In the second episode of Behind the Record: Fantastic Negrito, we explore the universe of people that helped propel Xavier Dphrepaulezz, a.k.a. Fantastic Negrito, from an artist languishing in obscurity to a Grammy-winning sensation.
Blackball Universe, which originally started as a record label, has now morphed into a creative collective for artists of all mediums and an instrumental part of Xavier’s ascension. Of course, talent and determination, with a little luck, play a role in Xavier’s success, but even he acknowledges that without a great team, success can be fleeting – or, even worse – unattainable.
In this episode, I had the pleasure of sitting down with a few key figures from Blackball Universe to get a better sense of exactly how much work goes into cultivating an artist’s success.
Field – Co-Manager
Xavier spent an extended time on hiatus after a car crash put him in a coma and severely damaged his strumming hand. He was then dropped from his label and left to chart his own path. Field, a mutual friend, started visiting Xavier in Oakland from Los Angeles. As Field puts it, “We were at ground zero. He was just testing songs out at BART,” referring to Xavier’s time busking in BART stations around Oakland and San Francisco. But after witnessing the connection that people were having to the music, Field decided to take the leap and relocate to Oakland to manage Fantastic Negrito full time.
There was, of course, no guarantee the move would pay off, but Field still points to the early days as being key, saying “It was all based originally on the passion…and really feeling he has a voice that needs to be heard.”
Migui – Audio Engineer
Another key figure in Blackball Universe is audio engineer Migui Maloles, who was added to the collective after running sound during one of Fantastic Negrito’s first gigs at San Francisco’s Boom Boom Room. It was Migui’s first day on the job there, but Field was so impressed with the way he mixed in a live setting that he approached him about engineering for them in the studio. It wasn’t long after that Migui was the proud owner a Grammy for Best Blues Album, when Fantastic Negrito’s freshman record The Last Days of Oakland won last year. Though he’s proud of his work, Migui made it clear the goal was never to win awards but to “…make real music from the soul that people can relate to.”
Malcolm – Creative Partner
While most of Xavier’s team came together over the past few years, one key figure has been a part of his life long before he ever played music. Creative partner Malcolm Spellman has known Xavier since they were kids, and as he puts it “we didn’t initially take to one another. Ask me: I hated him. Ask him: he hated me.” But the hate would eventually turn to mutual respect as time passed. The two ended up forging a lifelong friendship that allows Malcolm a unique perspective on how to get the most out of Xavier creatively.
“I do think it’s important for me to be there to keep him grounded, because I think he can fly off,” says Malcolm when asked about his role. “He can go in whatever direction he wants, but we hold him to charting a course.”
That course has already resulted in one Grammy win, and with the final touches being put on his follow up album, it is a testament to the power and reach an eclectic and enigmatic artist can have when paired with a strong team like the one found within Blackball Universe.
Catch up on Behind the Record: Fantastic Negrito with Episode One.