Fantastic Negrito Takes On America’s Unbridled Capitalism in ‘Highest Bidder’

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Fantastic Negrito's funky new track "Highest Bidder" is a commentary on how greed can corrupt. (Photo: courtesy of the artist; illustration: Kelly Heigert)

Welcome to Pass the Aux, where KQED Arts & Culture brings you our favorite new tracks by Bay Area artists. Check out past entries and submit a song for future coverage here.

Fantastic Negrito’s rise has been fascinating to watch. And now that it’s been several years since he ascended from street busker to Grammy winner, the Oakland blues musician isn’t resting on his laurels. On the contrary, he’s coming out with some of the most compelling work of his career—songs that chew on some of the heaviest issues of our time, and move both body and mind.

Late last year, Fantastic Negrito and Oakland country singer Miko Marks teamed up for “Rollin’ Through California,” a foot-stomping, organ-driven track that takes stock of the damage from our state’s rampant wildfires. (Watch him and his band perform it live at KQED’s headquarters.)

And today, Fantastic Negrito dropped his new single and video for “Highest Bidder,” which—with lyrics in the vein of D’Angelo’s classic “Devil’s Pie”—remarks at the corruption of America’s unbridled capitalism. “Ohhh that bank is a serial killer / Trying to build more prisons for your children,” Fantastic Negrito sings in a falsetto to an African drum pattern and funk guitar.

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Along with the music video release, Fantastic Negrito announced his new visual album, White Jesus Black Problems, which comes out June 3. It’s a historical concept album and film that reimagines a love story between Fantastic Negrito’s seven-times-great-grandparents, a Scottish indentured servant and an enslaved man from Africa. Fantastic Negrito often references how he gets his courage from his ancestors.

“We have to rise to the challenge. I believe that, and I come from a long line of people who have done that,” he told me a year ago when I asked how he was faring in the pandemic. This should be one of the artist’s most revealing projects yet.