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Fantastic Negrito | Please Don’t Be Dead

What didn't kill Xavier Dphrepaulezz has made him stronger — and a Grammy winner to boot.

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Fantastic Negrito is “kind of a superhero,” his alter-ego Xavier Dphrepaulezz told me a couple of years ago. Well, he’s certainly got the origin story for it. In the 1980s, the struggling musician and smalltime hood survived a near-death experience with a gunman. In the 1990s, he moved to Hollywood and endured a disastrous major-label record deal that produced one failed album. In 2000, he was in a car accident that crushed his hand and left him in a coma for weeks. But just when his music dreams seemed dead, Dphrepaulezz rose from the ashes, reinventing himself as Fantastic Negrito and reinventing his sound with the striking neo-blues of his deservedly lauded album The Last Days of Oakland. Turns out what didn’t kill him not only made him stronger — it earned him a Grammy Award in 2017 for Best Contemporary Blues Album. So it’s no wonder that Dphrepaulezz doesn’t fix what ain’t broke on his followup Please Don’t Be Dead (which features a cover pic of him recovering in hospital from that car crash). Instead, he doubles down with another 11 idiosyncratic tracks of neo-blues, psychedelic soul and freak-funk (with dashes of dusty country-blues and Middle Eastern melody for good measure). Intelligently referencing the past even as it unapologetically heads toward the future, Please Don’t Be Dead follows in the hard-grooving footsteps and revolutionary stance of James Brown, George Clinton, Prince and Lenny Kravitz while sharing the sonic landscape with hazy knob-twiddlers like Black Keys and Danger Mouse. And though it may not be the unprecedented marvel that Oakland was, it’s a heroic effort nonetheless.