Oakland-based musician Xavier Dphrepaulezz (pronounced Dee-FREP-ah-lez), who performs under the name Fantastic Negrito, recently drew attention for his rousing performance of the original song “Lost In A Crowd” when he was chosen from thousands of applicants as the winner of NPR Music’s first-ever Tiny Desk Concert Contest. Check out his winning entry and listen to his EP.
[Press Release] Fantastic Negrito is a musical reincarnation for Dphrepaulezz. Raised as the eighth of 15 children in an orthodox Muslim household in rural Massachusetts, Dphrepaulezz moved as a teenager in the ‘70s with his family to the heart of urban Oakland, California. He quickly evolved from strict religion to the music of Funkadelic and by the age of 20 taught himself to play just about every instrument he came across. In ‘90s, he signed a multi-million dollar deal with Interscope Records performing under his first name Xavier, yet found the experience creatively draining and told the San Francisco Chronicle that he “lost his identity for a time.”
Dphrepaulezz’s life changed drastically when he was involved in a near death car accident resulting in a three-week coma, which was followed by intensive physical rehabilitation with his guitar playing hand permanently incapacitated. He sought to live his life more simply. He got married, had a son and settled in Oakland raising chickens and growing his own vegetables. This quieter time spawned a powerful creative energy, and after a five-year hiatus, Dphrepaulezz created Fantastic Negrito. Inspired by all American music, most especially Delta bluesmen such as R.L Burnside and Skip James, he sought to modernize his compositions by sampling and looping his own live recordings. He told NPR that the name is “a celebration of blackness. The ‘Fantastic’ is self-explanatory; the ‘Negrito’ is a way to open blackness up to everyone, making it playful and international.”
Dphrepaulezz began recording new music about a year ago at the Blackball Universe studio with a group of five rotating musicians. He often played rhythm guitar on tracks although he says of recording, “My playing hand is wrecked. If the feel is strong enough, I’ll even keep the mistakes. Same when I do drums.” For the songs on the EP, Dphrepaulezz says, “It usually takes me a long time to write a song. Even when I have chords or scales or melodies that I know are right, there is a lot of heavy work and experimenting until I find the elements that end up as the final song. When I have a song in my head, I allow myself to go way off course in trying other shit, even if I know I’m gonna end up back where I started.”