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Fantastic Negrito On How His New Album, 'Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?', Is A Timely Commentary On American Society

Fantastic Negrito

 

Photo: Lyle Owerko

 

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Fantastic Negrito On How His New Album, 'Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?', Is A Timely Commentary On American Society

The two-time GRAMMY-winning singer-songwriter tells GRAMMY.com how he tackles the many forms of mental illness, including racism, on his latest release and how he continues to use his music and art as a form of protest

GRAMMYs/Jun 25, 2020 - 04:41 pm

"Focusing on what can be done not what cannot be done." 
 

Two-time GRAMMY-winning artist Fantastic Negrito, the moniker of Oakland, Calif.-based singer-songwriter Xavier Dphrepaulezz, tweeted out those words earlier this month while reflecting on the ongoing injustices he sees in American society. For the past five years, he's used Fantastic Negrito as an outlet to speak out musically against social issues like gun violence, opioid addiction and homelessness—parts of what he considers a broken political and social system. But as a lifelong optimist, he feels there's a solution to each problem if we work together to solve it.

On his new album, Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?, out August 14 via Cooking Vinyl/Blackball Universe, he scales down the scope of his songwriting to ground level, writing about mental health in America and reflecting on specific people he knew growing up who have impacted his life. That includes "I'm So Happy I Cry," a collaboration with Tarriona "Tank" Ball of New Orleans-based Tank And The Bangas, which the artist premiered today (June 25). 

The song was inspired by the death of rising rapper Juice WRLD in late 2019 due to an opioid overdose. Dphrepaulezz feels too many young artists fall victim to overmedication, especially recently due to stress from coronavirus-induced social distancing and the fear of dying unjustly at the hands of the police.

"There's something very sick and wrong with a state-sanctioned police force that arbitrarily murders people disproportionately," Dphrepaulezz tells GRAMMY.com in a recent interview. "I feel that there has to be a significant movement against this and something that's tangible that people will be able to hold onto after this is all said and done and quiets down. I think Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? is completely in step with our current situation because people—yes, they have lost their mind. They expressed it in the streets, and as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, 'Rioting is the voice of the unheard.'"

Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? sees Dphrepaulezz voicing encouragement for those struggling with their form of mental illness. Sometimes it's found in untraditional places, such as "How Long?" where he pleads for the shooter to stop their violence. The album also features collaborations with E-40 via "Searching For Captain Save A Hoe," a remake of the rapper's 1993 hit, as well as Masa Kohama on "Your Sex Is Overrated."

Much like his previous releases, including his pair of GRAMMY-winning albums, The Last Days Of Oakland (2016) and Please Don't Be Dead (2018), Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? continues Dphrepaulezz's timely commentary on American culture and the nation's most urgent issues.

"My music is just my social commentary as a human being and an artist living on the planet, and there's such a wide spectrum of issues," he says. "I just try to feel the pulse. It's exciting to feel the pulse, make an assessment and then write material and create art around that pulse. It's what inspired me to come back as a musician after years of layoff and become Fantastic Negrito. It's OK to write about injustices and inequalities. This is a great position to be in as an artist."

GRAMMY.com chatted with Dphrepaulezz about his new album as Fantastic Negrito and how he's combating the various forms of mental illness, including racism, through his music.

How are you doing today?

Well, I'm better than some. I'm not as good as others, but I still like my chances as a human being.

You've been using social media as a way to start conversations about everything, from rappers getting back to political and social commentary in their music to your thoughts on the fight for equality. Why are these real-time conversations important to you?

Twitter is like a nice, warm, safe place for me. I like that I can really just express a million views. My view is, if you have a platform, use it. If you're living in the world and society, be a contributor. That's just something I believe in philosophically. I see Twitter and Instagram and all these [platforms] as a way to contribute. You could get up on your platform and scream out stupid things, or you could get on your platform and try to connect and engage. Be a contributor, a positive force in the world. Be a voice of reason. Be in that tribe, the voice of reasonable people. I like that tribe.

On your first two albums as Fantastic Negrito, The Last Days of Oakland (2016) and Please Don't Be Dead (2018), you took a bigger-picture approach in talking about issues plaguing the country such as gun violence and homelessness. Why is it meaningful to write about those topics?

My music is just my social commentary as a human being and an artist living on the planet, and there's such a wide spectrum of issues. I just try to feel the pulse. It's exciting to feel the pulse, make an assessment and then write material and create art around that pulse. It's what inspired me to come back as a musician after years of layoff and become Fantastic Negrito. It's OK to write about injustices and inequalities. This is a great position to be in as an artist.

On your new album, Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?, you scale things down a little bit to a more personal level, with songs about people you know. Why did you take this approach?

