Entertainer Exclusive Part 2: Lenny Kravitz on Race, God & Spreading Love Through Music
Twenty-nine years after releasing his debut album, Lenny Kravitz is still letting love rule, but with an eye towards societal strife that continues to go unchecked. The multi-Grammy award winning musician brings forth a conscious body of work with Raise Vibration, his eleventh studio album, out September 7th. The first single off the Raise Vibration album, It’s Enough, is a battle cry against corporate greed, political corruption and racism. Kravitz switches gears with his follow up single, Low, exploring the perils of his near-mythical sensuality with intonations alluding to his past intimate relationships. For Lenny Kravitz, the art of the story is paramount, while pop music trends are immaterial. He tells stories through his writing, vocals, and the multitude of instruments he has mastered over the years.
Musically, Raise Vibration is an eclectic blend of the kind of stylistic rock n’ roll-funk sound that Kravitz is known for, with subtle nods to vintage R&B and choruses that sway towards pop appeal. His music puts you in a trance-like groove and defies all genre.
Lenny Kravitz, the man, is a veritable roadmap of his past experiences. From making his way in an industry that doesn’t always value individuality, to making his way in a world that begged to define and categorize him by race and ethnicity in his formative years, he wears his memories on his sleeve and they inform much of his artistic expression. Our conversation surprised me as it took a more intimate turn. He and I delved into matters of spirituality, racial identity, family and the rituals that aide him in creating his eclectic sound. We were very much on the same page as he shared his feelings about everything from racism and societal injustice to his personal spiritual journey, his family and his music.
AK: Do you consider yourself an activist?
LK: That’s a difficult one. I use my music to express myself, and if it inspires others then that’s a beautiful thing. I don’t know that I’m initially doing it for any other reason than to express myself. But I do see myself going more in that direction where you could call it that.
AK: I ask because when I listened to It’s Enough, your first single off this new album, I could tell you’re at a point in your life, and in your career, where you have no problem stating your opinions on societal issues.
LK: Right, but for instance, from my first album, Let Love Rule up until now, I haven’t had that problem. It’s always been within me to express myself truthfully.
AK: I always say that when I enter a room, or wherever I may be, that I never walk alone because I can feel the presence of God beside me, as well as my great grandparents, my grandparents, my parents, siblings and my son. I walk into a space with the energy of those who made me who I am, walking beside me. When you enter a space, who walks beside you?
LK: God is with me at all times which I am always aware of. And the energy of my mother, of my grandmother, of my grandfather. My daughter (actress, Zoe Kravitz), who is here with me on this earth, is always with me. And like you said, knowing that and feeling that, and knowing that spirit is far superior to anything here. The physical presence is wonderful, and something that we require and crave as human beings. We’re spiritual beings living a physical experience, but as you say, you recognize that you have these people with you and it just shows how strong spirit is and how strong energy is. My mother’s (the late actress, Roxie Roker) been gone for twenty plus years, and I can still feel her every day. I can still sense her presence because the energy she left is so powerful. That’s an awesome thing.
AK: Your music really transcends any one genre. It’s a blend of rock, punk, blues, soul, pop; it’s really everything. You can’t categorize your music. And I remember seeing a clip of you, I believe it was on Oprah’s Master Class, where you tell the story of sitting in a classroom as a young boy and you didn’t know which box to check off on a piece of paper asking you to identify your race. Everyone’s life has a theme, and that theme repeats itself over and over again because it’s tied to something we’re supposed to learn while we’re here. In your case it seems to be this ongoing theme where people want to put you in a box and label you, and you railing against that.
LK: People love a box (laughs)! And they want to put you right in it, so they can easily define, for their own comfort, what you are. I’ve been fighting against that from day one in my life, and in my musical life. Like with radio stations, this one only plays this, and that one only plays that. This fits here, and that fits there, and you don’t fit here. It’s like, “Shit! That’s not what art is about!” But, unfortunately, that’s not what the business is, which is very frustrating. Going back to that time in school, I knew I was black, but I knew that wasn’t all I was. I knew I was also Russian Jewish and I knew that my great grandmother was full blooded Cherokee Indian. My mother always taught me, “Yes, you’re black, but you’re just as much this and you’re just as much that, and you don’t discount that.” If you’re mixed, like me and like your son, you don’t discount one of your parents. You’re just as much one as the other. But, what my mother did say to me when I was a child that I think was very smart, and I didn’t realize it until I got older, was, “Even though you’re mixed, society only wants to see you as black.” I didn’t understand that at age seven.
AK: Did you feel diminished by it, at that time, at age seven?
LK: I remember her saying it, but I don’t remember exactly how I felt when she said it. From what I recall, I remember thinking, “What does that mean?” Of course, as I grew and went through life, I understood what that meant. People aren’t going to see all the complexities and the differences. People are going to see what they see, and that is the color of your skin. Not all people, but a lot of people. That was a very good lesson once it kicked in. I was like, “Okay, people don’t see everything for what it is.” People see what they want to see. They judge it how they want to judge it, based upon their pre-conceived ideas of what that is.
AK: It’s a tough conversation to have with a child.
LK: But kids know from what I see are not tripping on the race thing like generations before, are they?
AK: There is a difference from generations ago, and my son has several multiracial friends. Recently, he said, “Mom, what does black mean? My skin is brown.” Part of my response in explaining it was that “black” is a political term and a societal designation, as is “white.” Of course, that will also make more sense as he gets older.
LK: You have to explain to kids people’s fucked up attitudes about race. That’s really what you’re doing. You have to break down the judgment and short sightedness, and peoples’ hang ups, and the history of people screwing over other people because they were different.
AK: Speaking of kids, how would your daughter Zoe describe you, both as a man and as an artist?
LK: Oh wow! We’re very, very close. I think she would say that I have respect and integrity, and love in my heart. I think as a musician, she respects what I do. She’s grown up around it. She grew up seeing it her whole life. This is hard because If I say, “She thinks I’m amazing,” then it sounds like I’m complimenting myself. She respects the craft, what it takes and what I put into it, which is everything.
AK: On September 7th, the day the new album, Raise Vibration, is released, what are those days like for you, when a new album drops?
LK: When I’m finished with an album, I’m at that place where I let go and I’m excited that I’m finished. It’s always exciting getting a new project out. I hope the people who enjoy my music will get something beautiful from it and will relate to it. As far as the rest, in terms of how well it does, sales and all of that, that’s all great, but the main thing for me is that I expressed myself authentically to who I am, who I was at that moment in time, and that it represents me well. That to me is everything. That’s a success.
3X Platinum Lenny Kravitz GREATEST HITS album is now available on vinyl as a 2 LP set via Virgin/Ume at uDiscoverMusic. His 11th studio album Raise Vibration is set for release September 7th via BMG. Pre-order at LennyKravitz.com. The album’s debut track, It’s Enough, is available to stream at iTunes.