Lenny Kravitz guitar Lenny Kravitz guitar

Someone Actually Told Lenny Kravitz To 'Get Rid Of The Guitar'

Lenny Kravitz is 50. While you ponder that surreal piece of reality that proves Father Time can be a cheeky bastard, it's important to note that the seemingly forever young singer-songwriter-producer, who first hit the scene with his 1989 '60s rock inspired debut Let Love Rule, is still consumed by the music monster. His 10th studio album, Strut, is the first release off of his independent imprint Roxie Records, and it finds Kravitz visiting some familiar and foreign musical territory.

There's the straight ahead Lenny Kravitz classic rock mojo that has helped him sell over 40 million albums. Then there's the surprising slight nods to everything from Duran Duran to Cameo. VIBE sat down with the veteran artist, actor, and father of actress Zoe Kravitz to discuss everything from the eyebrow-raising inspiration behind Strut; the racial politics he had to endure in achieving his full blown rock star cred; and finally gaining acceptance in the black community to what makes Stevie Wonder, Prince and Paul McCartney the ultimate badass musicians.--Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)

VIBE: Listening to some of the songs that have been released off of Strut, there seems to be a lot of things going on. I'm hearing a little Roxy Music meets Duran Duran on "The Chamber" I'm hearing some of that crunchy Lenny Kravitz guitar sound with a wink to the jabbing funk of the Ohio Players and Cameo on the title track "Strut." Were you in a late 70's, early '80s mindset during the recording of this album?

LENNY KRAVITZ: You know what? I didn't think about it, I just played. I create what I hear, but I definitely feel a lot of my high school era on "Strut." Those artist analogies that you mentioned were definitely part of that time. It definitely has a late 70's vibe and an early '80s feel. That time in my life really comes out on this record.

Strut is the first release off of your newly christened independent label Roxie Records, which is named after your late mother and legendary Jefferson's actress Roxie Roker. There is a certain freedom that comes with being independent. Can you describe the experience of owning and operating your own label vs. being on a major like Virgin?

I had great days back in the day with Virgin Records. Throughout my career we worked very well together. But with the way things have been evolving in the last years with technology and what not, I didn't think there was a need for a major label anymore once my contract was up. That I could work independently, set up a label, join forces with a distribution company is great. I always had a hand in the business, but now I can have more freedom with how the business goes and how the money is controlled. That's just the direction today. People are putting out music on their own. Kids are doing it...young bands. It's great for artists to have that control in their own hands.

There is some nasty bass being played on this album, especially on the title track "Strut."

It's just that funk. It's definitely a rock kind of tune, but like you said earlier it's in that Cameo way when they were blending rock and funk really well. It's about catching that groove where you are playing the least amount of notes and just keeping it real sparse. I was going for that space.

I always felt that you being an multi-instrumentalist was the most underrated part of your skill set. Do you get off showing that side of you as a pure player and is there one musician that makes you say, "Shit, I have to go back to the lab?"

First of all, thank you for the compliment. That's my thing. People always ask me why do you record so much by yourself. Are you a control freak? But it's not that at all. I love playing instruments. I have an absolute passion for playing. I wanted to be a studio musician when I was coming out of high school. I used to listen to all the records and read all the liner notes. I knew who played on what record...this drummer, that guitar player, this bassist and keyboardist. That was my whole world. So I was preparing myself to be a studio musician. One of the main guys that would become a big influence on my playing all the instruments is of course Stevie Wonder was a major influence on my drumming. People don't usually know Stevie as a great drummer. But on those records his drumming was so lyrical and beautiful.

I agree. Some of his best work on the drums was on the Innervisions album. He's acting a fool on that one.

Absolutely! And of course Prince who was also a major influence in terms of playing everything on record. And Paul McCartney's first solo album (1970's McCartney)...another guy who could play all the instruments and make it sound like a great band. That's what I was all about. And that's where I'm coming from. I love jumping from one instrument to the next and becoming a different person. Each instrument I play there's a different personality. It's fun...just like acting.

Take me back to your 1989 debut Let Love Rule. It is viewed as a classic album, but a lot of critics tried to pick you apart at that time for wearing the 60's sound of the Beatles and others on your sleeve. As a young artist how did you get through some of that harsh criticism you received early on in your career?

