Release Date: Jun 3, 2016
Record label: Black Ball Universe
Genre(s): R&B, Blues, Pop/Rock, Modern Electric Blues, Retro-Rock, Alternative R&B
Bluesy roots masterwork from late-blossoming Oakland powerhouse. Black music’s original activist spirit has long been swamped by corporate pantomime, but Oakland’s Xavier Dhrepaulezz has redressed the balance with the kind of conscious milestone little seen this century. A former gangbanger in his native Oakland, he had an unsuccessful spell under Prince’s management in the 1990s before suffering a devastating car crash.
Blues in the 21st century usually falls into two camps: hip revivalists raised on rock who are ready to shred and traditionalists content to confine the music on a narrow path. Fantastic Negrito -- the new persona of Xavier Dphrepaulezz, who previously pledged allegiance to Sly Stone in the '90s -- disregards this playbook by offering a fresh take on blues with his 2016 album, The Last Days of Oakland. The title alone pushes against the sweeping tides of gentrification and the album begins with a litany of what's good and bad within Oakland, a theme Fantastic Negrito touches upon throughout his album.
Xavier Dphrepaulezz has the kind of backstory legends are made of – leaving home at 12, living as a hustler in LA, getting a major label deal as an R&B artist, in a coma after a near-fatal car crash – but that’s just something to pique the curiosity, because anyone hearing his first album as Fantastic Negrito will realise that, in the words of Berry Gordy, “it’s what’s in the grooves that counts”. The Last Days of Oakland is blues, but reconfigured as a scream of rage rather than sadness. “What happened, America?” he asks at the opening of Hump Thru the Winter, before howling: “I’ve been working three jobs just to pay my bills … I’ve been working so hard just to get ahead, but they still won’t let me live.