I think it's important because if you really want to change the world, we got to start with ourselves. If we want to effect change and make really positive and good things, then we have to start with the people in our circle. Community is a word that people like to throw around, but it really starts with ourselves: It starts with our brothers and our sisters and our cousins and our co-workers, and we have to build coalitions with these people. I thought it was interesting to just write [about] the state of people around me. There seems to be so much [of] what I call just an attack on the brain, this mental illness that we're all living with. We're functioning people in the society every day, but we're living with this disease—whether it's depression, the proliferation of too much information, racism, slogan-isms ...

I thought just the dependence on social media and the internet—man, it's a mental illness. And so it was interesting to write an album from that perspective and talk about real-life people. Because, of course, the people walking down the street talking to themselves, that's the easy part, like, "Wow, they're mentally ill." But what about your friend in the cubicle? What about your brother or your cousin? How are they coping with the challenges of modern society? 

[Our society] is so technologically advanced and yet it's so far-removed from the emotional context of a one-on-one [conversation] with a person and looking into their eyes rather than staring into our so-called smartphones and looking to get validation—likes and followers. That's our value system, when in fact, you can buy likes and followers. So what does that say about our value system?

For me, this is a mental illness. I've been doing social commentary now for three albums. I'm happy and proud to know that my fingers are on the pulse. We're in the midst of [the] COVID-19 [pandemic] and everyone is stuck inside; this is interesting. They keep knowing what's going on and being right there.

Do you find it's important to put a face to an issue when you're writing a song?

I think on this record, I did particularly put a face to each song and that's what made it probably the hardest record that I've ever done, to be that transparent, like in [album tracks] "Chocolate Samurai" and "How Long?" 

[On] "How Long?" I was really writing about the shooter, the perpetrator of violence. I was writing about the guy who lost his humanity so much that he chokes out a Black man in Minnesota on the street. I was writing about the kid who went into a church and shot up nine Black people. I was writing about the Las Vegas shooting. I was writing about Sandy Hook still. I mean, where do we go and where do we lose it mentally to where we feel like that, that we can justify murdering children?

Something is very wrong in our society where we take it as, "Hey, it's rainy today and there [were] 25 people killed in Las Vegas. Hey, so what are you guys doing later?" I mean, it's just become so casual. And again, I felt like, "Wow, this is more mental illness." So I wrote that song from the perspective of not the victim, surprisingly. I'm saying, "How Long?" But it's the perpetrator of violence, the shooter.

How do you think the album relates to the recent nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice?

I think it relates 1,000 percent because there's no other mental illness that destroys, decapitates and deconstructs communities as much as racism. It's perhaps the greatest mental illness of them all. I feel like on "Chocolate Samurai," I ask and I say, "The whole world is watching, get free tonight, my people, my teachers, my soldiers." It's like a rallying cry … in my view that we seek freedom. Freedom and peace go hand in hand, like brothers and sisters; they need each other because you can't really have one without the other.

"I'm So Happy I Cry," which I did with ["Tank" Ball from] Tank and The Bangas … "Searching For Captain Save A Hoe," which I portray myself as the whore with E-40, who's one of my favorite rappers of all time. But songs like "King Frustration," because people are frustrated and I wanted to write about that. 

All of this tied together to me with this proliferation again of a mental illness that seems unchecked. There's something very sick and wrong with a state-sanctioned police force that arbitrarily murders people disproportionately. I feel that there has to be a significant movement against this and something that's tangible that people will be able to hold onto after this is all said and done and quiets down. I think Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? is completely in step with our current situation because people—yes, they have lost their mind. They expressed it in the streets, and as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Rioting is the voice of the unheard."

Read: Fantastic Negrito On Studio Magic, Chris Cornell, "Dark Windows" & More

Despite the tough subject matter, you often are able to find a glimmer of hope in your songs and provide encouragement that people aren't alone facing these various issues.

I've always been an optimist. I'm the eighth of 14 children. For whatever reason, it made me an optimist. I had to be a survivor from day one, like, "Hey, will you get that glass of milk or water? Will you get a clean pair of socks? Will you even get some acknowledgement from a parent with so many children?" It turned me into an optimist, and I've always walked towards the light. I lost my playing hand in [a car] accident. I was in a coma for three weeks and I lost my playing hand. But you know what? I just always walk towards the light and I try to write from a very positive place. There's enough destruction in the world.

I've watched a few interviews recently of African American celebrities and politicians who have talked about how their celebrity or status has impacted how people viewed them. As a GRAMMY winner, how has that applied to you?

