Last year, Lenny Kravitz gave fans a taste of new music by tweeting a short clip of he and trumpeter Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews in the studio performing "Life Ain't Ever Been Better Than It Is Now."
Video: Sneak peek of Lenny Kravitz's song "Life Ain't Ever Been Better Than It Is Now."
Halfway through the track, which appears on Kravitz's ambitious new studio album "Black and White America," the 47-year-old rocker confidently belts, "It's my time and there's no way I'm failing."
One of the most recognizable rock stars on the planet, Kravitz has already succeeded on countless levels -- including 15 million albums sold since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales data in 1991. But with a new label partnership, a burgeoning acting career, an upcoming album and world tour, major brand deals, numerous TV/film synchs and other entrepreneurial projects -- the four-time Grammy Award winner is at the top of his game. Indeed, judging by the aggressive promotional campaign for his ninth album, due Aug. 30 on Atlantic Records/Roadrunner Records (Aug. 22 overseas), Kravitz has his work cut out for him.
"There's a lot going on at once," says Kravitz, who recently arrived in North Carolina to begin filming "The Hunger Games," the anticipated film adaptation of Suzanne Collins' best-selling trilogy. The musician/actor was tapped to play the role of fashion stylist Cinna after "Pleasantville" director Gary Ross was dazzled by his appearance in 2009's critically acclaimed "Precious." "I have to organize," Kravitz says. "There are a lot of deadlines coming from a lot of different places."
In addition to filming "Games" and promoting "Black and White America," Kravitz is working on various hotel and condominium design projects in Miami through his company Kravitz Design. And in his spare moments, he's also an avid photographer. Kravitz may note that he's "got enough jobs right now," but he says he's always open to more creative work. And the artist's camp isn't worried that his outside endeavors will interfere with the intense promo cycle of "Black and White."
"From the first day we met Lenny, he told us how important this album was to him and how hungry he is to expose it," Roadrunner president Jonas Nachsin says. "We have no question of his commitment to that."
Kravitz arrives at Atlantic/Roadrunner after a long-standing relationship with Virgin, which released 1989's classic Let Love Rule and, most recently, 2008's It Is Time for a Love Revolution. The latter has sold 240,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Despite leaving Virgin with one album left on his contract, the artist says he and the label parted on friendly terms.
"It was just time for a change," he says. "It was not the place I'd signed to. It had gone through many versions... it was time for new blood."
Roadrunner discovered that Kravitz was a free agent through its partnership with industry veteran Tom Lipsky, who has a joint-venture label with Roadrunner called Loud & Proud Records. "His charge is to look for artists of some renown that have an opportunity to do a new deal," Nachsin says. The imprint's roster includes Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and with the desire to continue diversifying Roadrunner's roster with established acts that fall outside of the label's hard rock and metal roots (its roster includes Slipknot, Nickelback and Theory of a Deadman), Nachsin jumped at the opportunity to bring Kravitz into the fold.
Kravitz hadn't heard of Roadrunner prior to the deal. But through discussions with executives at Warner Music Group--which owns Roadrunner and Atlantic--he was assured that both labels would work in conjunction to market and promote his music. He's now signed to a worldwide, multi-album deal with Atlantic/Roadrunner. "Roadrunner is full of people he's just getting to know," Nachsin says. "Atlantic not only has some people he knows, and has had a good relationship with over the years, but he also admires the label and its legacy."
Roadrunner is taking the lead on the promotional and marketing efforts for "Black and White America." But the label is utilizing the expertise and resources of Atlantic. "We went through the whole marketing and promotion plan piece by piece with [Atlantic chairman/COO] Julie Greenwald and her people," Nachsin says. "And wherever they could offer input, help or advice, they did."
Kravitz is optimistic. "[Roadrunner] seemed more like the old-school record company I came from, which was Virgin America when it was a boutique label," he says. "I plan on it going very well."
BLACK AND WHITE, LITERALLY
The son of filmmaker/TV producer Sy Kravitz (of Ukrainian/Jewish descent) and Florida-born African-American actress Roxie Roker ("The Jeffersons"), the theme of Kravitz's new album is the dynamic(s) of growing up in an interracial environment. "This is what I know and how I had to live," he says. "It's where we are in America with a lot of people having to deal with the fact that it's not just white America--it's black and white America, and everything in between."
The 16-song set's title track was written in response to a documentary about white supremacists in post-Obama America. Kravitz doesn't recall the title of the film, but says he randomly found it while flipping through channels. "It was people talking about how they wanted America to be like it was 100 years ago," he says. "To hear people as hardcore as they were -- in 2011 -- kind of blew my mind. Like, 'These people still exist? Wow.'"
