Sometimes inspiration strikes at exactly the right point in history. This latest album from genre-straddling dynamo Fantastic Negrito was, he says, inspired by the classic sociopolitical albums made by black Americans in the 60s and 70s.
Given the fact that his country is in the middle of the biggest civil rights uprising in generations, Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? feels like it was cosmically planted in the right place at the right time.
Fantastic Negrito (real name Xavier Dphrepaulezz) has a background that’s the stuff of biographers’ dreams: a former thief, drug dealer, illegal night club owner and hustler who reinvented himself and his sound after a collision with a drunk driver left him in a coma for three weeks.
It’s all life experience that is hugely relevant, as it’s left him skilled at interweaving the big picture with vignettes of very human struggles. In fact while his previous albums went in hard on the pressing issues of the day, this time he’s working on a much more intimate, personal level, creating portraits of the people and the communities that have surrounded him throughout his life.
When he sings of social media lynch mobs and demands ‘What have we become?’ on the smoky How Long, it’s less an exercise in finger-pointing, more a soulful call for calm communication. A 30-second snippet titled Justice In America, meanwhile, sums up the source of US social inequality in fewer than 15 words – ‘In America there is justice just as long as you have money,’ a woman’s voice explains, and a crazed Negrito chants ‘Money, money, money…’
Musically, Fantastic Negrito has a magpie’s eye. Rock, soul, R&B, hip-hop, funk… everything is up for grabs and blended to perfection. Opener Chocolate Samurai sets the tone beautifully, a deeply funky – Higher Ground-era Stevie Wonder-funky – experience, guitar licks dropping like glitter bombs from above, before making way for the intense blues of So Happy I Could Cry, with its striking guest vocals from Tarriona ‘Tank’ Ball of New Orleans’ Tank And The Bangas.
Your Sex Is Overrated, with its midnight Hammond organ and velvety smoothness, basks in Prince’s purple mood lighting, while the gospel-gilded These Are My Friends is a magnificent hymn to the lifelong search for true kinship. The mixture of styles is intoxicating.
Unique and, indeed, endlessly fantastic, this album is the work of a man committed to his own vision, both for his music and for the troubled and broken world around him.