I knew they were tripping. Like any artist, whether it's the Stones or the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix or whoever, I wore my influences on my sleeve no more than any of them. And I wrote my own music. Now it's funny...you see some of my heroes, and I'm not talking shit because I adore them, but you look at a great group like Led Zeppelin and where they got a lot of there stuff from. It wasn't just borrowed, it was very exact. But I wasn't doing that. I had my influences; I was all over the place. The critics would say in one sentence, "Oh, he sounds like Hendrix; he sounds like the Beatles; he sounds like John Lennon; he sounds like this and that." They would name 20 artists that I sounded like, but obviously if you have to name 20 things I got my own sound.

You'd look at reviews back in the day...I saw Bob Marley reviews that were horrible. I can't even say one bad thing about Marley. I've seen Led Zeppelin reviews that were horrible. These are people that you grew up idolizing and then you read these negative reviews. Twenty years later, the music is classic. So it's all about timing. Just do your thing and it will all be revealed.

As a black artist, we all know how much of a battle it has always been in terms of breaking into rock & roll. I can think of yourself, Jimi Hendrix, early Funkadelic, Bad Brains, and Prince as musical figures who defied racial stereotypes and jumped head first into music that was seen in the so called white tradition. How hard was it for you to go to a record label at the start of your career and say, "This is the music I want to do?"

It was very difficult. When I was going around with my music people would say, "Okay, we know you are talented and we want to sign you, but you can't make that music. You got to do this kind of music." Whatever was happening in the R&B world at that time that's what they wanted me to do. I would hear, "You have to get rid of the guitars." But I didn't give in and that's why I didn't get a deal at age 17, 18, 19, or 20. I got my record deal when I was 23 because I waited. I had contracts in my face with a pen like, "Sign this, brother. What's wrong with you? We going to give you all this bread and make you famous."

But I wouldn't do it, and at that time I was living a Ford Pinto. So I don't know what made me hold on. I wanted to be me, but when you are being offered recording deals at 17 and you are living in your car you would think I would be like, "Alright, whatever...I'll make the music y'all want me to make. Let me get this money." But I didn't, and I thank God, because you wouldn't be talking to me today. I would have made one album and it would have been over.

On the flipside, how gratifying was it having records like, "I Belong to You" and "It Over Til' It's Over" become such a huge hits with R&B fans?

It was great to being embraced by the community. Music is for everybody. But hearing my music [on R&B radio stations] that really was a great moment for me.

The word is you were inspired to record a cover of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles "Ooo Baby Baby" for Strut after you heard the song while being in a makeup chair for the Hunger Games: Catching Fire film. What turns you on about that classic Smokey-penned track and if you could have toured with any Motown artist who would it be?

Oh God, the Jackson 5 [laughs]. I actually saw them in '71 at the Garden when I was a kid.

You lost your nappy headed mind didn't you?

Yeah, man. And that was the first concert my dad took me to. I was blown. And you know who opened? The Commodores! They weren't even called the Commodores, yet. [Laughs] I ended up working with Lionel [Richie] years ago and I told him about that show and he was like, "Yeah Lenny...we didn't even have a name." And I chose Smokey's "Ooo Baby Baby" because I heard it that day in the makeup chair and I hadn't heard it years. It was just a reminder of how beautiful it was. It hit me like the first time I was hearing it.

So I'm looking at some of the press photos for Strut. Tell the truth, you are not really 50. You trolling us, right?

[Laughs] Absolutely. Age is all in your head, man. I'm a young man...I'm just getting into my prime. I'm not worried about it. My mom wasn't worried about it; my grandfather wasn't worried about it. My grandfather looked 31 years younger than he was. Like I said, it's all in your head...and in the genes [laughs].

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Let Jacquees Tell It, He’s The Jodeci Of This R&B Game

Rodriquez Jacquees Broadnax doesn’t want to be the bad guy of R&B. He says this with a sinister, yet warm smile. With year-end debates taking over social circles, Jacquees wants all the flowers for his glowing debut, 4275. “I ain't never had a year like this, I got one of those careers and lives that keep going like this,” he says, as he raises his iced out wrist to draw his progression. “It keeps going up, my sh*t just keeps going up.”

