For some people, the name Lenny Kravitz is forever linked to the erotic charge of the video for FlyAway: in 1999, this track was played everywhere —on all the radio and music channels. For critics, it is the name of a talented artist at times guilty of self-celebratory hedonism. Lenny Kravitz, multi-instrumentalist, writer, singer, producer and showman, has revised his image throughout his career. At the age of fifty-four, he is taking Rise Vibration, his eleventh album, on a world tour.
He debuted in 1989 with Let the love rule, a fusion of rock’n’roll and psychedelia. Kravitz was hailed as the possible heir to Prince, with his hippy references and nostalgia from the Seventies. He wrote Justify my love for Madonna, divorced from Lisa Bonet, Denise from The Robinsons. The feather and chenille boas started to itch a bit and so he swapped them for a harder image and music in 1991 with the album Mama Said, more akin to Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley—from whom he borrowed his long untidy dreads. His mainstream vocation reappeared in 1993 with Are you gonna go my way, and the title track was to become the most played track on MTV that year. With Circus (1995) his tongue was firmly planted in his cheek and in 1998 the tracks Fly Away, If you can’t say no and I belong to you on the album 5 were decidedly radio-oriented. A sentimental bad boy, a rocker who knows how to please his public with trip-hop pieces that are not out of place on summer dance music shows (in Italy he appeared on Festivalbar). Grammies and gold discs with little variation in the formula, at least until It’s time for a love revolution (2008) and Black and White America (2012), albums that marked a rediscovery of his Afro-American roots and were accompanied by an image that alternated lightness with a sexiness that is however tamed, coherent with the evolution of a man who has meanwhile become an adult.
Film roles—in Hunger Games he is Cinna, the stylist assigned to Jennifer Lawrence. Interiors—with the brand Kravitz Design in 2003: the tiles from his Goccia collection were presented at the Salone del Mobile in Milan. He dabbles in photography, observing work by his father, a CNBC reporter: his exhibition Assemblage tells the tale of glam party nights at his home in Los Angeles, in the style of Olivier Zham, with a vintage touch in Studio 54 style—collaboration with Dom Perignon is a consequence from these photos, and takes Kravitz into creative direction of the French miason —helped by a meeting with the chef de Cave, Richard Geoffroy. This year, Kravitz designs and lends his name to a limited edition bottle.
Kravitz’s concerts worldwide and the artistic fusion of his talents lead to reflection, past and future, on how much is described today by the expression Black Community: an intellectual elite that guides economics and customs in this media civilization of consumption. Argument will be relative: we could consider Puff Daddy as the first black rap rhythm&blues musician to base a business (not just fashion or clothes) on his fame and his taste, on the attitude shown by his facial and colloquial expressions, on his purchases, on his origins rather than on his home interiors, on his friendships. After being sacked by Uptown Records, where he worked as a talent scout, he started up his own label, Bad Boy Records. He is not a star, but he staysd the boy next door who came from the street and never turned his back on the street even as he became rich—not famous, but rich: this distinction is necessary for the evolution of the American dream.
Gangsta rap, Snoop Dogg baseball shirt—All Eyez on Me by 2pac was the highest selling album in the United States in 1996. This was also when the first women rappers started to emerge: in 1992 Mary J Blige sang Real Love, in ’97 Missy Elliot released Rain. As far as the world could see, the poles of the black community went from Will Smith, The Prince of Bel Air wearing Air Jordan on the Red Carpet at the Grammy Awards at one end and the shootings in New York or Las Vegas at the other, in which 2pac and Norotious B.I.G. were killed. A minority sub-culture that in any case did not take themselves seriously. They sold records and today they sell music, the kids on the Upper East Side dress like Pharrell Williams, with mass market brands in the department stores below Tribeca—Nike and Adidas go from being accessories and sportswear to become items that define a sense of belonging that is, if not cultural, at least musical—which for those who feel young is the same thing. The prices rise.
Feminine aesthetics. In January 2019, Naomi Campbell attends the Louis Vuitton menswear runway show. This is the second show by Virgil Abloh for the leading luxury brand in terms of turnover—(Louis Vuitton makes more than 10 billion euros a year, Gucci about 6). Abloh’s nomination was already a confirmation of the black supremacy partially explained here when, six months before, in June, his hug with Kanye West had garnered applause with pundits—but the arrival of Naomi in January is the nemesis of another strong point: beauty. The photographers all immortalized her arrival—dressed all in white, jacket and trousers, with eye-catching golden highlights in a tousled short cut, a wig perhaps for the cameras—and it could be Whitney Houston sitting in Naomi’s front row seat. The two women were friends—colored girls would have been proud of every detail of their appearance, of those virtues that some still reduce to defects. Houston, as a rhetoric of herself, winning the Oscar in a video where she humiliates Mariah Carey, a precursor of the meme (take a look on YouTube and check out what happens from 2’46”) calling other black women to join her up on stage, looking for new voices. At her funeral Alicia Keys on the piano. The Black Community has always been based on musical talent and this is why the Kardashian sisters are still standing in the wings in the reflected glory of a spouse. From Stevie Wonder to John Legend, the requisites are there for all to see.
Edward Enninful was behind the first cover of a Vogue edited by a black journalist, which featured Adwoa Aboah. Like Abloh, this was formal confirmation of the entire elite. Valentino repeated with a refrain on what was invented by Cristobal Balenciaga, adding details from the Seventies by Saint Laurent—like poetry recited at school for top marks—the fuchsia cape worn by Adut Akech. Pharrell signs up as external collaborator with Chanel—a first.
Financial power. Drake beats the record of 50 billion streams in 2018. Performed with a bandana on his head, a dance move or two, his arms swinging to the rhythm, In My Feelings is a cause for flash mobs and hordes of copycat videos. A closet full of Hermès bags that Drake collects for his future wife. The rumors about a story between Drake and Rihanna, performing a Sam Smith’s song and never mind the voice quality, but counting on an attitude that is the public translation of total self-confidence. The embodiment of the market: if Drake posted on his account for promo reasons, like an aimless influencer, he would lose his street cred. Highsnobiety chronicles the Drake’s career like a fanzine would do. Highsnobiety is not a newspaper, it cannot be called merely a blog—it is just a media, stemming from an idea by David Fischer. A media, we repeat, is not a newspaper; it is a generator of content that cannot be described as editorial articles, but content for digital use, socials mainly, entertainment, to be declined or evolved with purpose of branding or publicity. You could well ask if Drake were part of the Highsnobiety stockholding, and this is only a hypothesis that potentially assesses the entrepreneurial supremacy of this Black Community. Beyoncé and Jay-Z together are worth about 1.3 billion dollars, more than anybody else in the entire music business and not so much less that a multinational quoted on the stock exchange, like Prada for example. The latest performance by Beyoncé at Coachella 2018 earned her three million dollars for a two-hour performance. Each of her albums brings in 26 million from streaming alone—no Spotify for the Carter couple, on Tidal, which Jay-Z bought out for 56 million dollars. And which, today, is worth 600 million.
Assemblage. Kravitz tells the story in images of a night—with celebs, music and Dom Perignon – in his private villa in Los Angeles. Photos in color or black and white: the contrasts remain, cancel out the chiaroscuro, exaggerating the grey scales, boosting the saturation. They are frames of American beauty, like this short article, like a gym session in the Bronx before last night’s Met in New York.
Thanks go to Anna Maria Giano for her contribution to the research