Lenny Kravitz: Racism, Social Issues and Big Women Inspired ‘Black and White America’
Throughout both his life and career, biracial rocker Lenny Kravitz has acted as an anomaly in the world of music, walking the complex and sometimes blurred lines between race and pushing the boundaries of music with his genre-bending rock and funk. Now, as Kravitz gears up to release his forthcoming album, Black and White America, on Aug. 30, the iconic rocker reveals how racism, social issues and full-figured women inspired him to continue to think outside of the box when it came to recording his new album.
“Now, it’s less about the color, but more about still not fitting in a box; and this radio station doesn’t play this or that,” said Kravitz in a recent interview with MTV News. “This is what always gets me, [now it's], ‘This radio station doesn’t play horns.’ Now, we have racism against instruments. You know, ‘It’s rock, but it’s too funky.’ Or ‘It’s funky, but it’s got too much rock.’ People love their slots, their little boxes.”
With his new 16-track double album, Kravitz will undoubtedly continue to confound radio programmers as he creatively dabbles in the realms of classic pop, retro soul, saucy funk and all-out rock and mixes in guest appearances from major hip-hop stars Jay-Z and Drake.
Despite his love for genre-bending, the central theme of Kravitz’ album seems to be unity, a message which enlivens the album’s current single “Stand,” a guitar-heavy, pop anthem inspired by the racism Kravitz viewed while watching a documentary.
“The inspiration came from a documentary that I was watching. … It was about a group of Americans, I’m sure somewhere tucked away, and they were saying they were disgusted by what America had become. They were disgusted that there was an African American commander in chief. They’re not for racial equality, they would like America to be back to the way it was 100 years ago and, basically, they would do anything it took to make sure that their idea of America was restored, down to assassination, etc.,” Kravitz explained.
Adding, “And it was with such hatred and, obviously, we know that racism exists but, somehow, they threw me for a loop. I was like, ‘Really? For real?’ So, the chorus of the song … I was just saying to them, ‘This is what’s happening, you need to know what time it is.’ It’s how I was raised; I grew up between two cultures at a pivotal time after the civil rights movement, and [it's] the story of my parents, and what they went through. It’s very natural for me to write about that sort of thing.”
Not all of Black and White America is laced with such a socially conscious message. On the sexy track “Boongie Drop,” inspired by his adoration for full-figured women, the rocker wants his listeners to hit the dance floor and, well, drop it like it’s hot.
“Well, ‘boongie’ is a Bahamian word for a–. But it’s not just an a—shaking song. There’s a place down the street from where I live, and on Sunday nights, people come down there and dance,” Kravitz said. “It’s like a red light bulb, pool-table shack and this deejay, Military. And the thing I found beautiful was that you have these really full-figured Bahamian women showing up there. They know they’re beautiful, and they’re not buying into the lie, the stereotype of what media says is beautiful. They exude this pride, and the song’s about that.”
According to Kravitz, Black and White America, which was recorded for nearly two years in a Bahamian studio, represents the best of his well-earned artistic freedom and is the greatest record he’s produced in his 22-year career.
“It was the dream location, the dream studio,” he said. “I had time and, actually, perspective, having been doing this for 22 years. I feel like it’s the best record I’ve ever made.” –nicholas robinson