Fantastic Negrito: 5 Albums That Changed My Life
According to his biography, Fantastic Negrito is “the [third] incarnation of a musician who is reborn after going through a lot of awful shit.” This awful shit, however, is something the Oakland-bred singer and multi-instrumentalist transformed into a deeply soulful, emotionally driven, roots-y, blues-y sound — one he started cultivating at the age of twelve and one that, like Negrito, would have to endure much struggle in order to find its voice.
Negrito, who joined our TIDAL Rising roster last year, brings his atypical journey — a not-so-successful Interscope deal, a near fatal car accident and a personal awakening birthed from “creative death” — into every note, every measure of his music. In 2015, Negrito, then forty-seven years old, won NPR’s annual Tiny Desk Concert contest, which would spark a wave of opportunities to follow: playing for Bernie Sanders at events around the primaries; winning a Grammy for Best Blues Contemporary Album for his 2016 LP, The Last Days of Oakland; performing on Fox’s Empire and joining the late Chris Cornell on his European and American-Canadian tour.
Fantastic Negrito, revived through his music and, in a sense, reborn in his life, is an anomaly by fame and society’s standards. But above all, he is a man whose story serves as a beacon of hope and a musician of the truest sort who’s finally getting the recognition he deserves.
Below, Fantastic Negrito shares with TIDAL the five albums that changed his life.
Prince, Dirty Mind
I love the Prince Dirty Mind album. It made me see the possibility of art, music, expression, innovation and courage. It made me want to be an artist. I was a strange guy growing up in Oakland, California. I was always dressing up and carrying on like a mad exhibitionist teenager. Remember this was the predominantly black Oakland in the ’80s.
When I realized Prince was pulling it off wearing four-inch heels, bikini briefs and garters, I thought, ‘Here is my role model. Here is an album that does not care about what people expect.’ It was great to see a black artist reshaping people’s perception of what a black person artist was/ is. The old cliche of hood tough guy was tired and played out; it was never true anyway. We are a multifaceted, multidimensional people. I thank Prince’s Dirty Mind album for making people uncomfortable.
Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
The production was so new at the time. The music and lyrics were relevant, edgy and all delivered with a sense of urgency. As a young black man growing up in a world where imagery was so negative, for me this powerful album body-slammed gangsterism, black on black crime, and gave kids something to think about. It was moving, positive and filled us with hope and pride. If it was edible it would be like a revolution inside of your mouth.
Robert Johnson, The Complete Recordings
I consider it an album. It is a masterpiece: one man, one voice, one guitar. And the world would never be the same. This music is the blueprint of all modern music. This is the origin, the source. I come back to this well and drink over and over again and I learn something new every time.
From start to finish, it is songwriting mastery, power and one man’s struggle. This album connects with the human being. It breaks down barriers, it smashes genres, it is an all-time great album that never gets old. Nevermind always sounds to me like an artist that is completely free.
Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II
Does Skip James officially have an album? Or Lead Belly? Because this music changed my life. The rawness, the genius and textures of these two greats are the story of early American music. I could go with Led Zeppelin II. The way they took the blues and reimagined it from an English perspective was unprecedented. It became the blueprint for what angst-filled rock albums should sound like for the ages.
Or… Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
I may have to settle for the Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly album. This album plucks you out of your comfortable zone and launches you into another dimension. It makes people my age have to shut up when we utter the words ‘music ain’t what it used to be.’ The mastery of Kendrick Lamar and his approach to making music is a sonic experience that stands up to any period of music. When I was writing my album, The Last Days of Oakland, I kept this album on repeat. The sophistication in the production is a home run. The creativity in the lyrics challenge any emcee out there. The layering of vocals is almost Prince-like, and the spirit of the album is inspiring. It’s superb.
(Photo credit: Fouad Lakbir)
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