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- Posted on Feb 28th 2011 4:30PM by James Sullivan
Jason LaVeris, FilmMagic
Kravitz is the son of a Bahamian mother and a Russian-Jewish father, a show-business couple who endured more than their share of prejudice together. As the country hurtles toward its inevitable majority-minority census shift, Kravitz is celebrating his mixed heritage as he puts the finishing touches on his ninth album, 'Black and White America,' due this summer.
Despite the title, it's not meant as a concept album per se, says Kravitz, speaking on the phone a day after his appearance at the NBA All-Star game. "The theme is me, my life, from childhood up to now," he says. The title track is "sort of the central theme, in the sense that that's the way I grew up, that's what I know, that's what made me who I am.
"There are bold statements on the record," he says. "But they're done with love."
As February winds to a close, Kravitz says he thinks Black History Month is a fine educational opportunity that will, in a more progressive world, render itself obsolete.
"At some point, we shouldn't need it," he says, "but that's the world we live in."
Kravitz, who lives part-time in Paris, was originally set to call the new album 'Negrophilia,' inspired by the unconditional European love for black artistry. His thoughts took a different turn when he stumbled across a television report about white Americans who declared themselves unwilling to live in a country that could elect a black president.
Never mind the president: Some of these people still hadn't accepted everyday integration. "That amazes me," says the singer. "That's so far behind, that thinking. It's like pre-caveman or something."
It wasn't so long ago that people weren't sure what to make of the late Roxie Roker's bellbottomed son. Kravitz is "a classic example of sticking with it over time," says Raymond Gayle, director of the film 'Electric Purgatory: The Fate of the Black Rocker.' When the music world cocked its head over the newcomer's unabashed Hendrix-Beatles mashups, he kept at it, eventually earning huge hits such as 'Are You Gonna Go My Way' and 'Fly Away.'
Gayle has made it his cause to secure recognition for black artists in rock music. After he released his film on DVD last year, he heard from Paisley Park: Prince, it seems, was impressed. According to the filmmaker, he has had ongoing discussions about a 'Blackapalooza'-style concert tour that, he hopes, would feature many of the acts covered in his film, including Bad Brains, Fishbone, younger acts such as TV on the Radio and a big name or two, like Prince or Kravitz.
For Gayle, the election of Barack Obama was supposed to usher in a new wave of black culture, but he says he's been disappointed. "I thought having a black president would galvanize black culture," he says, "but it's almost like it didn't happen."
Yet there is plenty of evidence that Kravitz's brand of mixed musical influences is becoming more the norm than the exception. From the punky soul of Janelle Monae and the industrial poetry of Saul Williams to the Roots' nightly collaborations across the musical spectrum on 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,' pop compartmentalization finally might be going the way of the archaic laws against mixed marriages.
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images
"I'm all about organic," he says. Though he has worked with many of the biggest names in the business -- Mick Jagger, Madonna, Prince -- he prefers not to calculate.
"If God brings it into my realm, that's what I'm into."
He's encouraged by what he sees as the widening flow of creative influence.
"It's all in the pot," he says. "Sports, music, acting, everything -- it's all blended. There are days when I say I can't believe this is happening. We're conditioned to think the other way. I saw my parents struggle, my grandparents."
But younger generations, he says, are growing up more and more accustomed to the cultural rainbow -- black, white, and everything in between. The habitual hippie has one word for it.
It is, he says, "beautiful."