Please Don't Be Dead
Rock | Funk | Soul
Soul king Fantastic Negrito crafts an anthem to resilience on ‘Please Don’t Be Dead’
By Nathan Leigh
June 20, 2018
“Take that bullshit / Turn it into good shit.”
The triumphant reinvention of Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz as Fantastic Negrito is one of the very few, if not only, 3rd acts in rock. After a twice-sidelined solo career, once by the coma that gives Please Don’t Be Dead its album cover, Dphrepaulezz came roaring back in 2014 as one of rock’s most sought after live acts. With 2016’s The Last Days of Oakland, Fantastic Negrito won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album, capping off 20 years of hustle.
Please Don’t Be Dead might be Dphrepaulezz’s second album in the spotlight, but it’s hardly a sophomore effort. It’s merely his first album where he’s not the underdog. And that confidence looks good on him. The album is full of surprising left turns and experimental quirks that color in the margins of his blues, soul, and funk. Highlights like “Plastic Hamburgers,” “The Duffler,” and “Bullshit Anthem” deliver the kind of uptempo anthems fans have come to expect, mixing the personal with the political and an almost religious passion. But most surprisingly, it’s Please Don’t Be Dead‘s ballads that shine brightest.
Dphrepaulezz explained the title is in reference to his son, and living in fear that he could be end up yet another casualty in America’s war on black youth. And the struggle against that fear is present in “A Letter to Fear” which insists “whatever you do to me / I will carry on.” “A Cold November Street” and “Dark Windows,” meanwhile boast the album’s best songwriting. “Dark Windows,” in particular strips away the bluster and defiant party vibe of the rest of the album to wrestle with the dangerous world we find ourselves in.
“I wrote this album because I fear for the life of my black son. I fear for the lives of my daughters. I am uncertain about what kind of future they will face. Will someone shoot up their school? Will they become addicted to prescription pills? Will they wind up on the street, sleeping under freeways and overpasses? Will the police murder my son? I came up with the name Please Don’t Be Dead because I felt like we’d lost of our way as a society – and I know what happens when you chase the wrong things. It’s the story of my life.” – Fantastic Negrito
The album closes with the plea to “Never Give Up” before launching into the funk hook of “Bullshit Anthem.” As the daily news of 2018 turns in one new horror after the next, we all need a reminder to take that bullshit and turn it into that good shit. But there may be no-one earth who can deliver a line like “I get knocked down / But I keep on fighting” with the sincerity and wisdom of experience as Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz. Please Don’t Be Dead is a monument to resilience built on the ashes of missed opportunities and fear.