For Xavier Dphrepaulezz, whose stage name is Fantastic Negrito, black roots music is about celebrating and preserving African-American culture. “It’s the music of Southern black American slaves. I pull from that tradition,” he says. “I don't think that being descendants of slaves is something to be ashamed of. It's a part of our history.” His music is also an homage to Delta blues music legends such as R.L. Burnside and Skip James. More importantly, his music is a celebration of the black experience in America.he explains. “But ."
Dphrepaulezz, the eighth of 14 siblings, grew up in a strict orthodox Muslim household in rural Massachusetts, a predominantly Christian area, where he felt very much the outsider. As a teenager, his family pulled up stakes and moved to urban Oakland, Calif., infamous for bloody gang wars over drugs in the ‘80s. He absorbed that gang lifestyle, setting himself on a dangerous path.
In the ‘90s, Dphrepaulezz decided to leave that life behind in favor of a promising career in rap. He signed a major record deal with Interscope Records, but found that the cushy lifestyle of corporate America wasn’t really for him, either. “I didn’t understand it. I don’t blame myself or (Interscope). It was just a bad fit,” he explains.
After a near-fatal car wreck in 1999, in which he sustained severe head injuries and permanent damage to both hands and arms, he took a five-year hiatus from music, recovering and retreating to a quiet suburban life, raising chickens and tending a vegetable garden. “I revisited who I was; I surrounded myself with people I knew who were also artists and we decided that we’d support each other. We rely on each other. Fantastic Negrito is of that collective, named Black Ball Universe,” he says. “If someone brings an idea to the table, we all vote on it and move forward if it’s a good one. If it doesn’t work, then we all take the loss, rather just one person sitting depressed in a room somewhere.”
Since renaming himself Fantastic Negrito, Dphrepaulezz has been building his following organically, busking on the streets of the Bay Area. “I was playing train stations and in front of doughnut shops,” he says. After winning NPR’s first Tiny Desk Concert Contest this summer, Fantastic Negrito has taken his twist on traditional black roots music global, sharing it around the world. “NPR really put my career on steroids. But the whole idea of Fantastic Negrito is to connect with people, so I still play train stations,” he says. “Because that’s how I gauge how I connect with people.”
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