Fantastic Negrito merges rootsy sounds on his new Have You Lost Your Mind? | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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Fantastic Negrito merges rootsy sounds on his new Have You Lost Your Mind?

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Songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Xavier Dphrepaulezz, better known as Fantastic Negrito, takes us on a trip through his consciousness on his latest album, Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? (Cooking Vinyl/Blackball Universe). He confronts heavy issues such as mental illness, addiction, and gun violence, and filters them all through the lens of his own life experiences. These personal and passionate songs sound nothing like the stylized music he performed in the mid-90s, when he established a solo career under his first name and landed a record deal with Interscope, issuing one album of funk and neosoul. In 1999 he got into a car crash and emerged from a three-week coma to find out that his right hand would never be the same; soon he was dropped by his record label too. After selling almost all his instruments and taking a lengthy break from music to focus on starting a family, he reemerged in 2014 as Fantastic Negrito, writing and performing soulful, gritty compositions that he’s described as “Black roots music for everyone.” Since then he’s won two Grammys in the category of best contemporary blues album, but the songs on HYLYMY also meander through funk, gospel, jazz, and rap. The first track, “Chocolate Samurai,” brings the funk with its bass line, Hammond B3 organ, and hand claps. On the mournful “How Long?” Negrito speaks to troubled people who turn to guns and violence through a hard-driving chorus and a bluesy guitar solo that’ll break your heart. Guest artists throughout HYLYMY include California rapper E-40 (who turns his 1993 classic “Captain Save a Hoe” on its head), Japanese guitarist Masa Kohama (who adds his soaring notes to “Your Sex Is Overrated”), and Tarriona “Tank” Ball of New Orleans band Tank & the Bangas. On his duet with Ball, “I’m So Happy I Cry,” written in response to the death of rapper Juice WRLD, Negrito proclaims his joy at just being alive, with Ball lending her own exuberant rapping and vocalizing. Though hearing Negrito through headphones can’t compare to seeing him onstage, the album offers a rich and layered look at issues that haunt us all.   v

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