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The Evolving History of Fantastic Negrito

by Rebecca M. Alvin

At the beginning of the interview, Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz, otherwise known as Fantastic Negrito, is playfully difficult. He bristles at being called a musician saying, “First of all, I don’t even know if I’m a musician.” When reminded that he does sing and play guitar professionally he counters with, “Ever heard me play? I’m terrible,” and “I don’t know what you call that… I know people that sing very well. I am not one of them.”

But when you get down to what Dphrepaulezz really wants to talk about, he’s all in. During the pandemic, he found himself holed up in a hotel room with a lot of time on his hands waiting to record. He ended up looking up his roots on a genealogy website and soon discovered a family secret that would lead him to his current album White Jesus Black Problems.

His origin story begins in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a place he remembers vividly, saying “There’s nothing like Massachusetts! It’s something else, man!” He was one of 15 children born to an African-American mother and a Somali Muslim father 33 years her elder. As he fell down the genealogy rabbit hole in 2020, the first thing he learned was that his father had actually made up their complicated, unusual last name, for reasons he took with him to his grave decades earlier. Upon finding this out, Dphrepaulezz say, “I thought ‘Man, white Jesus, Black problems.’ It ended up being a totally different story, but I was really trying to write that story. But it’s just too complicated. It’s too deep and too layered and people don’t get it.”

He theorizes that his dad did it just to mess with people. “It was pre-Civil Rights,” he explains. “I think his idea was like, ‘How do I get past all these barriers? How can I fool whitey?’ So I think that’s what it was. ‘Let me just fool them and they’ll pick on someone else and kind of treat me differently and I can get work for the most part.’”

But the bigger story came when he researched his mother’s side and found he was descended from a seventh-generation grandmother who was a white indentured servant from Scotland who had an affair with a Black man, a slave who didn’t even have a name. She was prosecuted under miscegenation laws back in the 1750s in Virginia. And although he didn’t have much more than a single document to work with, this story struck a chord deep within Dphrepaulezz and led to a writing whirlwind as he imagined their relationship, marveled at this love story, and noticed how the knowledge of courageous ancestors—one of whom was white—led to his own reconsideration of identity, politics, and the profound impact of racial constructs on his own and all of our lives in this country.

“I started thinking how much of a hoax the whole ethnic race and identity is and how false all this idea of race is. It’s quite false. It’s kind of made up and it’s to benefit an economic system that’s not anything that’s benefiting you or me, so yeah, the race thing is kind of hilarious,” he says, quickly adding, “I mean, it’s a reality that this suit doesn’t come off, but I definitely think of ‘Oh, you’re black and I’m white’—It’s kind of silly, it’s all a construct, you know?”

At the age of 12, Dphrepaulezz moved with his family to Oakland, California. Soon after he left home and found his way to trouble, getting caught up selling drugs on the street.

But inspired by Prince, he also found his way to music, and in 1996, he was offered a record deal with Interscope Records. He released his first album, The X Factor, under the name Xavier. But just a few years later, he was in a devastating car accident that put him in a coma and injured his hand, making playing guitar impossible for a time. He lost the record deal, but he survived and climbed back up again.

“I’m used to being an underdog and I’m used to being counted out all the time. I think I’ve become quite accustomed to this—getting off the ground and fighting again,” he says thinking back to that time.

Upon returning to his music, he changed his name to Fantastic Negrito, although he does not claim any latino roots. “I’m constantly changing my name,” he jokes. “I think it’s a survival coping mechanism. Fantastic Negrito just comes from living in California. I think we’re all kind of part of this Spanish-speaking culture, whether we like it or not… I learned from my dad, subconsciously; ’fantastic’ Negrito makes it, you know, how do we celebrate ourselves without being an overbearing asshole? I really love that. I’m embracing that more and more. How do you celebrate yourself without being obnoxious and like the people that you don’t want to invite to the party?”

Now a three-time Grammy winner, he sees in his descendants some of the seeds of who he is today. “I think it’s the most punk-rock shit ever,” he declares. “It makes me very proud to be a descendant of people that truly thought outside of the box. And it helped me understand myself more, like wow, this is why I feel this way. Maybe I’m connected to these people that also felt very different. I tend to feel very different about things.”

He will be sharing his music with the Outer Cape this weekend at Payomet in North Truro, and he’s also created a long-form music video accompanying the new album that delves further into the story of his ancestors.

“I definitely felt something towards white people that I hadn’t felt before. Like, wow, we’re all kind of just one thing. Whether we like it or not we’re related, you know, and it makes you kind of think a little bit differently. Yeah, definitely. I feel kind of sorry, in a way, for people, that they fell for this shit. Wow, man, you guys really fell for this shit? This shit is a joke. But you know it’s a serious joke, too. People’s lives get lost over this,” he says.

But later he emphasizes, “It’s really a love story, it’s very positive, I’m an optimist.”

Asked if he’s ever had that kind of love, he’s back to survival mode, deflecting questions that dive into personal territory. “Oh, not that was very constructive or productive,” he laughs. Pressed a little further, he says, “You’re digging kind of deep.You’re pushing some sores… I haven’t figured that out yet. To me, why does it gotta be about me?… It’s about everybody.”

He says the whole experience has stirred some things up and he’s hoping to communicate those aspects of the story that really are not specific to him alone. And yet, he has to tell it the Fantastic Negrito way.

“I’m just telling the story. I mean, it’s everybody. I don’t think people love my title; I think that was a hurdle for people. But I thought it was probably the best title that I’ve ever come up with. And it’s probably the truest phrase that I’ve ever spoken. I think it’s the key to solving a lot of problems, if people can just get out of the way, you know. But people are in the way because they think it’s personally about them,” he explains. “That’s the beauty of being an artist; you just want to do great things and who cares what people think. You just do great things. I love doing great things! And they’ll catch up one day.”

Fantastic Negrito will perform on Friday, August 11, 7 p.m. at Payomet Performing Arts Center, 29 Old Dewline Rd., North Truro. For tickets ($25 – $45) and information call 508.349.2929, go to the box office, or visit

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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