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Fantastic Negrito's visionary White Jesus Black Problems sounds like everything else and nothing else

White Jesus Black Problems is Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz’s fifth album as Fantastic Negrito, and surely his finest

White Jesus Black Problems cover art
(Image: © Storefront Records)

It’s quite a story. Back in 1759, in Virginia, Elizabeth Gallimore, an indentured white Scottish servant, fell in love with a black slave whose name has been lost in the mists of time. All these years later, their great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson, Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz, aka Fantastic Negrito, has discovered he is 27 per cent white and has written an album based on their tale. 

There’s darkness to spare. There’s casually dispensed pain; legal proceedings (fuelled by Joe Meek-style keyboards, the gritty Nibbadip goes into the court case for “unlawfully cohabiting with a negro slave” in funky fashion), and overt racism on the interlude You Don’t Belong Here. But there’s redemption too, when the couple’s children are freed.

The previous three Fantastic Negrito albums won Best Contemporary Blues Grammy. This one won’t, since, without spurning what made him so vital in the first place, Dphrepaulezz is painting from a richer, more varied palette where his gravel-encrusted vocals – part Corey Glover, part Johnny Cash – glide over the Frank Zappa-esque swirl of In My Head or the percussive throb that propels Register Of Free Negroes

As a story it’s inspiring, and only a fool would fail to notice a rum selection of contemporary parallels. Encompassing American and African blues, gospel, rock (Man With No Name is a conscious, surprisingly successful attempt to merge James Brown with Black Sabbath), stentorian keyboards, country (You Better Have A Gun) and soul, White Jesus Black Problems is a wide-ranging sprawl of sound.

On a purely musical level, it’s all over the place in the best possible sense, from the opening clatter of Venomous Dogma, which twists and turns like Prince covering Muse, to the closing Virginia Soil with its ‘freedom will come’ mantra. 

They Go Low, the possible standout, begins with cascading piano, before banks of massed vocals kick in on the way to an irresistibly catchy chorus, while the unfortunately titled (to those who remember Frank Spencer), but super-tight Oh Betty is built around an distinctly Doorsian keyboards squall. 

So, yes, with Red Hot Chili Peppers-style guitars popping up as frequently as finger-clicking harmonies, White Jesus Black Problems is indeed a mess. So what? Even without the back story, it works as a testament to one man’s musical vision. And on this showing, Dphrepaulezz is on the cusp of establishing himself as a major player. He may sound like almost everything, but there’s nothing quite like him.

As well as Classic Rock, John Aizlewood currently writes for The Times, The Radio Times, The Sunday Times, The i Newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and Mojo amongst others.  He’s written four books and appears on television quite often. He once sang with Iron Maiden at a football stadium in Brazil: he wasn’t asked back. He’s still not sure whether Enver Hoxha killed Mehmet Shehu…