Leonard Albert Kravitz is the type of artist whose back story and influences always overshadow his music. The 41-year-old retro-rocker was born in New York to film producer Sy Kravitz and actress Roxie Roker, of The Jeffersons fame, who soon relocated to California and ran with the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Miles Davis. After stints with the California Boys Choir and Metropolitan Opera, Kravitz emerged as the preening Prince clone Romeo Blue. The purple one’s influence can still be found in Kravitz’s multi-cultural sound and crew, not to mention his allegiance to Sly Stone.
By the late ’80s, Kravitz had dumped Prince for Jimi Hendrix (and Lisa Bonet), and his debut album, Let Love Rule, was greeted with lukewarm reviews and moderate commercial success. To his credit, Kravitz’ music progressed with his next two efforts, Mama Said and Are You Gonna Go My Way. The albums resulted in several hit singles and made him an MTV icon. Circus followed in 1995 and 5 came three years later, with both albums showing a decline in Kravitz’ craft. The latter release, in particular, fell into many of the same technological and hip-hop traps Prince stumbled over in his own latter-day stabs at relevance.
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Despite his longevity, Kravitz has irked many critics with his propensity for songs that sound more like GAP ads than authentic rock ’n’ roll. In the pantheon of black rockers, he’s far from matching Bad Brains or even Slash and not in the same galaxy as Hendrix. His recent collaborations with the Neptunes, Jay-Z, and P. Diddy have brought him closer to the hip-hop nation, yet most fans identify him more with his recent foray into the design world and short-lived fling with Nicole Kidman than with any new material.
As a result, he’s simultaneously overrated and underrated: Overrated as a trendsetter when his music will always be blatantly derivative, but underrated as a creator of listenable jingles that cut across the racial divide. •
– M. Solis