On March 14th our friend and Change the Story guest Xavier Dephrepaulezz, also known as Fantastic Negrito will hear if he has garnered his 3rd Grammy in 5 years for his 2020 release Have you Lost Your Mind Yet.
To help nudge the stars into alignment for Xavier we are re-broadcasting our Episode 6 conversation with him. This Episode not only includes great music and, of course, FANTASTIC stories, but also, an inspiring dialogue on next steps for the coming community revival.
What is the danger of scapegoating?
Well, of course, that's the biggest lie ever sold, not told. There should be a class on that. That is how every civilization has controlled other nations and its populace, from Genghis Khan. The Chinese say Genghis Khan was the bad guy that’s going to get us (he actually did get you). You know that. Yet the Romans did it. You know, everybody does. We do it.
Is music a change agent?
Music's a change agent, film is a change agent, art is a change agent, a bakery's a change agent, a coffeehouse is a change agent, a conversation is a change agent. They're all change agents, but the most important change agent is in your heart. That's the thing that changes the world. Change your heart and change the world.
What do white folks and black folks need to talk about?
But we got to at some point talk to each other. I want to do, a town hall like this. And I want the white people to stand the fuck up and say, you know what? I'm kind of scared of you guys. We need that shit, and the black people; don't you don’t call the person a racist.
What's next for Oakland?
What I'm doing right now is trying to build this hotel and this whole all these blocks in the California hotel, boutique hotel. The first African American town.
Have you Lost Your Mind Yet: Fantastic Negrito's latest album
The Suit that Won't Come Off. : YouTube link to a cut from Please Don't Be Dead.
Watts Prophets: Legendary west coast pioneers of the new music form with ancient roots, that has come to be called rap. Amde Hamilton, Otis O'Solomon, and Richard Dedeaux first met at the Watts Writers Workshop. Fusing music with jazz and funk roots, and rapid-fire, spoken-word poetry, they created a sound has deeply influenced the course of music and poetry in the US and the world. They released two albums, 1969's The Black Voices: On the Streets in Watts and 1971's Rappin' Black in a White World, which established a strong tendency toward social commentary and a reputation for militancy. (See also: Art & Upheaval, W. Cleveland, NYU Press, Chapters 11-13)
Native American Community Development Institute: A Minneapolis based community deveopment organization that was "founded on the belief that all American Indian people have a place, purpose and a future strengthened by sustainable community development. NACDI initiates projects that benefit the Native community, often in partnership with other Indigenous-led organizations."
Bill Cleveland: It's early 2015, and I'm sitting in my living room watching the rain and wind turn my windows into a drip collage of streaking grays and greens. The phone rings, its daughter, Heather. As usual, she's quick. She says, “I just shot you a text with a link. Just watch and listen and I'll call you later”.
It was a YouTube page with the NPR logo on a frozen frame of four musicians crammed into what looked like an abandoned freight elevator behind a small makeshift desk. As I move to click, I'm thinking, “Desk? Oh, yeah, tiny desk.” Then this hit me.
I'm knocked out. This was a one mike, one take video with the pulsing power of a locomotive. That tall, skinny guy up front with the voice that stretches like a rubber band says, “Get through the day, don't drown.” But I'm drowning --- in a good way--- in the music.
Part One: Griot
Heather tells me his name is Xavier. XD lives down the street from Heather, with his wife and kids, and from time to time, their families hang out. I thank her for the gift of connection. Since winning the tiny desk, things have more than taken off for Examiner, who goes by Fantastic Negrito on stage. Two Grammys for best contemporary blues albums in 2016 and 2018 have fueled non-stop global touring and an international fan base.
It's also given Xavier a platform as a change maker in his beloved hometown of Oakland, California. Over the past few years, Xavier and I have connected over both music and a shared passion for the power of imagination and story to make a difference for struggling people and communities. Xavier's own story exemplifies this belief and commitment. One of 14 children, Xavier, grew up with an obvious musical bent and a seemingly smooth road to musical notoriet. But a near fatal car crash that put him in a three-week coma, and left him with a disfigured hand, provided a hardscrabble detour that has spawned the birth of Fantastic Negrito’s one of a kind explosion of 21st century roots music.
We met together at his studio a few weeks before the pandemic tilt. Actually, I was just realizing the last time we were together, you were doing the same thing for the second album as you're doing for the third. So, I'm going to fire away with some questions and look, Xavier. Yes. What is it you do in the world?
