At Storefront Records’ monthly market, Fantastic Negrito talks community

Photo of Fantastic Negrito
Amir the Photographer/Courtesy

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“I always said from day one in 2015: The people are my record company,” declared blues singer-songwriter Fantastic Negrito. “The people are the fuel of the engine of this mother love-ship.”

For Xavier Dphrepaulezz, the man behind the Grammy Award-winning persona Fantastic Negrito, opening up a record label to create multigenre roots music is synonymous with establishing an inclusive center of commerce for the people of West Oakland. Last month, before hosting Storefront Records’ fourth open-air market — the “Fountain of Youth” eat-and-greet — the musician discussed his vision with The Daily Californian. 

“The best way you can empower your community is to put money in people’s pockets,” Dphrepaulezz explained. “You let people come in, you don’t charge them a fee, don’t charge the vendors a fee, and let them keep all the profit.”

While many of Storefront’s vendors are regulars, such as father-daughter company Big Tree Coffee or fusion barbecue eatery MexiQ, last month’s youth-centered market saw the debuts of many bright-eyed, tiny entrepreneurs-in-the-making. When one 10-year-old was asked by the Daily Cal about how long he had been in the food business, he proudly exclaimed, “about 30 minutes,” before offering a homemade strawberry dessert for sampling. The neighboring booth was friendly, selling lemonade with proud parents watching.

A few youth vendors were already veterans to the market scene: One child already had two years of crocheting under her belt, using her skills to sell custom-made crochet purses and scarves, while another sold upcycled clothing to uplift other young girls in her neighborhood.

“I’ve been selling clothes for a while,” said the young vendor. “I like how selling dresses and stuff makes little ones feel, like 5-year-olds and 6-year-olds.”

To Dphrepaulezz, providing children the space to develop such entrepreneurial mindsets is essential.

“If we don’t support our children, we should never be shocked when they’re robbing us in the street,” Dphrepaulezz said matter-of-factly. He recalled his younger days in the Bay. 

“What helped me prevail is the village of the Bay Area people that cared that didn’t view me as just some street criminal,” Dphrepaulezz remembered. “That viewed me as potential.”

Indeed, the market was brimming with potential: An up-and-coming screenwriter, an author of African-centered picture books for children and a band of musical teenagers from Kenya were only a few of the ambitious, multitalented people present.

“One of the great things that I’ve introduced (is) the noise box space,” Dphrepaulezz added. “True to the Fantastic Negrito roots of busking, I thought it’d be great to just have live music at every event of often-overlooked artists, like myself.”

While Dphrepaulezz may have the attention of the Grammys today for the best contemporary blues album category, he spent most of his musical career bouncing in and out of the public eye, avoiding genre-restrictive label contracts and performing at BART stations.

“He’s really pure, and he’s come a long way,” said longtime friend and screenwriter DuShawne at the market. “I mean, this is his third (Grammy) in a row, and he appreciates that too, but … if I know my friend, he leans more toward community.”

By transforming an old liquor store on 32nd and San Pablo into a community-involved record shop in 2015 as well as establishing side projects such as his revolution plantation farm, Dphrepaulezz has truly never strayed from this grassroots ideology. 

“We donate the eggs and rosemary and lavender and whatever these kids need,” commented Dphrepaulezz. “It’s like the microcosm of the future that I imagine in my mind … (an) entrepreneurial, business-minded, creative society.”

Besides keeping up with his farm and monthly markets, Dphrepaulezz has been planning how to address another community matter: fires.

“I wake up terrified, man, sometimes, having this nightmare of being trapped by fire living in the Bay Area,” Dphrepaulezz said of the inspiration behind a duet he wrote with country singer Miko Marks, “Rolling Through California,” whose music video can be seen on YouTube. “I wanted to speak on that as an artist. … I’m looking forward to working with some organizations to help get the word out.”

Somewhere on the horizon, amid all of his current projects, a fourth Fantastic Negrito album is arriving, along with other content from his label.

“I’m working with new artists that I’ve met through the market,” Dphrepaulezz said. “Along with my new album and movie … I’m doing (something) like Beyonce’s Lemonade.”

As for the future of Storefront Records, Dphrepaulezz is open to whatever the Bay’s people have to offer him.

“My music, with my record label, Storefront Records, all this is just an extension of Fantastic Negrito and the philosophy of we can, we will, we must,” Dphrepaulezz explained. “We’re not waiting for permission. … And that’s truly my roots.”

Last weekend’s market showcased vendors who sold primarily upcycled and repurposed goods, along with reappearances from some food vendors from the Youth festival. People can continue to find Fantastic Negrito at his themed get-togethers every last Saturday of the month, where Bay Area creatives from all walks of life will continue to gather. 

“Stay eclectic, Bay Area,” Dphrepaulezz added. “That’s who you are.”

Fantastic Negrito will be performing at The UC Theatre in Berkeley Oct. 16.

Contact Nurcan Sumbul at [email protected].