INTERVIEW: Fantastic Negrito on finding peace with fan-sourced COVID-19 video for “Chocolate Samurai”

Fantastic Negrito

Fantastic Negrito performs at the UC Theatre in Berkeley on Oct. 14, 2017. Karen Goldman/STAFF.

Two-time Grammy winner Fantastic Negrito is spending the quarantine with his fans.

Not literally, of course. The musician, whose name is Xavier Dphrepaulezz, put out a call to his fans to send in videos of how they’re spending their time sheltered-in-place, and used those clips in the music video for “Chocolate Samurai,” the first single from his upcoming album, Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?

“I was gonna tour [the new album] so I thought, ‘Since I’m not on tour, how can I connect with everyone in the world?'” Dphrepaulezz said in a phone conversation from his Oakland home on Monday afternoon. “And I thought, ‘Why don’t I put everyone in my video?’ I got videos from South Africa, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Boston, Texas, Sweden—all over.”



That broad a fan base and that wide a reach wasn’t always the obvious path for Dphrepaulezz. From a near-fatal car accident in 1999 that left him in a coma for three weeks to busking on the streets of Oakland, and being a multiple Grammy winner with fans on at least five continents willing to send video of themselves wasn’t always his obvious future.

But back to the video. He only had a couple simple rules for submissions: The video had to be from a phone, the phone had to be filming horizontally, and the clip should be about 30 seconds long.

“I just put this out on my Instagram … and my Twitter,” he said. “I put it out there like, ‘Hey guys. I know you all are sitting at home and you’re going nuts.’ And the question I had was ‘Have you lost your mind yet? Let me know what you’re doing in the quarantine.'”

From that request he got a couple hundred responses. Meanwhile, he recorded himself playing around on his own phone.

He sent the clips he received to 18-year-old Los Angeles video director Freddy MacDonald, whom Dphrepaulezz has worked with before on several videos, and MacDonald put them together into the final product. The goal, in addition to giving his fans, MacDonald, and Dphrepaulezz himself something to do, was to bring people together despite everyone being apart.



“I wanted it to be a video about us; about all of us here on this Earth,” he said. “We’re going through a really tough time. And in these uncertain, tumultuous, crazy times, how can we put together something that brings us all together.”

Despite the physical separation required to slow the virus’ spread, the lesson Dphrepaulezz takes from our situation, one he reflected in his video, is that we’re all in this together. Paradoxically, he sees connection in the middle of a mass separation.

“The one thing this coronavirus should teach us is that we are all human beings and it’s one human race,” he said. “And guess what? Whether you like it or not, we’re all connected. Everything that happens to everyone in the world affects you. This was always true before COVID-19, but I think now, we have a very good example. The little person in the wet market in China—that’s gonna affect you. It’s really got some connectivity, and it has helped my mental health. Every time I look at that video, I just smile.”

While that connectivity has to be virtual, Fantastic Negrito is splitting his time between his Oakland home with his three kids and his studio, which he specifies is empty aside from himself. While he wishes he could be out touring, he appreciates the ability to spend time at home with his family, which can sometimes be a rare luxury.



Dphrepaulezz said he knows five musicians who believe they had COVID-19 and recovered, which emphasizes the importance of taking social distancing seriously.

He’s also using the free time to dabble in live streaming on Facebook, including special performances for fans in hard-hit countries like Italy. On Saturday he played a few new songs from his upcoming album alone at a piano with the occasional cameo from his daughter, and Sunday he streamed some time with his family. He said he does it because of his genuine connection with his fans.

“I look at myself as a small, mid-level, but very global international artist. I have a following of people all over the world. That makes my fan base very interesting and unique. They’re like the freaky tribe of the world,” he said. “I think of my fan base as a reflection of me.”

When, eventually, the threat subsides, the stay-at-home orders are lifted and life begins to return to normal, Dphrepaulezz said he’s looking forward to a change.

“I think when this is all over I’m gonna take a look around and see, like I say on Have You Lost Your Mind Yet, if we learned anything,” he said. “I’m looking for the big lesson out of this. I’m hoping we learn that we’re all connected. The idea of sexism, racism, ageism or any of these -isms that are completely ridiculous. And if we’ve learned to rely on each other more.



“Because the same thing that we’re doing isn’t working. Not having universal healthcare is not working,” he said. “This culture of billionaire worship is not working. Being a billionaire shouldn’t be allowed after this. No one person should be able to eat up that many resources. We all need each other. We need to work together. I know it’s a cliche. But we need to do something different, man. We’re the United States, and we’ve been exposed on this, in my view.

“We’ve been going down for about 30-plus years but we’re not doing anything about it,” Fantastic Negrito concluded. “We’re putting on Band-Aids and turning to slogan-ism. This economy ain’t working. If you’re driving Uber and you’re a postman, and you’re living check-to-check; that’s not a working economy. It’s a working economy for your master.

“I’m sitting in West Oakland and I’m looking around, and it doesn’t work. It’s fragile and we can do better.”

Editor Daniel J. Willis contributed to this story. Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.

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