Fantastic Negrito On Oakland's Music Scene, Growing Weed, First Friday Shows: 'I Just Love My City'

In Part One of our Fantastic Negrito interview, the Oakland-based musician discussed the impact of sudden fame, his deep connection to places and people around the city, and how growing up in The Town influenced him as an artist.

In the conclusion, he touches on several topics, including his transition from working in Oakland's cannabis industry back into music, the local stylist who created his custom Grammy-night wardrobe, and his take on the city's music industry.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

What was your reaction to earning your first Grammy nomination?

I woke up to a text telling me to check my email. It was big news. I worked very hard and very diligently, but never thought about the Grammy or any awards.

I didn’t even know if I could go to the Grammys because I was touring in Europe. But my manager told me it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance. So I went, and I’m glad that I did. The shock of winning is unreal. They say your name — I can’t even tell you — your album is up there, and I got a little nervous. I saw "Last Days of Oakland” on screen as a winner, I was like, “WHAT?”

I instinctively yelled “Bay Area! Oakland!” at the top of my lungs on the mic. Everyone was probably like, “What the fuck is he talking about?”

Did you buy your awards-night outfit in Oakland?

I got my Grammy outfit from a local guy, Al’s Attire in SF on Grant near Chinatown. Custom-made boots, custom-made tux, everything. And I kept it local. I got plenty of international wardrobe offers, but I love Al and I keep it Bay Area. I hope I keep keeping it local. I try as hard as I can.

Fantastic Negrito at Safety Harbor Song Fest. | Photo: Safety Harbor Song Fest/Facebook

You play on stages as big as BottleRock in Napa, and at events as intimate as First Friday.

I just love my city. I just love people. I love this tribe I’m in. I want to always answer to them. To you. You guys are my rock. You were the first ones who OK’d what I was doing all those nights. Playing on 25th and Broadway for $100 in tips; that was validation from my city.

I like playing for free or at places like The New Parish for $15. That’s what I want forever. That’s my rock and knowledge that grounds me. When we can live our life serving and giving, we’re at our best. I know I’ve seen the light. I’ve done the other thing. I always say I’m a recovering narcissist. I’m a flawed motherfucker. This is my salvation and my therapy. I want to be grounded, accessible, open, loving and giving as I can be.

Photo: Fantastic Negrito/Facebook

Do you still record in Oakland? What’s your take on the city’s music industry?

I record right here. Blackball Universe. I have an art gallery open every Saturday. I even leave it open so people can see writing sessions in the gallery as it’s happening. If you drop in on Saturdays, we may be writing a song in the next room. I think it’s amazing.

This is what the Bay Area is. It’s small business, it’s beautiful. Just gotta get it to where it’s affordable again. I’m a huge advocate for that. I have a bar with free drinks like wine and beer. Lagunitas gives me beer. See, I grew up in the Golden Age, so the standard of music in the Bay Area is pretty damn high for me.

Institutions were happening. Too Short was selling cassette tapes. I was there. For Tony! Toni! Toné! MC Hammer’s “Let’s Get it Started” was playing at a club called Sweet Jimmie’s, which is now The New Parish. Green Day was playing at 924 Gilman. These groups were just so influential and distinct in their sound. 

An area that produced both E-40 and Metallica is very diverse. There’s so much strength and originality here. You can’t just copy the next thing. I’m working on some records with really talented local people. Since I’m the OG, I’m trying to have some acts out this year. 

When you initially moved back to Oakland and abandoned music for a time, what aspects of the city helped your musical re-awakening?

I started growing a lot of weed. I thought, “Man this is cool! Look at this weed! WAH!” [laughs] It helped that one of my partners now in the Collective helped us all get stable and get our heads clear. A city that lets you grow herb. How beautiful.

My kid really influenced me to get back to music. And I felt that new energy happening in Oakland. I said, man I have something left. I’m an important voice because of my seniority, because I saw how it was changing. It’s a hotbed of culture. We could use that with all the tech people and coffee shops and all this newness.

We could talk about all this oldness, but love this newness too. For this oldness, we could use some of this newness and vice versa. It’s very inspiring. I love it. I love being my age, being able to walk through this and that, and the things that inspired Fantastic Negrito and Blackball Universe. 

What’s next for Fantastic Negrito?

Well, I’m working on my second album. I’m continuing to tour and writing the album between stops. I have a week in Japan coming up, then some stuff in Florida, then Ibiza at the end of the month. I have a video shoot with ZZ Ward, an LA artist I wrote a song with, then back to Japan in June. I have July and August in Europe, then September back in the states with Sturgill Simpson.

It’s a little bit of insanity. And hell yeah, I’ll keep doing local shows when I’m home! I’m even trying to get it to where I can play some shops. Just pop-up with my guitar and play somewhere. It’s a good way to test out my new material.

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Fantastic negrito on oakland s music scene growing weed first friday shows i just love my city