At 24 years old, the singer knows a thing or two about the ever-changing genre. Nearly half of his life has been dedicated to music, specifically to quiet storm-like sounds that now take on new meaning in our adult love lives. He’s hibernated under the radar for some time with his 2014 debut EP 19 and released gentle falsettos and big name features with Chris Brown, Ty Dolla $ign and Trey Songz along the way.

But between his accolades, he’s been condemned for his favorable “Quemix” of Ella Mai’s “Trip” and now, his self-proclaimed status of “The King of R&B” for his generation.

"I just wanna let everybody know that I'm the king of R&B right now," Jacquees said in an Instagram post on Sunday (Dec. 9). "For this generation, I understand who done came and who done did that and that and that, but now it's my time. Jacquees, the king of R&B.”

R&B artists like J. Holiday and Pleasure P shared their two cents on the matter while the game’s most elite like Tank, Tyrese and Eric Bellinger dropping stacks of knowledge on the gift of consistency, respect, and talent. But Jacquees has these things and then some with legends like Jon B., Donell Jones and Jermaine Dupri in his corner. Despite quick reactions from his peers, Jacquees is confident in nature and proud of his space in the game.

“I think I'm the leader though, as far as males go, I think I'm the number one,” he tells VIBE, just days before his “King of R&B” comments went viral. “You're talking about R&B young dudes who understand who goin’ [at] it, [but] who are they going to put in the front? I believe everyone will say Jacquees.”

Jacquees’ music is just a branch of what R&B has evolved into. Over the years, artists like SZA, H.E.R., Daniel Caesar, The Internet, Miguel and many more have flipped the genre on its head by churning out music that not only speaks to the soul, but to their vocal abilities. Successful R&B records aren’t confined to rap guest verses and traditional instruments now take center stage. But Jacquees sits in an interesting space seeing as his style caters to a grey area of folks who just heard their first Monica album yesterday and now appreciate a good nayhoo like the rest of us.

With hopes to release his sophomore album in February 2019, Jacquees chats with VIBE about his confidence, making 7275 and why he’s the perfect leader for R&B today.

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What have you learned about yourself as a human and an artist in 2018?

Jaquees: This was my biggest year. I made the most money I’ve ever made. I dropped my album and was able to take care of my family. I ain’t never had a year like this and I thank God for that. I got one of those careers and lives that keep going like this, (slowly raises a hand to the ceiling) It keeps going up, my sh*t just keeps going up.

I think I learned about my whole self in 2018. Being that it was my biggest year, I went through a lot of stuff personally, but I think the biggest thing for me was listening to other people but also trusting myself. I have a strong mind so more of listening to myself helped.

Do you think you're the good guy or the bad guy in R&B?

Who do you think I am?

I think you’re a sweetie.

I don’t wanna be the bad guy, I’m a good guy. I’m easy to deal with. I’m a sweetie, but ain’t sh*t sweet though. (Laughs)

You have a lot of ‘90s and 2000s influence in your music. Do you ever feel you might sound dated, or do you think you’re bringing new sounds into the genre?

I just think I'm bringing a whole new sound. When I was younger, someone told me if you switch up what you’re doing, someone else is going to do it and you’re going to be pissed off. Just stick with it. When I was 14, everyone was telling me I needed to make club records but I didn’t want to do it. I remember CEOs saying, “Just let Jacquees do that [what he wants,]” because it’s a clock.

I figured out how to get my records at the club without changing who I was. I remember making “B.E.D.” and finding my flow on my project 19, you know? That’s when I got my swag.

What does love look like to you right now?

I think about a family. I think about me, a girl, a kid or something, like a whole family. One day I’m going to have it. I’ll still be in the game but I’ll say, “Yeah, that’s my wife over there with our son and daughter.” I'm getting older, too. I’ve been in the game for 10 years for real, but I’ll be 25 next year and soon they’ll be a little Jacquees.

