I’m sorry he’s just running 10 more minutes late …” says the Atlantic Records PR exec, “he’s still on a water taxi.”
Bloody cab drivers … always giving Lenny shit.
Back in the eighties, New York cabbies would hear the budding musician whistle, take one look at his dreads, and just keep driving. A racist snub that famously inspired the song Mr. Cab Driver on Kravitz debut album Let Love Rule. Eight albums later, after winning four Grammy’s and selling over 35 million records, Kravitz is more accustomed to getting picked up in black limo’s than yellow cabs. But here he is, delayed for his Echoes interview in support of new slop album Black & White America, by yet another Taxi, albeit one on water.
“I’m in the Bahamas, so no, I don’t have that problem with cab drivers here.” Says Kravitz now back on terra firma, moseying down a quiet street on the island of Eleuthera. “Back in the US some still have that way about them but, you know, times are different now. They’re getting better with each generation.” Kravitz is referring to the recent transition that his homeland has gone through, with the USA of 2011 starting to live up to its tagline as “the land of the free”. Barack Obama proving that, having a mixed heritage is no longer an automatic barrier to personal advancement in the establishment of American society.
At the time of Obama’s inauguration - Obama like Kravitz an American of black and white heritage - Lenny was ensconced in the studio, attempting to complete his long-awaited album Negrophilia, known amongst his fans as “The Funk Record”, a completely different album to the one he is about to release.
“Negrophilia is very close to me, and I will finish that. But I had new inspiration when I came out to the Bahamas. I secluded myself, stayed here for almost 2 years and got to a very peaceful place and I began hearing all this new music.” says Kravitz, who has previous, surfing the flood of inspiration away from Negrophilia before (the project is rumoured to have been in the making since 1997) to record the more rock infused Baptism album back in 2004. “When the inspiration hits, you either go with your ego and your plan, or just go with what feels right at the time.” Explains Lenny, who, having had the musical idea for the horn backed soul song Push (the closing track), began writing and recording in earnest the more uplifting Black & White America, an album he believes to be his best work to date, and one which, ironically, features some of Lenny’s funkiest stuff in over a decade.
On the 1 is the standout, project centrepiece Life Ain’t Better Than It Is Now which works the groove as hard as a sweaty James Brown. Superlove sounds like Ernie Isley has dropped by to jam with Bootsy’s Rubber Band and the album is suitably kicked off, in socially conscious funky soul style with the defiant Black & White America, which includes lyrics born out of Lenny’s own experiences growing up in the supposedly cosmopolitan & liberal New York City, as a child of an interracial couple (Lenny’s Mum was actress Roxie Roker & his Dad NBC TV Producer Sy Kravitz). Alluding to memories that prove bigots, no matter what their creed or colour, are actually united in their own ignorance.
“I had no idea about race until I was in the 1st grade.” Remembers Lenny “I understood that my parents we’re different from each other, but I didn’t think that meant anything. I was used to seeing a lot of interracial couples at my house because there was a lot of integration going on amongst my parents friends, which included artists, celebrities and so forth. So I’d see every race you could imagine and didn’t think about it - People are different, that’s life. Then I showed up at school and on the first day some kid ran up to us and started pointing his finger and yelled “your fathers white!” He made this big remark in the hallway, and I was like ‘what was that all about?!’ I really didn’t have any idea what him being white had to do with anything? That’s when it started, in public. In my home it was beautiful and healthy, I was taught to respect both sides of my culture.”
The variety of culture meant that Lenny was exposed to a diverse range of music, first getting into soul and funk in New York, before moving to Los Angeles to become introduced to rock music at Junior High.
Black & White America like all Slop albums reflects the diversity of taste, whilst still being anchored in Black alternative music. So there maybe the Jay Z featured r&b of Boongie Drop (“boongie” means arse in the Bahamas) or the sing-along pop n’ roll pep of 2nd single Stand, but there’s plenty of soul too. Like with his recent productions on Labelle (Lenny says: “I really wish that I was able to do the whole Back To Now album – I had a vision for making the lost Labelle record. I wanted them to sound like songs discovered after being locked in a Labelle vault”) & previous soul hits Heaven Help & It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over, Lenny’s earned his soulboy stripes. Along with the title track, there’s a handful of soul gems: the aforementioned Push, a falsetto sung inner city blues called Liquid Jesus, recorded whilst Kravitz finished the album off in Paris and the wistful & reflective Looking Back On Love.
“That was written at Gregory Town (the studio Lenny owns in Eleuthera), on one afternoon when I was sat at a Fender Rhodes. It literally came from my life. All of the beautiful people that I’ve encountered and what I’ve learnt from them.” Explains Lenny, but the albums true highlight is the primal, heavy guitar and horns, urge driven slop killer Come On Get It, also the first single, used to promote the start of the NBA season on US TV, which screams lyrics such as “I feel like a canine, come on, COME ON GET IT!” Suggesting that, at 47 years old, Lenny is still living the Rock Star City Life (another track title from the album). Is there still an abundance of Lenny lovin’ groupies, hanging out the back of the stage area?
“Aaaah,” says Lenny, almost misty eyed “if I wanted to I could. But I guess now it would be more of a rock star jungle life.” Lenny laughs, “if I want to, it’s available. It’s probably still there sure, but I don’t go that way, after the shows I head back to the hotel and I have my own rules and I get rest. I do what I gotta do.” By the sounds of it, a cup of hotel PG Tips it is then, with maybe with one sugar. No, Come On Get It lyrically does not define the album; neither does Black & White America. That honour is saved for another song.
“One morning I woke up in my trailer on the beach and just ran to my studio. What came out was Life Ain’t Better Than It Is Now - which was a real revelation to me. Defining my place, where I am in my life now and of being really comfortable of who I am and you know … just content.”
The dark funk album will probably have to wait just a little longer.