Oakland, known as “The Town” in local parlance, is often defined by its differences from San Francisco across the bay. But the city — birthplace of the Black Panther movement — is a bubbling caldron of creative energy worth exploring on its own. Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz, better known as Fantastic Negrito, is an Oakland-based musician who sees himself as a bridge between Oakland’s past and present. From the early days of hip-hop and punk to the city’s current gentrification, he is a true believer in the city’s intoxicating energy.
“Oakland is amazing, and it’s tragic. I remember the day that the crack epidemic hit. But that dark energy gave rise to a great music and art movement.”
Fantastic Negrito’s fiery brand of blues-inflected rock has earned him two Grammys; 2019’s Please Don’t Be Dead and his 2017 debut album, The Last Days of Oakland, both won the award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Despite his global following, he is a true product of his hometown. Fantastic Negrito, of Somali-Caribbean descent, found his sound busking on Oakland’s streets, where his identity as an artist and creator began. His family moved to the city from Massachusetts when Fantastic Negrito was 12. He had a lucrative but creatively unsatisfying music career in Los Angeles. Now 52, he’s been back in Oakland since 2008 and “wouldn’t choose any other place.”
“I embrace it, and I uphold it!” he says. Here, he shares his five favorite places.
Fantastic Negrito loves this spare cafe for its healthy, delicious options. He likes walking there through West Oakland via San Pablo Avenue, starting his walk by his artists’ collective and studio, Blackball Universe (between 34th and 35th Streets on San Pablo). “I call this the Lower East Side,” he says. “You’re on the front line of seeing something happening. It feels like New York in the ’70s.”
1825 San Pablo Avenue; plentyoakland.com
2. Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park
“You can go 10 minutes and be in complete wilderness,” he says of the park in the hills east of downtown Oakland. “It really gets you grounded and in touch with the vibration of the earth. That’s what makes the Bay Area so special; we’re surrounded by nature.”
7867 Redwood Road; ebparks.org/parks/redwood/
Spending time in this vibrant, artist-filled enclave within Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood is one of Fantastic Negrito’s favorite ways to experience Oakland’s “history and culture of art galleries.” It’s particularly worth visiting on the second Friday of the month, when the diverse community comes together for the Jingletown and Alameda Art Walk.
4. Lake Merritt
This urban lake is “kind of the center of Oakland” for Fantastic Negrito. “It has been since I was a kid.” He suggests walking around its entirety and seeing what you find. “There’s a bird sanctuary. If you go on the weekends, you hear the Haitian drummers. Walk down Grand and Lake Shore; there are so many different shops and restaurants.”
A laid back local watering hole, The Hatch is a good jumping off point for experiencing Oakland’s rapidly changing downtown. “There are so many places to explore! Go to Latham Square, walk down Broadway, get into the numbered streets. Get a real taste of Oakland, where everyone’s mixed together.”
402 15th Street; thehatchoak.com
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