Back In late 2018, well before the world had ever heard of Tiger King and gigs were still a thing, I watched Fantastic Negrito break up a fight.
It all kicked off during one of his own shows, when two gentlemen at the front started to engage in an unexpected bout of argy-bargy. Before long the disturbance attracted the attention of those onstage, and Fantastic Negritro (Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz to his mum) took matters into his own hands.
Usually in these instances, musicians will stop playing, wave their arms about, and plead rather helplessly for security to get involved. Not so Negrito. He squatted on the edge of the stage as his band dropped into a relaxed groove, and sang directly to the squabblers, peering from one face to the other, singing of peace, love and forgiveness.
It worked. The two fighters made up, the band played on, and the audience was treated to yet another reminder of the extraordinary charisma of Fantastic Negrito. Just being in the same room felt like a privilege, like being at one of those rare, post-performance performances from Prince. One of those shows you don't normally get to see.
Rewind: If you've been paying attention, you'll be familiar with the story so far: how Negrito was kicked out of the house aged 12 and began a life of hustling and drug dealing. How he moved to Los Angeles and scored a record deal. How it all soured after a car crash left him in a coma for weeks.
And how he's released two albums – 2016's The Last Days of Oakland and 2018's Please Don't Be Dead – that have pumped helium into the blues in order to make them soar, turning a rather dusty format into a spectacular, 21st century artform inspired as much by hip-hop as it is by the music of the Mississippi Delta.
He's funky. He's funny. He's sexy. He's political. And he's not afraid to tackle the difficult subjects.
Take new single I'm So Happy I Could Cry. Performed with Tarriona "Tank" Ball, singer with New Orleans’ funksters Tank and the Bangas, the song was inspired by hip hop star Juice WRLD, who died from a suspected drug-induced seizure in late 2019.
"There are so many young artists suffering from what I perceive as mental illness," says Negrito. "Imagine having everything you want in the world and still feeling the need to medicate until it kills you. There is something very sick - and tragic - about that.
"I’ve seen it before, I’ve been in it, and I want to speak out. I want to warn them that they are surrounded by people and companies who profit from the destruction of their mind, bodies, souls and ultimately their community.
"I’m a middle-aged guy. I have small children, so I try to be very careful about what I’m putting out into the universe. If I feel like I have some experience or wisdom on an issue, I try to make a contribution."
I'm So Happy I Cry is a take-it-to-the-church triumph. Enlivened by a brilliant rap by Ball, it's part spiritual, part clap-along blues, and it's vivid proof that – in the right hands – even the darkest subject matter can be illuminated enough to sparkle brightly. It's joyous.
It's the kind of music that stops fights.