Freedom has come to Xavier Dphrepaulezz.
It has come not through his third Grammy, won last month for his third studio album as alter ego Fantastic Negrito; not from the key to the city of Oakland given to him by Mayor Libby Schaff in 2020. It's come not from the fame and recognition showered on Dphrepaulezz since erupting onto the music scene after winning NPR's Tiny Desk Concert in 2015 but from a former liquor store on a forgotten corner of West Oakland in a neighborhood the musician once called home.
Freedom has come in the form of Storefront Records, Dphrepaulezz's new independent record label and community space.
The record company's been a long time coming. He imagined it back when Fantastic Negrito was a street busker in Jack London Square and later, when the commercial music industry ignored his unique sound because it didn't fit in their cookie cutter concept of disposable music and art. But, says Dphrepaulezz, "you have a vision and you have to stick to it."
Dressed in a fresh coat of cherry red paint on the corner of 34th Street and San Pablo Avenue, the vision has become reality. Storefront Records is all about community, collaboration and invention. It's rooted in the Bay Area voices and music makers that came before, and reaching for those who, due to their atypical look or sound or age or ethnic background, are overlooked in mainstream music.
Artist Xavier Dphrepaulezz, aka Fantastic Negrito, is approaching his Storefront Records label and Oakland community space in much the same way he lives his life: local, authentic, and 100 percent original.(Amir Abdul-Shakur)
"Originality is such a big part of all the groups that I loved that came out of the Bay Area. What they had in common is that they had nothing in common," says Dphrepaulezz. "The Bay Area's always coarse and progressive and different...the harbinger of original thought. If you believe in it enough here, other people will too."
At its heart, those people are Storefront Records, according to Dphrepaulezz. "I knew that doing Fantastic Negrito. I had to get past people on the streets first. People got me here. And in order to build a vibrant, colorful, adventurous label, I'm gonna again rely on the people."
Behind Storefront's red walls, Dphrepaulezz is one among many. He has cut tracks with Sting and Si, is working on something new with E-40, and has his sights set on working with Black country music maven Miko Marks.
"I'm just looking for a sound out here, this invisible river of rhythm, of feeling, of soul. There's a current that runs into the Bay and, once you tap into it, you feel it. That's how I felt doing the first record, The Last Days of Oakland," he explains.
Fantastic Negrito has a place at the mic, too. The label will release the artist's fourth album, a record that will revolve around Dphrepaulezz's heritage. "It's going into a lot of my ancestry and background," he says. "I found out my whole origin of where I thought I was from was completely different when I started digging and it was incredible."
Outside, there's the Storefront Market, a large outdoor space for staging community events. On Saturday April 24th, the location will host its first vinyl swap meet where "people with love in their hearts" can eat, meet and greet, and discover new music. Next month, Dphrepaulezz is envisioning an international street food fair and, the month after that, maybe an acoustic concert series. "I just want to contribute," he says. "Why would you not do it? You only live one time, let it be a contribution to the city you live in."
But above all, in a business that's buttoned up and conscripted, the most important thing about Storefront is the freedom it affords. "There's not a bottom line, it's a spiritual profit and loss" Dphrepaulezz concludes. "It's everything that we want it to be."
// Sign up for Storefront Market's newsletter to keep up to date on news and events; 3431 San Pablo Ave (West Oakland), storefrontrecords.com; fantasticnegrito.com.