Xavier Dphrepaulezz: I feel like I serve as a healer. I feel like I serve as a person in the community that has something to contribute to the narrative, that has something to contribute to the human saga. I feel like I'm an artist and musician. I tell stories that I hope are helpful to people. My new record is called Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? And a lot of it is based on people. My other albums were based on this big thing that I'm trying to fight the system, proliferation of pills, and last days of Oakland’s gentrification, and this big thing that's happening. But this record is about people, and it's the hardest record I've ever made because it's not something big that you're fighting, that you're imagining is your problem, your nemesis. It's the people, right? The community. It's the engineer you're working with. It's your buddy. It's yourself. So, I write stories about people, places, and things, and hope that they are contributing then medicinal to people's lives.
BC: So, you have told your life's story many times eloquently. But, there are many musicians who would not articulate their work in the way that you just did. Talk to me how you came to that definition of your work.
XD: Well, through a lot of failure. Did a lot of trials, jubilation, doubt, crime. Yeah, a lot of really negative things and overcoming a lot of obstacles. You know there's going to be obstacles, but the problem is, how do we deal with it? You know, I mean. So, I think I've arrived here especially. Have you lost your mind yet? Because, you know, we're now in this period man, we're just getting all this information, and I don't know if we're really meant to handle all this information, but I think people are there's record levels of anxiety and mental illness. It's not the mental illness of people walking down the street talking to themselves. Those people are probably actually OK, because in living in this insane video game world that we're living in, where we're justifying who we are based on, how many views do you have? How many likes you have? Well, how many followers do you have? We're now validating ourselves based on those statistics, which are really quite irrelevant because how many followers did Hitler have? He had a lot of. Yes, he did. How many followers did Michael Jackson have? And he and he got on the floor. Yes. You know, I mean, so how many followers in Prince that many followers get to the younger generation? How many followers did Juice World have? The guy who died, Twenty-one years old, riding in his own parade with 70 pounds of marijuana and he overdoses on Promethazine, dizzying or whatever that is. I mean, heck, out of that answers a question.
BC: No, it does, and actually, I mean, the wit the way you describe it is that you've gone from the from the big story, the broad story, the universal story here, the obvious confrontations that we're having on a regular basis on the front page of the newspaper, and now you're looking, I mean, in essence…
XD: Now I’m looking at you.
BC: Yes. And you're also… what you're doing, is you're going hyper local…
XD: I like that because then the ball's in your court.
BC: Yeah, well, it's also touched. You can touch and feel and see. So, here's a question related to that. At the end of the day, what is it that you want to have happen as a result of your work?
XD: What I would love to have happen is to help bring about some balance, because I think that in the end is what it's all about. I'm a parent, I'm a member of this human community, and I would like to do what I think human beings feel most fulfilled. When they contribute, and have a voice, and hopefully help make a difference, and hopefully all the things that have not stopped me because there's been a lot of things that were supposed to, I can now use them as a means to teach our youth, and that's I think that's what this life is. It's about we live, we get beat up, we go through it, we go through, and then we're older than we can help. The others come, and we can make that road easier.
BC: There's a word for that. You know, Griot that is adapted by many cultures who have basically recognized that in their traditions, the older you get, the more you might have to pass on to one who is younger.
XD: Well, you're more valuable, but, yes, you know, I don't think we do that here in the weather. Well, I think that that's you know, you got to live outside of the box if you want to be successful in America. Sure. It's a great country, but I’ll tell you what, you better live outside the box here.
BC: So, in in your work, how do you know when the thing you just described, which is making a contribution and bringing potentially some balance? How do you know when that's happening?
XD: I know it's happening when I don't fear the kids walking down the street, because I know I've done my part and you can feel the vibration because we fear these kids, these kids that come in, they look scary now that they sag and all that. You know, I feel like when I feel kind of comfortable, I feel like, you know, this is something much bigger than all this stuff that's happening, and I know I've done my part where I can look them in the eye I like this. I'm doing my part. I'm not scared of you, I love you, and I'm here for you. You understand? I've said and I know it when I can look in the mirror. I know it. I can sleep at night when I don't have a guilty conscience. I know it when I'm not judging people who haven't been as fortunate as I am, which is a quite popular thing to do these days. Yeah and I'm the hardest person I've got to face every day here. So long as I know that I'm doing it right. You know, I'm on asshole in the room, you know, and I've got to get past this dude and make him make the right decision. But that's how it is here. I don't fear these so-called predators on the streets.
BC: So, when you're in the music, do you see the visceral evidence of this kind of change in front of you?
