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One of the preeminent rock musicians of our time, Lenny Kravitz is an icon whose bold, channeling sound has transcended genre, style, race and class. His music is devastatingly rich with the influences of '60s and '70s soul, rock and funk, and yet, each of his six previous studio albums have communicated the urgency of their current years. As Lenny Kravitz's 2000-released triple-platinum GREATEST HITS album proved, those songs have resonated onward into a timeless catalog. Now Lenny Kravitz releases his seventh studio album, BAPTISM, and with a career that spans fifteen years since the release of his 1989 debut album, LET LOVE RULE, he has come full circle. "It's strange, man, but I've made my first record all over again," he says. "That's how it feels, as pure as the beginning."
Kravitz's music is robust and driven by an emotional core that materializes in soulful riffs and soaring vocals. From the start, he has consistently redefined his sound -" never painting the same picture twice, never using the same colors. "It's not a conscious point, but I'm not into repeating myself," Kravitz says. "Once I do something, I've done it and I just want to continue on."
That attitude has rewarded Kravitz with an unparalleled musical appeal. All of his albums have been certified either platinum or multi-platinum. From 1999 to 2002, he won an astounding four consecutive Grammy Awards, setting a record for the most wins in the "Best Male Rock Vocal Performance" category for his single "Dig In" (previously winning for "Again," "American Woman" and "Fly Away"), and representing one of the most successful stretches of recognition for any musician in the awards ceremony's history. In 2003, he received his fifth Grammy nomination in the category for "If I Could Fall In Love" off his last studio album, LENNY. Kravitz's appeal also reaches his peers. His collaborative efforts are as varied as his own influences " having worked with everyone from Madonna.php"> Madonna, Slash and Jay-Z, to N.E.R.D, P. Diddy and others.
Like all great records, the seeds of BAPTISM came from personal epiphany. Kravitz had spent many months in the early part of 2003 in Miami working on songs for an all-out, dedicated funk album. But in the fall of 2003, his initial direction transformed into unexpected revelations when Kravitz visited his old hometown of New York City. The trip was a throwback to an earlier time in his life when he was a burgeoning musician, working on what would be his groundbreaking and critically acclaimed debut album, LET LOVE RULE. "Ultimately things change in life, but I really missed that feeling," Kravitz says. "There I was, riding my bike around the city and I felt the way I did fifteen years ago."
Kravitz found more than nostalgic comfort in that trip: he found a gateway to simplicity. "I returned to Miami, picked up my acoustic guitar and just started playing," he remembers. "All these tunes started coming out " two, four, five, eight." Kravitz went to his Miami studio and started to explore what these songs could become. "I realized what I needed to do had to be done now," he says. "It was urgent. It was just flowing out so I let the creative process take over." The funk album could wait.
With BAPTISM, Kravitz is reborn. He comes full circle in his career, ready to close out one cycle and embrace the beginning of another. With its charged, elegant rock 'n roll, its brazen riffs and heartfelt lyrics, Kravitz has made a revealing album that stands as a tribute to the basics in life. Delivered with the craft he's mastered throughout his career, the music of BAPTISM leaps from the speakers.
Kravitz wrote and recorded the album over the course of the year. "Everything just came together," he explains. "I would go in to lay down dummy vocals over the music, but then the words would just come out. It was very open." All the instruments on BAPTISM were played by Kravitz (save for string sections and saxophones): every thumping bass line, to every lofty drum kick and rocketing guitar riff. Kravitz's multi-instrumentalism is one of the most overlooked aspects of his musicianship and a thrusting energy source in the album.
"Where Are We Runnin'"," the first single from BAPTISM, is a groove-laden anthem that, true to Kravitz's style, beats with grinding riffs and struts with the stage-high blues calls of old soul greats. From the song's first thundering drums to the whirling rockabilly piano solo at its end, it is a blissful slice of rock 'n roll.
On "Lady," Kravitz celebrates the consuming fire of love and passion. He wails to the stripped down grit of an old-school rhythm sound, lifting its bluesy southern rock into the stratosphere with his charismatic cat calls and passionate pleading. "California" feels like driving up Highway 1, top down and 30 miles too fast. "It definitely has this west coast feel, definitely," Kravitz says. "It's a very fun song about LA and all the experiences I had as a kid."
"California" echoes Kravitz's journey from New York to Los Angeles at the age of 11, facilitated by his mother's (actress Roxie Roker) move from Broadway to her acceptance of the role of Helen on television's hit sitcom, The Jeffersons. "It was a culture shock. Growing up in New York, you're very independent. Suddenly, I was in this place in LA and no one's on the street. You can't go anywhere unless your mom drives you," Kravitz laughs. But Los Angeles is where Kravitz would find rock 'n roll " at John Adams Junior High School in Santa Monica during the mid-'70s. "Growing up in New York, I knew about RnB and funk and jazz and gospel and blues from my parents. Now I'm in LA and I'm hanging out, skateboarding and listening to Zeppelin, Kiss, Aerosmith and Hendrix."
While some songs swirl with the ingredients of influence into its own dish, others find Kravitz going in directions heretofore never explored. "Storm" features a guest appearance by Jay-Z, whom Kravitz met when playing on the hip-hop superstar's album, BLUEPRINT 2.0 (on the song "Guns And Roses"). Offers Kravitz, "I've never had a rapper on any of my music before. But I felt the song needed that flavor." Kravitz reached out to Jay-Z via telephone and the artist offered to do the song right then and there. "Musically, he's really gifted," says Kravitz. "He sat, played the song a few times and just walked in the room and nailed it on one take."
Kravitz's musical success has afforded him many opportunities in which to fulfill his creative vision. He has established his own record label, Roxie Records, named after his late mother, whose memory he draws eternal inspiration from. Through the label, distributed by Warner Brothers, he can scout and enable other creative talents. But Kravitz's opportunities also extend beyond the recording industry. He has created a design company, Kravitz Designs, that undertakes various high-concept projects. Currently, through his company, Kravitz is designing a recording studio in the penthouse of the Setai Group's hotel in Miami. Kravitz is also making strides in the film world. He is writing, producing and plans to direct a movie based loosely upon the story of his own interesting life.
However, as BAPTISM reinforces, the music is Kravitz's center. Finding himself back at his starting point on BAPTISM, Kravitz gives a nod to the struggle that birthed his early records. "I think I spent a lot of time before LET LOVE RULE trying to be what I thought I should be. I was using this name, Romeo Blue, and I had this image of what I thought was right. But that's part of the road to finding yourself. You put on these images and you try to be something you're not. It showed me what I wasn't, which was a good exercise. LET LOVE RULE was the time everything changed for me. All of the sudden, I had a purpose, a sound, a vibe and it came naturally through me. It was electrifying. So to come back to that point, to that purity, is a really profound moment for me and I think it shows up in this music."
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