For more than 20 years, Lenny Kravitz has defied the expectations of radio programmers with his mix of psychedelic rock and soul. His newest album, Black and White America, continues in that tradition, hopping between genres and featuring guest spots from Jay-Z, Drake and Trombone Shorty.
In spite of its diverse sonic palette, the album does adhere to a central theme of race in the U.S. Speaking with Weekend Edition Sunday host Audie Cornish, Kravitz says he wrote the title track in response to a TV documentary about negative reactions to President Obama's election.
"It was addressing the fact that these people, these Americans, did not like what America had become — they wanted America to be back the way it was 100 years ago," Kravitz says. "It was quite intense. They even spoke about assassination plots.
"We all know that racism exists, and it's out there, and we're going to bump into it from time to time," he adds. "But to hear people speaking about it with such rage and anger and ignorance ... I was like, 'Really? To that extent?' The song just naturally came out of me."
Taking a socially conscious approach in his lyrics has sometimes gotten Kravitz in trouble with critics who've accused him of putting the message before the music. He says he has never taken that criticism to heart.
"It's funny how, when you put out a positive message, people question it or don't like it, or think that it's old-school," Kravitz says. "I mean, look at the world we're living in — we need all of these things. I choose to be positive and optimistic."