Fantastic Negrito Balances Sonic and Social Detail on 'White Jesus Black Problems'

BY Antoine-Samuel Mauffette AlavoPublished Jun 3, 2022

Fantastic Negrito's unique family history and complex career trajectory have intermingled to inspire his ambitious new album, White Jesus Black Problems. The project is also the soundtrack to an accompanying film, echoing the themes of love, historical excavation and a sense of purpose found in the album's rootsy R&B and raw blues rhythms.

Personally charged and creatively dense, White Jesus Black Problems keeps its momentum and focus through Negrito's strong lyrical content and hypnotic vocal energy throughout. The Oakland-raised artist recorded the entirety of this 13-track opus with studio drummer James Small, who also plays the role of Negrito's Grandfather Courage in the film. Alongside his bandleader, Small's drumming makes percussion the glue of the project's disparate styles, giving the album an almost live performance feel.

The objective of bringing together a retro aesthetic with modern social commentary is clear from the outset on the hypnotic "Venomous Dogma," melding searing vintage synths with a powerful choir melody. There is an almost prog rock feel to the dreamy interludes between songs. While some tracks make their messages apparent lyrically ("They Go Low"), others explore notions of colonialism and heritage musically, like the connection between African rhythmic structures and slavery-era blues on "Highest Bidder."

It is clear that no detail is unintentional as Negrito tells stories without falling into the Broadway show trappings of autobiographical albums. The playful energy of a young couple is captured on the funky "Nibbadip" but it is only after swaying to the melody that the listener realizes the story being told is that of Fantastic Negrito's ancestry. The outpouring of Black joy is balanced by "Man With No Name" and "Oh Betty," which respectively use hard rock chords to convey inner frustrations, and soaring vocals to communicate desperation.

The explicit interlude "You Don't Belong Here" stings as it reminds of racist ranting amplified by social media, while hopeful closer "Virginia Soil" offers a gracious nod to the sacrifices of generations past. While White Jesus Black Problems is certainly an album that prompts further discovery of its deeper layers, it is also liberating in its musical profundity.

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