With new album Grandfather Courage, Fantastic Negrito ‘reimagines’ (his word) the songs on his 2022 album White Jesus Black Problems.
“‘Oh Betty’ is the story of the forbidden union of my 7th generation grandparents,” Fantastic Negrito explains in a post on YouTube, referring to their then-illegal relationship (a Black enslaved man and a white indentured servant) in 1750s Virginia.
“I was trying to embody the emotions of my seventh generation grandfather,” Negrito continues, “his fears and his insecurity his love for his common-law wife, the mother of his children. The separation anxiety [and] the fear that once Elizabeth Betty Gallimore was finished with her indentured servitude she may choose to leave him. That she might choose a free man and start a new life far far away.”
The new version takes the lyrics and the basic song structure of the original and scales back the production for a version that, in Negrito’s words, is “stripped down, naked, raw.” On one hand it feels simpler…but it’s no less powerful.
Compare the new version (above) with the original (below).
All the songs on Grandfather Courage echo the production of “Oh Betty.” It’s a rare treat to hear songs created with two different production styles, both impactful, both ‘successful’ in their own ways.
“I just can’t stop telling this story of my 7th generation grandparents,” Fantastic Negrito wrote in a Twitter post. “It is inspiring to me. I hope that you will unplug and dive into this reimagined version of White Jesus Black Problems.”
Born Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz, Negrito grew up in an orthodox Muslim household. After his family moved to Oakland, California, he turned to small-time robbery and drug dealing, but eventually he found music (Prince’s album Dirty Mind “changed everything for me,” he says).
A major-label recording didn’t pan out, and adding to his woes he was soon after severely injured in a car accident. But in 2015 things turned around when he won the first Tiny Desk Contest. Since then he’s released seven albums (including Grandfather Courage), won three GRAMMYs, toured and collaborated with artists such as Chris Cornell and Sting, and even won the admiration of Bernie Sanders.
He also founded Revolution Plantation, an urban farm focusing on youth education and empowerment.
Related: Enter the 2023 Tiny Desk Contest
His voice is unique, but his message is universal.
“At the end of the day, this is a record about love,” Fantastic Negrito said about White Jesus Black Problems…a sentiment that also holds true for Grandfather Courage. “There’s a feeling out there right now that we can’t get anything done because we’re so polarized, so entrenched in our ideologies and unmoved by facts or logic, but I wanted to share this story because I think it smashes that narrative to pieces.”
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