There are a lot of layers in today’s R&B, especially in the mainstream resurgence it’s had. In that, there aren’t as many young male black vocalists being pushed to the forefront. I want to know your thoughts on where you exist in the genre today.

I think there's a big wave coming back right now because even if R&B didn't die down they weren’t promoting it that heavy. Artists were making songs, they just weren’t being acknowledged on a mainstream level. I think the game is really putting R&B back on top. You know, you’ve got artists like me, Tory [Lanez], Ella Mai, H.E.R., so many people, you know what I’m saying? Of course, you had Chris [Brown], Trey [Songz], all of them but that’s when we were in school. It’s a new time, ain’t no big male R&B singers.

I think I'm the leader though, as far as males go, I think I'm the number one. You're talking about R&B young dudes who understand who goin’ [at] it, [but] who are they going to put in the front? I believe everyone will say Jacquees. They’re not rugged like me. You’ve got Jodeci and Boyz II Men. I’m Jodeci, they’re all Boyz II Men. I’m street, they’re not street like me. You can hear it in their voice. There’s a difference.

It’s no disrespect to nobody because they’re all my friends, but I still wanna be number one. If we’re playing the game and I lose, I’ll be mad as hell but I’m still a good person. I just want to win.

As you should. Everyone wants to make the best music they can–

But I ain’t no hater either. The game is like a sport. The game is like high school. I remember being at this year’s BET Awards and seeing certain singers and thinking, ‘Oh, they’re seniors.’ I knew I was a freshman, but I saw Meek and all of them thought, “He’s a senior.’ You know how it is when you walk through school in the first year. Then the second you’re like, “I’m the ni**a now.”

When I did the Soul Train Awards in November, I felt like a sophomore that everybody knew. They knew me from my freshman year, but this time I’m playing varsity.

You’ve said before you want to do this for a long time–

Yeah, I want to make music forever and it’s my choice. I want to make enough money for me to turn down shows because now, I have to take everything I get. I always tell artists, you got this much time to make this much money. Because after that, sh*t’s closed. I've seen it happen.

For me, I know I got longevity in this game because I'm an R&B singer and a lot of R&B singers have longevity if you take care of yourself, you know what I'm saying? Even rappers, you know what I'm saying? You keep that flow going, don't do no lame sh*t, you know you’re stick around.

How do you take care of yourself?

You gotta take care of your health. That's number one. Your mind and your health is your biggest thing. Keeping good people around you...stay in good spirits with me. I like to keep good people around me. I like people around me [who] make me laugh. Smile, I don't really like people around me that I got to be like, “What's going on?” I just like people who are themselves.

Stream 4275 below.

READ MORE: Tyrese, Usher And Others Reacts To Jacquees' Claim That He's The King Of R&B

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Music Sermon: The Groundbreaking Sprite and St. Ides Hip-Hop Campaigns

Today, rap music is used to sell everything from electronics to tax filing services to nut butter grinding machines at Whole Foods. We understand that hip-hop culture is essentially the root of everything cool and hip in culture, period, and it’s been commodified and appropriated within an inch of its life. But in the early ‘90s, the genre was far from Madison Avenue-friendly. Aside from the groundbreaking deal between Adidas and RUN DMC, brands didn’t yet see full value and impact of hip-hop…except in the food and beverage industry.

Beverage companies centering campaigns for the urban demo around black music was nothing new; Coca-Cola had ads featuring artists such as New Edition and Anita Baker singing their hearts out for the cola in the ‘80s, and Schlitz Malt Liquor had a legendary – and hilarious - run of spots featuring The Commodores, The Four Tops, Teddy Pendergrass and more through the ‘70s and early ‘80s. However, in the early ‘90s two brands put their entire business on hip-hop’s back, by not only building their brands but spring-boarding the recognition of the music and artists as a marketing and advertising tool: Sprite soda and St. Ides malt liquor.

In the ‘80s, Sprite was languishing behind competitor 7Up when parent company Coca-Cola decided to focus on the youth market, and the quickly growing hip-hop culture was part of the strategy. African-American ad agency Burrell Communications tagged hip-hop acts for a series of spots that began a long-standing marriage between the brand and the culture, starting with Kurtis Blow in 1986. It was one of the first national TV ads to feature a rapper.

