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Earlier this month, we caught up with Blues musician Fantastic Negrito as he toured this great country of ours with singer Chris Cornell on The Higher Truth Tour.

At a New Jersey Starbucks, not 2 blocks away from the Bergen Performing Arts Center (PAC) venue that we’d get to see him perform at soon after, DTS photog Abe and I engaged Fantastic Negrito in an intimate talk about his unconventional past, and how it all lead to his blazing, bright future in the arts that he’s carved out for himself. If you’re as hip as us, then you’ve seen Fantastic Negrito on the past season on FOX‘s Empire television show along side Jussie Smollett.

During our talk, we found Fantastic Negrito to be…otherworldy for lack of a better term. Usually our interview subjects are hard to let their veil of celebrity down and just be normal people for a few minutes, but this time was different. Filled with his own mantras, and endless teachings that he picked up from his chosen idols, Fantastic Negrito is as personable as you’d want a celebrity to be.

He responds to every tweet, tag, post, reblog, retweet, and hashtag that concerns him — and even ones that he concerns himself with. He sings of Crips, Bloods, and gentrification in the almost evaporated hoods of Oakland, CA, as well as the rest of America. He sings of Black women in the hood. He’s a celebrity who sees the world in his backyard exactly for what it is. It almost feels cheap to call him that, as he denounced the title himself to us.

Real name Xavier Dphrepaulezz, his latest album known as The Last Days of Oakland is available now on iTunes (and for free on YouTube if you’re cheap!). Known for his unique fusion of blues, soul, roots and rock music, on The Last Days of Oakland, Negrito tackles the socioeconomic, race and class issues he witnesses on a daily basis living in the East Bay.

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DTS MEDIA: Before we get into anything, tell us about your fashion choices! What makes you pick out your clothes that you wear?
Fantastic Negrito (FN): I love talking about my outfit! I think [my style] comes from being the 8th of 14 kids. You really never get enough to eat. You really never get enough affection, and you really never get enough attention. So, I think the way I lived that out is that I always wanted to dress the way I wanted to dress, and not follow trends. Like, I was in the hood wearing leopard skin cowboy boots! (laughs) As a kid in the 80s! Motherfuckers used to just fall on the ground, literally. I loved it though! I was like ‘Hey, I’m getting attention!’

DTS MEDIA: That’s crazy! You had to have been harassed, though.
FN: Oh yeah! I throw them thangs though. Come on, I’m from Oakland! (laughs) You wanna get beat up by a weirdo?! But yeah, I had 7 brothers and I came up fighting. So please believe I was coming back! (laughs) I remember I’d get mad sometimes, and be like ‘I’ll show them!’ So I’d go to Goodwill, and get the craziest ties and zippered boots. I just remember people falling out laughing. I think I’ve always walked towards the light of being original. I like dressing the way I feel, and not expensive. I still go to Goodwill. This hat, I got from a random store. I don’t even remember.

DTS MEDIA: What’s it like for you to prep for a tour like this? We saw you tweet about cramped rides, is the bus pretty full?
FN: Nope, no bus for us, we’re actually doing cross country in a minivan, so just imagine. I was actually in Australia when Chris [Cornell] called me like ‘You want to do this tour? It’s acoustic,’ I wasn’t sure if I could do it; it’s not really my strength. I thought I’d go, so it’d be different. Everyone was sitting down, and I thought ‘Aww, man.’

DTS MEDIA: You didn’t think anyone would like your music?
FN: Oh, I never think anyone will. I sat and watched how Chris did it in Oslo, Norway, and thought ‘okay I can do this.’ With a symphony guitar, your songs either suck or they connect. I love it because I think that’s what being an artist is: being challenged every night. It’s like going on a first date; this audience doesn’t really know me, but I gotta get them to dig me in like 30 minutes.

DTS MEDIA: We were stoked to see you on TV after posting your work on the site in the past! How did you feel when you got called to do Empire?
FN: When I got the call, I was writing The Last Days of Oakland. I locked myself up for 2 months writing this album, too. But when they called, I was excited to play myself, and work with everyone! There’s only one Fantastic Negrito. You can’t make that up!

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DTS MEDIA: Tell us about your album title The Last Days of Oakland, production, & album artwork. We tweeted how much we loved it, and thanks for the retweet! You’re pretty good with keeping up on social media.
FN: (laughs) Thank you! I’m the anti-celebrity. People make a big deal, but I’m just a regular person. I go shopping, ride the train…

-On the album’s title: I was in New Orleans when I came up with that. I had noticed that all these hip, cool, culturally rich cities, they seemed more expensive; they seemed a little more out of reach. They’re losing most of their black population. If you’re from these places like New Orleans [or], Oakland, you might grow up and not even be able to live in your own hometown. There’s a shift. [Gentrification] is not happening, it’s already happened.

-On combating gentrification: I think that for the people who are new, you gotta remember. I remember the old Oakland, the old New Orleans, the old New York. You think Oakland is cool? Somebody made it cool. Lives were lost. Blood was shed. People got their ass whipped. So when you come there, recognize that. Respect it. We can still learn a lot from these new people, and they can learn from us.

-Combining Blues music with other genres: I’m not a fan of genres. A genre, to me, is a good place to hide. if it’s good, I’m like ‘Let’s just do it!’ Production-wise with this album, I was trying to stay in the garden of what I call ‘Black Roots Music’ and keep it raw, keep its sense of urgency, and keep it real. I come from a rap generation. I wasn’t going to play the blues like my heroes Robert Johnson & Skip James. I wanted to do [my blues] from the perspective of someone living right now.

-On album artwork: That’s me sitting on 32nd & San Pablo. That’s where I hustled. I did some growing up there, definitely. I picked that area for a reason. I was involved in drug trafficking, and right there I was like ‘ I’m going to learn how to play these instruments.’ That’s where I became a musician. I’m looking at the last days of (old) Oakland.

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DTS MEDIA: Do you care to offer any words of encouragement to our readers?
FN: Definitely. You can’t realize your own greatness unless you have a team. You do not become great on your own. You gotta take the bullshit, and turn it into good shit!

Special thanks to Joe Cohen, Sacks & Co., Starbucks, the Bergen Performing Arts Center, & Fantastic Negrito for accommodating us.

Photo Credit: @God_Fist