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Album Review: Fantastic Negrito - ´The Last Days of Oakland´
Fantastic Negrito’s debut album ‘The Last Days of Oakland’ is a blues sound for the twenty-first century. Gone are the sorrowful traditional lyrics, replaced with anger, honing a blues sound that says ‘fuck the world’.
Fantastic Negrito, Xavier Dphrepaulezz, has led a life full of struggle – not least because of a near fatal car accident – the pain of which inspired much of his music. The first track, ‘Working Poor’ gives us the first taste of the throbbing bass and offbeat stomping rhythms that become a theme throughout. Before we move quickly into his guttural, desperate and mournful vocals that switch between angst and a silky smooth incarnation seamlessly in ‘About a Bird’ and the album as a whole.
Fantastic Negrito refers to himself as ‘blues but with a punk attitude’, and the guitar licks certainly come straight from the blues. A raw tone and slide guitar keeps the delta blues well and truly alive, blended with modern loops and a nod of gospel through his use of organ and humming, giving an original twist. The topics of the album take on aspects of both the pain and emotional turmoil of a musical failure, experiences of growing up in Oakland and his accident. This is an album inspired by striving and losing – it is these personal journeys that are depicted so vividly in the tracks on ‘The Last Days of Oakland.’
There is a frustration and anger born of racial oppression at the hands of the police in America, as is clear from ‘Interlude 1’ in particular, in which we hear the voices of Americans who explain that you do what the police say without questioning, for your own safety, if you are black. This topic, so poignant currently, is continued through ‘The Nigga Song’. Repetitions of ‘they tried to break him down’ as Xavier’s soulful voice glides through the harrowingly accurate depiction of a racial oppression that persists. The name of the song itself presents the entrapment in racial hatred, within words of bigotry people are defined instantly to many, necessitating the work and need to ‘keep on pushing, keep it moving’, sung in ´Hump Through the Winter´ – within which the driving beat melds with bluesy humming.
The entirety of this album is full of soul. The humming of Lead Belly´s ‘In the Pines’, to the closing track ‘Nothing Without You’. Fantastic Negrito creates a drive with his frustration, capturing a medley of musical styles, including blues, gospel and punk influences that he blends naturally. His superb lyricism oozes anger and a power throughout. ‘The Last Days of Oakland’ is an album that defines the year. As well as being a fantastic musical creation, it also contains a powerful message.
Take a look as Fantastic Negrito´s NPR performance below!
Written by Molly Lempriere