to go with the two previous awards.

Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz has had a life which would make an inspirational book, and a television series to equal the boundary-smashing break-though of The Wire.

Raised in Massachusetts in a large family. Father is Somali-Caribbean, Mother comes from the black community of Southern America. Orthodox Muslim upbringing. A move to Oakland California pitched him into the heart of a different culture altogether.

Streets, drugs, gangs and crime. But also, a boilerplate for Black music, dance and culture. Immersed himself in music, a largely self-taught musician.

Raw talent and hard work brought him to the attention of the industry. Promoters and The Business, a lot of money crossed his palms. But a lack of breakthrough success, and the behaviours inherent in celebrity culture drained the spirit and the soul.

The bottom was smashed through. A horrendous car accident in 2000 left him in a prolonged coma. A severely battered body that required years of intense therapy. The music was silenced but came back again.

This is the mirror world to Malcolm X. From street to prison to Islam to American Revolutionary. Xavier was able to rise again from his death.

The music on this album draws energy from his myriad influences, and can be narrowed to the critical time of 1968 to 1972 America. He has described it as a personal album, about friends, family, relationships. It is also about the socio-political issues, but it is not preaching or condescending.

There is Sylvester Stewart and Sly and the Family Stone. With Parliament and Funkadelic, their influence is wound all through this music. Funk, Rhythm and Blues, Soul and the Stax Blues guitar style are the Chairs that this music sits on. As John Lennon explained, ‘that is the architectural framework from where you draw your particular unique take’.

Chocolate Samurai starts with the opening riff to Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground. Otherwise it is a Funkadelic stew. Riffs and grooves keep recycling. A Jazz piano at the end.

The same with I’m so Happy I Cry. Tarriona Bill shares a Rap cameo. The tempo is slow New Orleans funeral march.

How Long starts with a classic Stax style Albert King guitar intro. Ringing single notes. The singing from Xavier is gritty soul with a bit of Gospel, and perhaps on a lot of the songs he reminds me of Bobby Womack. This song also moves in the same circles as the classic Blaxploitation movie soundtracks. The lyrics mine the personal hurt linking to the political pressure that Curtis Mayfield could express so well. The sixties Jamaican musicians were heavily influenced by his songs, and the feeling and style is present in much of Bob Marleys breakout music from 1970 on.

Full of shit/Full of hope/ Holding on/There’s a lynch mob ready to kill/ How long can we keep holding on?

!968 to 1972. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy assassinated; Nixon elected President. Black lives boiling and raging. Vietnam protests and police brutality. National guards kill students at Kent State University. The My Lai massacre and COINTELPRO. Nixon re-elected with a landslide.

Black and White music were reaching peaks of artistic creativity.

Searching for Captain Save a Hoe is a vocal tour-de-force. Cool Soul Jazz, exaggerated sarcastic tone reminding me of Prince. A theatrical instrumental opening, Blues guitar licks throughout. There’s a treacherous man living inside of me/ A woman is an apple from a tree/ Temptation is a very, very good thing.

Your Sex is Overrated is a personal favourite. A Soul Blues ballad. Love is complicated/ I’ve gotta let you go. The song builds in intensity with an expressive blues guitar and nice Hammond organ support. The singer, sounding very much like Prince, is reaching more for love than physical satisfaction.

These are my Friends starts with Funk, adds in some Queen bombast, but generally keeps it in a Funkadelic groove. Things that don’t kill you in this lifetime/ Only makes you stronger. Eventually but it can take some time.

All Up in my Space and all the elements are there, but it’s a great Blues/Soul vocal performance. Some Gospel testifying, grits and sweat.

Platypus Dipster. Sly Stone grooves. Multiple voices and characters. Glam rock and Helter Skelter. Funk drives the car though. Daddy, if I feel nervous can I take a Xanax?/ No!

A terrific explosion of an album. I think he can stake his territory as a Witness of the desperate, fraught, angry times and wrapping it with magnificent inspirational music.

Rev Orange Peel

Click here to watch the 13th Floor interview with Fantastic Negrito