KURTIS BLOW - 1986

In 1990, the brand kicked off the “I Like the Sprite in You” campaign, using rap acts that matched the soft drink’s bubbly energy, starting with Heavy D & the Boyz before partnering with Kid ’n Play the following year. The ads featured the artists clad in lemon-lime fare, rhymin’ about lymon.

HEAVY D - 1990 KID’N PLAY – 1991

With Kris Kross, they turned it up a notch and had us crunk inside the Sprite can. Edgy. Also, this was catchy as hell.

KRIS KROSS - 1993

Then in 1994, a young brand manager from Clark Atlanta University named Darryl Cobbin had an idea for a new direction: Gen X was about authenticity and independence of thought, not following the hype. Sprite ditched the pop-friendly crossover acts and identified more “authentic” rap artists – lyricists with street and cultural cred – to rep the brand. “Lymon” was also out of the window, as they moved away from marketing taste and towards marketing attitude. (Cobbin later spearheaded the iconic, yet grammatically questionable, Boost Mobile “Where You At?” campaign.)

Gone were the bright yellow and green sets, because while the new slogan said, “Image is nothing,” it was all about image. Bright and shiny was traded for dark and gritty. Now we were in the studio; a fly on the wall for freestyle sessions. In the first spot of the series with Grand Puba and Large Professor, Puba closes with “First thing’s first, obey your thirst.” It’s legend even within Coca-Cola that Puba ad-libbed the phrase that then became the brand’s tagline that remains to this day.

GRAND PUBA & LARGE PROFESSOR - 1994 PETE ROCK & CL SMOOTH – 1994 A TRIBE CALLED QUEST – 1994

The “Obey Your Thirst” spots also took us the street corner, the club, and inside the ring when Sprite resurrected the legendary KRS One vs. MC Shan battle.

KRS ONE & MC SHAN - 1996 NAS & AZ – 1997 THE LOST BOYS – 1997

By the late ‘90s Sprite had spent roughly $70M on the “Obey Your Thirst” campaign, tripled sales, and commanded a majority market share of the citrus category (which also included 7Up, Sierra Mist, and Mountain Dew).

Sprite had also succeeded in becoming an official and established part of the culture. They were family. The brand further expanded into urban youth culture through a partnership with the NBA, while continuing to evolve the creative of the rap campaigns.

KOBE BRYANT, TIM DUNCAN & MISSY ELLIOTT – 1998

Near the end of the decade, Sprite explored the overlap between hip-hop culture, comics and martial arts with a series of posse spots based on Voltron (representing all hip-hop regions) and the 5 Deadly Venoms (with all female emcees).

VOLTRON SERIES - 1998 5 DEADLY VENOMS SERIES – 1999

Over the years, Sprite has continued to be one of the most consistent brands in hip-hop. We’ve grown accustomed to spotting the logo everywhere from music festivals and shows to the background of BET’s hip-hop cyphers. They revitalized the “Obey Your Thirst” campaign with Drake in 2010 and paid homage to the greatest lyricists in rap with the “Obey Your Verse” campaign featuring iconic rappers and cans with classic lyrics in 2015.

SPRITE "Obey Your Verse - Cooler" (starring Rakim) from SHOUT IT OUT LOUD MUSIC on Vimeo.

St. Ides’ run with hip-hop doesn’t have the same happy ending as Sprite’s. The brand’s usage of rap petered out in the mid-90s after wide backlash and a series of lawsuits.

For St. Ides, hip-hop was the brand campaign. It’s how they built their business. The brand was introduced in 1987 and their rap campaigns launched in 1988. The malt liquor 40 oz., with significantly higher alcohol content than beer at around a $2 price point, was already a staple in lower-income neighborhoods and hip-hop culture. The “Crooked I” capitalized on that.

Parent company McKenzie River secured Ice Cube as their anchor spokesperson and tapped West Coast producer DJ Pooh to spearhead advertising creative. Pooh lined up a veritable who’s who of additional West Coast rappers over the years, including Geto Boys, Cypress Hill, Warren G, Snoop and Tupac; plus the thorough-est from the East, including Eric B and Rakim, Wu-Tang Clan, Biggie and EPMD.

