Fantastic Negrito On ‘How Long?,’ Hope And Healing
– Fantastic Negrito
When Fantastic Negrito wrote “How Long?” – for which a starkly powerful video was released just two days after the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis – he was thinking about more than 400 years of American history and author James Baldwin saying “I haven’t got much time left – how long are we going to keep doing this?”
The video for “How Long?” focuses on Negrito’s face and neck, adorned with traditional African rings, putting emphasis on his lyrics.
“‘How Long?’ That question is hundreds of years old,” Negrito tells Pollstar of the second single to drop from Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? Scheduled for an August release. It’s a more personal work than previous albums Please Don’t Be Dead (2018) and The Last Days Of Oakland (2016).
Negrito began his career more than 20 years ago as Xavier Dphrepaulezz as a multi-genre artist in Los Angeles, but a near-fatal car
crash left him without the use of a hand and he was dropped by his record label. He continued working on his music and re-emerged in Oakland, Calif., in 2014 as Fantastic Negrito, playing “black roots music for everybody,” coming from a place of emotion and spirituality.
“On this album I wanted to write about people I knew, people I grew up with, people whose lives I could personally affect, and whose lives have impacted me. It was the hardest album I’ve ever written,” he says.
Current events may seem to have caught up with the record, but Negrito sees them as a continuation of a tragically familiar pattern.
“It’s the same game of blame, from all sides, and we have to reconcile and remain a family. If we want to be a family/country/neighborhood we have to do a lot better than that,” he says. “It’s easy to have a bad guy. People love that. That’s easy. ‘Hey you over there, my situation’s horrible because of you. You. I’m raging against YOU.’ You can do it, but what does it build? I don’t think it builds anything.”
And “How Long?” is not an anti-police anthem; it’s written as a statement directly to all perpetrators of violence, a response to white supremacy and as a statement of history. When Negrito tells his story, it’s best to just listen.
“There’s so many topics. How long are we going to keep doing all the things we’re doing before we break? Because this is not very sustainable; because we can’t keep doing the same things we’ve been doing in this country for the last 40 or 50 years,” Negrito says. “You can only destroy, and that’s what we’ve done. It’s broken. Maybe this is just the catalyst for ending [white supremacy]. We’re in need of it. We need to turn it around if we’re going to survive.
“I’m saying how long are you going to buy this shit? It’s easy to kill this brother because you’ve dehumanized him. That’s who I’m singing to in this song. Because he’s the perpetrator of the crime. … There are good police officers and I’m not going to become the evil that I rally against. I’m not going to become the destruction that I oppose. … But artists have to speak the truth. Are we enraged? Yes. Are we fed the fuck up? Yes, we’re fed up. Are we hurt? Yes, we are crushed. OK, now what’s next? What do we do with that?
“There’s so much we can do with it. You have power. I have power. Every one of us has power. Every one of us is a part, and all these parts can have power. I can reach across the aisle and make a friend. We have so much power but we’re made – made – to feel like we are powerless. The first thing we have to do is acknowledge it. The same way that you have to acknowledge white privilege. Or the same way I have to acknowledge my bullshit. It’s how you begin to heal. The same way people have got to acknowledge we have to stop living in a culture of victimization and instead acknowledge our power. It is vast and it is deep. And it is healing.
“But the hope is that we’re talking about this for a change. I know if you want to solve problems with the opposition, you start talking. Find compromise. Stop pointing fingers. Stop doing that and start communicating and get on the same page.”
The video for “How Long?’ can be viewed on YouTube here.