‘Some people have said my music is “too bluesy for rock, too rocking for blues, too soulful for this country, too funky for that country.” I don’t believe in genres; I believe in music, I don’t believe in countries; I believe in people.’ – Fantastic Negrito.
Please Don’t Be Dead is Xavier Dphrepaulezz’s third release under the stage name Fantastic Negrito, coming after 2014’s self-titled EP and the LP, The Last Days of Oakland, which for last year he won his first Grammy, Best Contemporary Blues Album.
So, there is high anticipation for this new album which has been fulfilled immensely. Fantastic Negrito is bringing a modern and fresh sound to Blues and Black roots music. It’s forward-thinking with layers of contemporary R&B and hip hop beats. Little Axe/Skip McDonald pushed the envelope of what Blues can sound like with many of his albums, but Negrito is creating something extraordinarily original through old Blues influences and remarkable song writing, which will find a younger audience, and therefore they will look back to discover who Negrito’s catalysts are; legends such as Lead Belly, Skip James, Robert Johnson, and Son House. But, the actual Blues purists may not like what they hear. I consider myself a Blues enthusiast, but not a purist. I’m open to new ideas, therefore I believe the purists should swallow the bitter pill which will actually do them good, and listen to the magnificence of ‘Please Don’t Be Dead’ by Fantastic Negrito.
‘I looked at America from across the world and thought, “America, please don’t be dead. Please don’t be dead; liberty, justice.”’ – Fantastic Negrito, explains the title.
From the word go we get energy permeating from our speakers with “Plastic Hamburgers”, a Blues Rocking track, driven by the rambunctious guitar riff. The lyrics – like most songs across the album – are very strong and convey plenty of meaning. Negrito sings with passion and assertion, peppering songs with topics of politics, socio-economic changes, gentrification, and discrimination. “Bad Guy Necessity” especially shows how well Negrito can contrast his voice to different moods. We’re going from an almost Son House emulation to sure-fire soulfulness into the chorus. This idea is reinforced again with “A Letter to Fear”, where Negrito’s great vocal range is supported by the extremely capable band.
“A Boy Named Andrew” has some nice Blues guitar licks, followed by “Transgender Biscuits”; one of the tastiest tracks of the album. It drips with looped samples of slide guitar, which is supplemented well by a hip hop style beat. The verses of ‘I got fired because…’ are relentlessly strong and memorable, and the pre-chorus being very catchy. “A Cold November Street” has a progression reminding us of “In the Pines” which Negrito covered on the previous LP. But, there’s a feeling of inspiration from the early African-American work songs there, such as ‘Early In the Mornin’. The second single from the album is “The Duffler”, being a bit more playful in its execution. “Bullshit Anthem” seems like a poke at Bruno Mars (I could be completely wrong, but it’s just my thoughts on it), in that Mars and Mark Ronson were accused of plagiarizing (or being ‘inspired by’) funk song/s. Negrito’s lyrics go ‘Take that bullshit and turn it into good shit.’ The super-funky chorus is matched by a Gospel infused Bluesy verse. It all works so damn well, and cohesively.
Overall, the strength of this album is what lies beneath the bushes. It’s the Blues and Black roots music, which is really the earth, roots and soil of most modern American music. Fantastic Negrito is doing something quite unique by injecting that old and cultured music into his own form, and transforming it into the brand new, the inspired, and the breath of musical fresh air which is Please Don’t Be Dead.
The Review: 9.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Plastic Hamburgers
– Transgender Biscuits
– Bad Guy Necessity
– Bullshit Anthem
– A Cold November Street
The Big Hit
– Transgender Biscuits
Review by Ethan Burke