EPMD & ICE CUBE - 1991 GETO BOYS & ICE CUBE – 1992 ERIC B & RAKIM - 1992

Unlike Sprite’s campaigns which were first jingles and still felt like commercials, even when elevated to trading hot bars for Obey Your Thirst. St. Ides spots, however, looked and felt like straight up music videos with album-worthy production and flow.

ICE CUBE – 1993 MC EIHT – 1994 NOTORIOUS B.I.G. – 1995

Complex even named Wu-Tang’s St. Ides spot “Shaolin Brew” as one of the collective’s 100 best songs! (But at least it’s ranked near the bottom; #97.)

WU-TANG CLAN - 1995

In fact, in 1994, the brand did turn the hottest of the joints into an album, with the St. Ides promotional mixtape dropping at your neighborhood liquor store. It featured full-length songs about getting twisted off the malt liquor from Ice Cube, Wu-Tang Clan, Scarface, MC Eiht, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Nate Dogg.

The Snoop and Nate track is low key a jam, still. Homegirl in the background starting at the 10-second mark is a whole mood.

This blatant marketing of malt liquor directly to black and brown youth wasn’t going to go unchecked indefinitely. It was all irresponsible, even while being genius for the demo. In 1991, the Wall Street Journal listed the St. Ides ad campaign among one of the worst of the year, which probably didn’t matter at the time since WSJ readers weren’t St. Ides’ base.

In 1991, Public Enemy released Apocalypse ’91: The Empire Strikes Back. The album featured “100 Bottle Bags,” a direct criticism against malt liquor companies marketing specifically to urban communities “…but they don’t sell that sh*t in the white neighborhoods.” Shortly after the release, St. Ides found itself in Chuck D’s crosshairs, and he fired the first in a series of big shots against the brand, marking the beginning of the end of their love affair with hip-hop. An 80-second radio spot featuring Cube used a sample of Chuck’s voice without his permission. The ad had already aired over 500 times on rap radio shows when Chuck sued St. Ides parent company McKenzie River for five million dollars (they settled out of court).

Then, St. Ides and McKenzie River fell under legal scrutiny from the New York State Attorney General in 1992 for using verbiage like Cube’s lyric “Get your girl in the mood quicker, make your jimmy thicker…St. Ides.” to suggest the malt liquor increased sexual prowess. Can you imagine the think pieces if that spot ran today?

They were later in hot water with the New York AG’s office again, along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco (the ATF) for advertising perceived to the be targeted towards minors, with complaints that it glamorized gang affiliation and promoted sex. After having production completely shut down for a short while and getting hit with heavy fines, St. Ides tried to clean up its act, adding “drink responsibly” messaging into the spots.

By ’96 the run was over. Hip-hop was growing up, getting money and moving towards more sophisticated alcoholic beverage choices. Alizé and Hennessy, anyone?

The relationship between hip-hop and alcohol never ended, of course, but has continued to evolve to match the evolution of the lifestyle. We don’t go to the corner store no more, homie (save a brief return in the early aughts of Four Loko). We’re toasting to the good life with premium brands, some of which are now owned by the artists.

We can look back now with the wizened, woke eyes of maturity and possibly scrutinize our artists selling out at the expense of the community, but for the young and burgeoning hip-hop culture, both the St. Ides campaigns and the Sprite campaigns opened the door for the power and commodification of hip-hop and consumer brands. For better or for worse.

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J.Cole, Teyana Taylor And Other Snubs Of The 2019 Grammy Nominations

It's that time of year again when inner circles and strangers on the Internet debate who's up for a gramophone.

On Friday (Dec. 7), the nominees for 2019's Grammy Awards (Feb. 10) were announced to a span of hot takes, early but informed predictions, and a wall of confusion as to why certain artists were overlooked. While some entertainers excitedly received the good news (Cardi B discovered her nods while leaving a courthouse), others were left scratching their heads.

Here's a look at why those who were snubbed by the Recording Academy deserved to be nominated.

READ MORE: Drake, Kendrick Lamar, And Cardi B Lead 2019 Grammys Nominations

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