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Fantastic Negrito fights for survival, equality

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Oakland Grammy winner Fantastic Negrito’s new album is “Please Don’t Be Dead.” (Courtesy Alberto Bravo)

On his Grammy-winning 2016 debut album, “The Last Days of Oakland,” Fantastic Negrito recorded his observations of Oakland’s working class, festering away in poverty and under the constant threat of drug addiction and gun violence.

But the East Oakland-based roots musician is trading in examination for action with his more aggressive, riff-and-bass-laden sophomore LP, “Please Don’t Be Dead,” which he’s set to debut at the Fillmore on Friday.

The album, out June 15, picks up two years after the previous release left off. President Donald Trump’s in office and the American Dream is being torn apart by gun violence, white supremacy, deportations, opiate addiction and wage disparity. Negrito is convinced that if the politicians can’t fix these problems, then it’s up to him.

“So-called leaders aren’t doing anything, so it’s become the job of artists like me,” says the 50-year-old musician, born Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz. “We have to get on the front lines and fight for the people who have love and tolerance in their hearts and want to live in a unified world.”

With so many lives at stake, there’s no time for talk. So Negrito comes in raring for battle with the album’s lead single “Plastic Hamburgers,” tackling everything but the kitchen sink: addiction, gun violence and censorship. “Transgender Biscuits,” inspired by his trans neighbor who faced discrimination on the job, is amplified to include all types of prejudice. “Letter to Fear,” about a mass shooting in Texas, is a reminder to never give up.

As someone who’s overcome two near-death experiences, Negrito understands the importance of living up to your fullest potential — or just living. In 1990, the former drug dealer was violently robbed for his supply at gunpoint. Then, nine years later, while under a $1 million-dollar contract to Interscope Records in Los Angeles, he was wrecked by a near-fatal car accident before his career even took off.

Negrito stopped dealing and fought hard to rehab his mangled playing hand and revive his musical career, back in Oakland. Inspired by his turn-of-the-last-century guitar and vocals-based blues heroes like Lead Belly and Skip James, he poured his suffering into new music and busked at BART stops and street corners.

His track “Lost In A Crowd” won him the first NPR Tiny Desk contest and “The Last Days of Oakland” secured him the Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album in 2017 and an opening spot on the late Chris Cornell’s tour. With his new album, “Please Don’t Be Dead,” he hopes to rally the troops to join him in the fight for survival and equality.

“I refuse to let all this violence and hatred become normal,” he says. “I can’t just sit back and write about the club when our democracy is under attack. I have to be a more positive force.”

IF YOU GO
Fantastic Negrito
with Antique Naked Soul, Zack Bateman
Where: Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. June 15
Tickets: $22.50
Contact: www.thefillmore.com

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