As a two-time GRAMMY winner, I just don't live in that world. I live on a small farm. Oakland is a small town. I don't live in L.A. or New York, and I just don't really have any interest in that, so I don't pay attention to that. I'm really focused on growing food, being part of a community and creating albums, making contributions to the world that I live in. 

I don't live my life like a celebrity or any of that; I'm not looking for that. I guess you are what you think you are. I'm just a regular guy. I'm one of us, but that's my honest opinion, that I live in small media markets. It's wonderful. Small-town mentality, big aspirations.

Do you have any personal stories regarding the recent protests?

In this current phase of protesting, I'm a person that believes that we can all protest, but that doesn't mean that they have to be in the streets necessarily. I'm only speaking for myself, personally. That's something that you may have done at one time. But then as you get older, you evolve from the streets and you can start your protests in other ways, or it can turn into a photo op. I'm not really interested in doing that. The greatest protest against tyranny, oppression, police brutality is to make sure you have the tools to fight against them. If you have the tools, make sure that you're sharing those tools and teaching people younger than you how to use and apply those tools.

I really love that form of protest. Having a platform and just writing and creating music that means something and that is a contributing factor—to me, it's all protest. The news, the cameras will all go away. I'm not into being someone's flavor of the month. What I can do is support and encourage peace and justice and try to be the voice of reason. 

I'm not getting out to the streets at 52 years old and taking on the cops; that's not my thing. You got to evolve past that. You want to boycott some stuff? I love that idea. It's got to be organized. We just can't scream out slogans over and over again. I mean, what do you do after that? What do you do the day after that?

Obviously, through my music, I'm not one to follow trends. I'm here to support meaningful, long-lasting reform. That is interesting to me. The first opponent I get to face is me every day. You have to let these young people speak, too, man; I've done my damage. Let these 20-year-olds speak, let them have the mic for a change, let them rally in the streets. It's their time. 

I'm going to write music. I'm going to use my art. I'm going to use my platform as I have in my last three albums, The Last Days Of Oakland, Please Don't Be Dead and now Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? I've been doing it very quietly in a small town in Oakland, and the GRAMMYS have recognized it, [for] which I'm very grateful.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Brittany Howard

Photo: C Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images

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Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Proceeds from the event will be go toward loans to small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses, via Accion Opportunity Fund

GRAMMYs/Jun 16, 2020 - 04:13 am

This Saturday, June 20, artists including Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz and more will come together for Small Business Live, a livestream fundraiser event for small businesses facing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Proceeds from the livestream will go to Accion Opportunity Fund to support small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses.

“Entrepreneurs of color are denied credit more often and charged higher rates for money they borrow to fund their businesses. We need to accelerate support to underserved businesses in order to reach our full potential,” Accion Opportunity Fund CEO Luz Urrutia said. “We have to decide what we want our Main Streets to look like when this is over, and we must act decisively to keep small businesses alive and ready to rebuild. This is a fun way to do something really important. Everyone’s support will make a huge difference to small business owners, their families and employees who have been devastated by this pandemic, the recession, and centuries of racism, xenophobia and oppression.”

Tune in for Small Business Live Saturday, June 20 from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EDT on smallbiz.live. The site also provides a full schedule of programs and links to watch the livestream on all major digital platforms. To learn more about Accion Opportunity Fund, visit the organization's website.

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DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs

DJ Khaled, Samantha Smith and John Legend

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs

DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle and John Legend take home Best Rap/Sung Performance at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Jan 27, 2020 - 09:05 am

DJ Khaled, featuring Nipsey Hussle and John Legend, has won Best Rap/Sung Performance for "Higher" at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards. The single was featured on DJ Khaled's 2019 album Father of Asahd and featured Hussle's vocals and Legend on the piano. DJ Khaled predicted the track would win a GRAMMY.

"I even told him, 'We're going to win a GRAMMY.' Because that's how I feel about my album," DJ Khaled told Billboard. "I really feel like not only is this my biggest, this is very special."

After the release of the song and music video -- which was filmed before Hussle's death in March -- DJ Khaled announced all proceeds from "Higher" will go to Hussle's children.

DJ Khaled and co. beat out fellow category nominees Lil Baby & Gunna ("Drip Too Hard"), Lil Nas X ("Panini"), Mustard featuring Roddy Ricch ("Ballin") and Young Thug featuring J. Cole & Travis Scott ("The London"). Hussle earned a second posthumous award at the 62nd GRAMMYs for Best Rap Performance for "Racks In The Middle." 

Along with Legend and DJ Khaled, Meek Mill, Kirk Franklin, Roddy Ricch and YG paid tribute to Hussle during the telecast, which concluded with "Higher."

Check out the complete 62nd GRAMMY Awards nominees and winners list here.