XD: Well, I don't think I see it. I think I feel it. The feeling one thing about music or creativity is you feel it because it's you're channeling into these… This is…I didn't do nothing. I need to say that I ain't done nothing. These seeds are planted a long time ago. I come from a whole long line of people man. that laid this down way before me. And I didn’t even know all of ‘em. People laid this shit down, I've said it before in Black Panthers laid it down. The Hells Angels laid it down. Whether you like them or not, they laid it down. The Grateful Dead laid it down. Sly laid it down, you know Too $hort laid it down. The guy at Cal Berkeley in the 80s who got me off the street and had me boxing and laid it down. The people that came here in the 30s from the Dust Bowl, they laid down, the Chinese people that came to build railroads. This has been getting laid down for us for so long. And then you could connect with those vibrations. Then you can feel your purpose and can feel life happening and when you touch it, that you're in pretty good shape. Cause there's a lot of protection in that context.
BC: So, the image that comes into my mind is an archaeologist going through layers and layers and layers of stories, of stories layered on top of one another, not emerging from nowhere.
XD: From nowhere. That's bullshit. People make that up are insane.
BC: But they're entrepreneurs.
XD: Yeah, you're right there. I just had an engineer I'm working with is from Argentina and he just said that this morning. He said there's a lot of things imposed on us that are people who want to make a lot of money. Isn't this young Argentinean dude? It's the universe. But we know, therefore, we can't get out of our own fucking way. There's this fear because I'm scared of you and you kind of scared of me, and you come from here, and I come from there, and they tell us “you’ve got to watch out for these black people”, and “hey man, the white people are trying to kill you” and “you getting the flu shot. Oh, no, don’t do that”, “immunization, oh no those white people, they are coming to get you”, “hey the Mexicans are coming” […] You got a lot of that shit, you got a lot of that shit. And that's a bunch of fucking bullshit.
BC: It is.
XD: Excuse my language.
BC: No, no, no.
XD: It really is, and so we got to fight that shit. Yes. And that shit is us. Yes. I got to look in the mirror. I got to go, man. I got to say have you then your mind, I’ve got to do that. Because when we can do that, when I can talk to you and look at you and shake your hand, when I can have dinner with you…How come can can’t have dinner? Why? Because they go “oh fuck, I’ve got to clean this, oh shit. Listen, I got to text this, and I got to do this. Oh shit. Wait, how many likes do I have…” And we don't even talk to each other. We don't look at each other.
BC: So, here's an interesting thing to think about. The human species evolved as a as a mechanism for cooperation. That's how we're wired.
XD: It's how we are wired.
BC: It is how we survived. As we become more isolated into the world of likes. Which is not a relationship.
XD It's slavery. It's called voluntary slavery.
BC: It is the tyranny of comfort and pseudo information and pseudo relationships.
XD: Pseudo information is the word, because it is not information.
My dad was like, there's no television in his African accent, “you can not watch television, you read the book”. So I've read books for hours laying there, fucking reading books and I got to know some stuff through it. But now it “Siri, tell me, what's the capital of Uzbekistan. You kno, Pakistan. You know, I mean, it's I think that's bullshit. It's not knowledge. So then let's talk about Uzbekistan. You can’t. Who are they? How they become? you know. I mean, you know, there's no reason. You said it. Pseudo information.
BC: And they have children. They love each other. They have families. They're struggling with the exact same question. How do I make my family safe and how do I thrive in the world?
XD: Can I tell you man, last year I had six continents, and I can't tell you how real that is. It's a real. The same thing. Same.
Part Two: A Letter to Fear
BC: Your songs are stories. Okay, so can I just have mentioned some of your stories here. So, who is Benny Walker?
XD: It's actually my uncle Benny, who is a notorious… It’s my grandmother's brother, so that’s called my granduncle. After that, whatever his grandmother brother, he's a tall good-looking dude, mulatto, looking to from deep southern Virginia. Those are the summers I used to spend in deep southern Virginia, which really gave me a lot of my sound later. But Uncle Benny was a slick dude, and man he liked the ladies, liked to drink painted on mustache. Yeah, he was his character. Very quiet, very soft spoken. He moved up to Harlem and was doing all kinds of stuff there. Owned a hotel in Harlem. He was doing all kinds of deals on the side. So, Uncle Benny, you know I got all these people, characters that I grew up with. You couldn't write this dude into a movie. They wouldn't believe.
The greatest hater of all time. He talked to Grandma...