Lenny Kravitz has been a name synonymous with rock god superstardom for decades, but in a new interview with Esquire pegged to his first new album and tour in years, the longtime music and style icon dug into the many contradictions of his career, and addressed the disparaging comments made by Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner.
Wenner said that no Black musicians were as articulate or “in the zeitgeist” as white ones. After he was kicked off the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation’s board of directors, Wenner issued a public apology, saying, “I totally understand the inflammatory nature of badly chosen words and deeply apologize and accept the consequences.”
Kravitz is biracial—his mother is actress Roxie Roker, who played Helen Willis on the groundbreaking sitcom The Jeffersons, and his father was a white TV news producer for NBC. The singer’s crunchy, pop and rock radio-ready sound put him at the top of the charts in the ’90s and early aughts, but he wasn’t given the props that similar-sounding acts were.
“There was this one article [in the ’90s] that, at that time, said, ‘If Lenny Kravitz were white, he would be the next savior of rock ’n’ roll,’” Kravitz told Esquire. “I got a lot of negativity thrown at me by all these older white men who weren’t going to let me have that position.”
Given his history in the industry and with Wenner, with whom Kravitz has personally socialized, the artist found the Rolling Stone founder’s comments “very disappointing and sad,” he said.
“I’ve known Jann since 1987. I’ve been to his house. In his life. I was disappointed. I was very disappointed,” he said. “[His] statement alone, even if you just heard about the man yesterday, was appalling and embarrassing. And just wrong.”
Disappointment, and exclusion, are not unfamiliar to Kravitz, he told Esquire.
“To this day, I have not been invited to a BET thing or a Source Awards thing,” he said. “And it’s like, here is a Black artist who has reintroduced many Black art forms, who has broken down barriers—just like those that came before me broke down. That is positive. And they don’t have anything to say about it?”
But at nearly 60 years old, Kravitz seems more poised than ever to let his creativity, accelerated enormously by pandemic-induced isolation, carry him to new creative heights. “This one spoke to me,” he told Esquire of his upcoming album, Blue Electric Light. “This one has to come out.”