"Black and White America" was recorded in the Bahamas and Paris beginning in mid-2009. The contrasting city environments played a significant role in shaping the set's overall vibe. "The Bahamas enabled me to be away from mainstream society," Kravitz says. "It gave me time to reflect and think about my life--and to feel. The music that came out was extremely pure. When I took it to Paris and was driving around the car in the middle of all this electricity, the music sounded different. It influenced me as far as what overdubs were going to go in, that would bring this electricity."
Kravitz produced and played most of the instruments on Black and White America, bringing in regular guitarist Craig Ross and Trombone Shorty for the horn section. In addition to guest appearances by Jay-Z ("Boongie Drop") and Drake ("Sunflower"), the album includes a song co-written with Swizz Beatz ("Sunflower"). Touching on rock, funk, pop, R&B, jazz and blues, the collection contains some of the most musically diverse songs of Kravitz's 20-year career. He riffs hard on "Rock Star City Life" and "Come On Get It," displays old-school R&B on "Superlove," delves into some reggae on "Boongie Drop" and reveals a softer side on the ballad "Dream."
Radio programmers have already responded to the poppy first single "Stand," which rises 33-29 this week on Billboard's Adult Top 40 chart. During his career, Kravitz has scored 16 Billboard Hot 100 hits (two top 10s: "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" and "Again"), 12 Adult Top 40 hits (four top 10s), 13 Alternative hits (one No. 1: "Fly Away") and 14 Mainstream Rock hits (two No. 1s: "Are You Gonna Go My Way" and "Fly Away").
Video: Lenny Kravitz, "Fly"
"I never stick to one thing on an album," Kravitz says. "But this one, with 16 tracks, really gives a good music history of where I come from and who I am."
The campaign for "Black and White America" launched last fall with a basketball-themed music video for "Come On Get It." The song was used online and in spots during the NBA playoffs on Turner Broadcasting-owned or -managed networks, including TNT. Kravitz also performed live at the 2011 NBA All-Star Game in late February. The following month, Kravitz visited the set of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to reveal the album artwork for "Black and White America." In May, he visited NBC's "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" to participate in a tribute for the 30th anniversary of Bob Marley's death by performing "Roots Rock Reggae."
Around that time, Kravitz locked down a deal with Chrysler's Jeep SUV division for a 10-week advertising campaign that featured "Rock Star City Life." A longtime Jeep Wrangler owner, the artist also appeared in nationally broadcast Jeep commercials from May through June. Select clips from the commercial shoot in New Orleans were featured on Jeep's website and through the company's various social media channels. Kravitz's involvement helped contribute to an all-time high sales record for the Jeep Wrangler, Chrysler Group head of Jeep brand advertising Kim Adams House says. "Really what you bring to the table with a partnership like this is the synergies," she says. "Being able to leverage our product to his brand and vice versa."
Kravitz then capped off June by opening for U2 on four sold-out U.S. stadium dates. "It was a great way to warm up," he says. "We've been good friends for a long time and we had never played together."
BUT THAT'S JUST THE BEGINNING
Surrounding the release date of "Black and White America," Kravitz will appear on numerous TV shows, including late-night programs and on the "Today" Toyota Concert Series. He's also been tapped for "AOL Sessions" and YouTube Presents. On Aug. 31, the artist will perform in New York at Terminal 5 as part of the 2011 Samsung & AT&T Summer Krush concert series. And through the fall Kravitz will be touring South America and Europe, to be followed by a U.S. run in December. Next year, he'll embark on a full-scale trek of the United States, Europe, Australia and Japan. Additionally, his new music has already been licensed for the films "Abduction" and "Tower Heist," ESPN's "World Series of Poker 2011" and the Falabella department stores in Chile, Colombia and Peru.
"Not only has he gotten a lot of media coverage in the past, but you can tell he's really been doing something right in so many ways over the years," Nachsin says. "There's a real positive energy around him that you pick up on. People definitely have a feeling of wanting to help him, and that's great."
It may seem like Kravitz has already conquered nearly all facets of the entertainment industry, but his work isn't yet finished. In addition to expanding his horizons in photography, design and acting, the artist hopes to do more music producing when time allows. But Kravitz's heart will always belong to focusing on what he loves most: writing and performing his own music.
"That's my time. Like being in a studio and just painting," he says. "That's the incredible creative time that I thrive on."