Ahead of his first album release in more than five years, Lenny Kravitz sat down with Esquire magazine for their winter cover story and reflected on his family, his beliefs, his past and his future. But one of the sticking points of the article was his candid revelations about how he feels his success has been shunned by the Black community and by Black outlets and it's giving people much to discuss.
Lenny dived deep into his childhood and what it was like being born to a Bahamian mom, Roxie Roker, and a Jewish dad, calling New York his home, and saying that despite trying to settle in cities like New Orleans and Miami, he couldn’t see himself anywhere else than the concrete jungle.
He reflected on his musical success, which includes the sale of 40 million records, four consecutive Best Male Rock Vocal Performance Grammys, an MTV Video Award, immediate friendships with stars like Mick Jagger and Prince, who flocked to him with admiration for his style and swagger, and the ability to fill some of the world’s largest concert venues.
He’s been lauded by some of the biggest Black icons there are, like Jay-Z, who is quoted in the magazine as saying:
“I look at him as someone who stuck to their guns. This is what I like. This is the type of music I like to create. You always applaud that: someone who stays and does what they do and doesn’t follow trends. Someone who has that confidence in what they’re doing is very rare.”
With all this in mind, why, then, did it take Vibe magazine an entire decade to feature Lenny in their publication, despite making it their mission to showcase Black talent since they started publishing in 1993? This, essentially, is the broader question being brought to light in the article. Why have Black media outlets not been receptive to Lenny’s success and career, why have they not helped promote and celebrate his success, and why hasn’t he appeared at some of the biggest Black award shows?
“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?”
The article goes on to say that Lenny can’t understand why his success “is not celebrated by the folks who run those publications or organizations,” and that he has “been that dream and example of what a Black artist can do.”
Social media users were quick to react to his revelation, with people empathizing with the fact that he felt like Black people didn’t appreciate his art.
This stood out to me because, for years, Iâ€™ve wondered when BET would honor Lenny Kravitz. I donâ€™t expect white institutes to give him recognition, but BET and black publications should celebrate his artistry. Lenny doesnâ€™t make R&B, but rock is OUR genre. https://t.co/TfLHKvzy1k pic.twitter.com/fFpjBXqJVb— ðŸ‘½brittny pierreðŸª© (@sleep2dream) November 30, 2023
But people also began questioning the root cause of why he didn’t “make it” in the Black scene the way he might have hoped.
Yesha Callahan, an award-winning journalist, responded to the article:
She goes on to say that non-Black publicists don’t regard Black publications as highly as they do white ones, and suggests they are “gatekeeping” Black talent like Lenny from publications that do, in fact, want to celebrate them, but are not seen as worthwhile as other outlets might be. She then linked to a BET article that spotlights alternative Black artists that make country and rock music, showing that BET does feature rockers like Lenny…just not Lenny himself.
The idea that this may, in fact, be on Lenny’s team instead of Black media outlets is interesting. And it’s a good point to consider. But his claim that he’s never been invited to a BET awards show? That’s pretty damning, and it’s a glaring omission. So I do wonder just how much of that could fall on his team, and how much of that is on BET for not seeing to it that one of the most legendary Black artists never once attended their award show, particularly after being in the spotlight for as long as he has.
He’s not the first Black celebrity to claim they’ve felt unwelcomed by Black audiences and outlets. Back in 2020, Willow Smith opened up on an episode of Red Table Talk, saying that she and her brother Jaden, at times, felt “shunned” by their community.
According to Willow, the message her and Jaden were getting from Black audiences was that, “We're not gonna take pride in them because they're too different. They're too weird."
Even Jada, during that episode, revealed that she got a lot of hate from other moms in the Black community for how she was raising her kids and cited a “firestorm” when Willow shaved her head back in 2012. Jada said it worsened when Jaden began defying gender norms and wearing clothes designed for women, like dresses and high heels.
"When he was wearing a skirt, then he isn't what people consider your 'typical Black man,'" Jada said, adding that Black people sometimes try to "create stereotypes around ourselves" and encouraged parents to let their kids be who they want to be, or else it can become a “disservice."
Take an artist like Lil Nas X, for example, who has called out homophobia in Black culture on many occasions, but particularly after a BET awards snub in 2022. Last June, when the full list of nominations were announced, his name didn’t appear once, yet Jack Harlow, a white musician that collaborated with Lil Nas X, received a nomination for Best Male Hip-Hop Artist. A week after the nomination announcements, Lil Nas X released a song dragging the network in a diss track.
All of this is to say, whether the blame for Lenny’s exclusion is on his publicists or the outlets in question, he’s got a point, and it’s one that others echo. Black artists, more often than not, are expected to fit a certain mold if they want to receive recognition and invitations to participate in mainstream Black Hollywood success.
I think a great place to start is asking why there is no category for Best Black Country Artist at the BET awards, despite there being so many, some of which I covered here. Or why there is no category for Best Black Alternative or Rock Artist, despite, to Yesha’s point, articles that celebrate this kind of success. Country and rock are Black genres. Why are we not celebrating that more? And why is this not mirrored in award shows?
“There was this one article that, at that time, said, ‘If Lenny Kravitz were white, he would be the next savior of rock ’n’ roll,’” Lenny told Esquire.
My heart breaks for him. Because as someone who is biracial, I completely understand the feeling of being too Black for the white crowd and too white for the Black crowd. Fitting in feels impossible. You often find yourself in this space of nowhere and nothingness and validation and visibility is so hard to come by. And while I’m glad Lenny spent his time in that space honing his craft and establishing his identity, I do wish that this far into his career, he felt more seen and more celebrated – not just from his European audiences but from his Black audiences, too.
And even for people who are not biracial, but struggle to feel welcomed and accepted by people that look like them, like Willow and Jaden Smith and Lil Nas X, and perhaps Tevin Campbell, who spent years hiding his sexuality over the same fear of feeling all of what these stars have, which at its core is unacceptance, my heart breaks for them, too. Because we talk all the time about how we are not a monolith. We talk all the time about the power of our influence. And that power, that influence, and us as Black people can look a million different ways. We can sound a million different ways. And every single look and every single sound is one worth celebrating.