The award-winning musician and actor reflects on life, love and breaking down barriers in PEOPLE's latest cover story
It's been 35 years since Lenny Kravitz burst onto the music scene with his debut single and album Let Love Rule.
“It seems like lifetimes ago, but then again, it seems like yesterday,” the 4-time Grammy winner and actor, 59, tells PEOPLE in this week's cover story, kicking off Black History Month.
The rock star is gearing up to release his twelfth studio album on May 24, following his internet-breaking music video for latest single "TK421", but he can still recall the uphill battle he faced to get his music to the masses.
When he first began shopping his rock music to labels in the '80s, naysayers felt that as a Black artist, he didn't fit the bill.
“I was told my music wasn’t Black enough or wasn't white enough," says the New York City native, whose late mom, Jeffersons star Roxie Roker, was Bahamian American, while his dad, NBC producer Sy Kravitz, was Ukrainian Jewish.
When it came to the eclectic musical interests he pursued, "[record labels] said I had to make a choice, but I never did."
Specifically, Kravitz says "I was told that I need to make the music that Black people commercially are making that's on the radio, so you'll have success. And I just could never get with any of that. I was going to make the music that I made."
With Let Love Rule, what he made was an album inspired by his diverse influences, from his parents' friend Duke Ellington and The Jackson 5 to Led Zeppelin and then-partner, Cosby Show actress Lisa Bonet.
"The inspiration was everything that I'd learned from a child to then musically. Blues, gospel, jazz, reggae, pop, R&B, rock and roll, everything. Mixed with the world that [daughter] Zoë's mom and I were creating. Our world, our family, our circle of friends, just peace and love and spirit. And that's what came out."
The star recently made headlines for noting the lack of recognition his music has received from Black awards shows, but he says his point was that Black is not a monolith, and rock and roll isn’t a White art form.
What sparked his love for Zeppelin, for instance, “was the power of Black music like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, electrified by these British musicians who understood the origin and made it louder and more intense,” he says. "When I heard it, this vortex opened up.”
Adds Kravitz, "We have to remember that and retain our heritage and our creations."
These days Kravitz, who's set to receive the People's Music Icon Award at this year's People's Choice Awards along with the Recording Academy's Global Impact Award, presented by the The Black Music Collective, says he's more inspired than ever, by his past, his present and his future.
"It's sort of amazing to me that I could be where I am now and feel fresh and hungry." Asked what the best part is about being a bona fide rock star he says, "This is who God created me to be. I'm just trying to walk in that destiny."
For more on Lenny Kravitz's life and other Black History Month stories, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, available on newsstand everywhere Friday.
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