Jovanotti was arguably the most important figure to emerge in Italian pop music since the late '80s. Whereas only a chosen few could match him in terms of achievements and popularity (Ligabue) or domestic record sales (Laura Pausini, Eros Ramazzotti), these have typically worked within fairly canonical genres (rock music, conventional romantic fare), while Jovanotti could also be credited for almost single-handedly introducing rap, funk, and (later in his career) different strands of world music to Italian mainstream audiences. In addition to his seminal, pioneering role in contemporary Italian pop music, few contemporary songwriters can legitimately claim as many entries into the Great Italian Songbook as Jovanotti, who has been steadily penning some of the most beloved Italian songs of the last two decades. Most noteworthy of all, before at least the release of his third or fourth album, the very notion of Jovanotti one day securing a place among the truly great Italian songwriters would have sent virtually everyone -- Jovanotti's many fans included -- into fits of laughter, for his early records were little more than juvenile fodder. Jovanotti's career has been a remarkable tale of artistic growth, of a willingness to improve and transcend boundaries in spite of prejudice or criticism, all the while continuing to make highly entertaining pop music, rather than becoming pompous or abstruse -- like, say, Lucio Battisti. Jovanotti's refreshing, down-to-earth candor has also translated well into his public image, enhanced by his literary excursions, his noted humanitarian work, and his political activism, and has earned him the respect and the affection of the entire Italian music scene and audience, from hardcore rappers (true, more and more begrudgingly, as Jovanotti's mainstream profile rose) to the Sanremo crowd.
Born Lorenzo Cherubini on September 17, 1966 in Rome, Jovanotti spent a considerable amount of time growing up in Cortona, his family hometown in the province of Arezzo, where many years later he would eventually relocate to lead a quiet life with his wife and daughter. Jovanotti caught the music bug from an early age, and while still in his teens began to make a name for himself as a DJ of dance and hip-hop music (the latter a rarity in Italy at the time). Jovanotti's DJ career swiftly blossomed, from local radio in Cortona to discos in Rome and Sardinia. In 1987, the 19-year-old Jovanotti got his first major break when renowned producer and media entrepreneur Claudio Cecchetto asked him to move to Milan and become a fixture of Radio DeeJay. Incidentally, he initially intended to call himself Joe Vanotti; the moniker Jovanotti (which sounds like "giovanotti," Italian for "young people") was the product of a lucky printing mistake on a promo ad.
From this point, things started to happen very quickly for the young DJ infatuated with American rap. A few novelty singles revolving around rap and discos met with unexpected success, leading to the release of Jovanotti's first long-player, Jovanotti for President, in 1988. A hodgepodge of derivative, thin-sounding dance tracks, rap quotations, and enthusiastic calls in broken English, the record was derided by critics but caused quite a stir on the Italian charts, with both "Gimme Five" and "E Qui la Festa?" (not included on the album) reaching the top spot. Jovanotti's meteoric success was compounded with his next single, "La Mia Moto," from the 1989 album of the same name, which he was even asked to perform at the Sanremo Festival. Suddenly, Jovanotti was a star and he was everywhere. He published an instant book, the merrymaking manifesto Yo, Brothers and Sisters; became the first Italian veejay on MTV; and hosted his own TV show, inviting rap giants such as Public Enemy and Run-D.M.C. to Italy for the first time. His first compilation, Jovanotti Special, appeared during the same year, collecting non-album singles and a flurry of recordings released under different names, such as the Indian and Gino Latino. In the media, he became the epitome of unthinking, self-indulgent youth whose only concern was to find out where to find the next party. For all of his rap posturing, however, Jovanotti was never perceived as threatening (perhaps due to his rakish good looks?), but rather as a silly fad, not so much a character out of the Beastie Boys' "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)" than the male equivalent of Cyndi Lauper's protagonist in "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."
Predictably, Jovanotti was deemed a has-been almost as quickly as he had become a star. His third album, 1990's Giovani Jovanotti, was by far his most ambitious to date, boasting a big production and renowned international guests (Billy Preston, Keith Emerson), but most importantly, the first serious attempts to grow out of the apparently incurable puerility of his early work. A combination of initial overexposure and then an absence from the media due to military service did not help matters and the album flopped, even if it included "Gente Della Notte," the first truly great Jovanotti song, and "Ciao Mamma," easily the best of his party tracks. Undaunted, Jovanotti decided to stay on the road to maturity for his next album, 1991's Una Tribù Che Balla, in which he finally managed to make his raps, such as the title track and "Libera l'Anima," sound positively defiant rather than airheaded, while numbers such as "Muoviti Muoviti" hinted at a hitherto unsuspected social and political conscience. Also key was the introduction of bassist Saturnino Celani, who would become Jovanotti's right-hand man for the duration, and together with the singer and guitarist Michele Centonze would gel into a formidable songwriting unit.
If Una Tribù Che Balla returned Jovanotti to the charts and raised a few eyebrows, his next two records forced an entire nation to suspend all former notions about his persona and for the first time begin to take his music very seriously indeed. As if to stress his newfound artistic identity, Jovanotti decided to start designating his albums with his real name, Lorenzo. At this point, Jovanotti had also consolidated around him a tight crew of musicians capable of laying out some serious grooves for his sharper-by-the-day wordplay to shine through, either in the shape of intelligent, sensitive love songs or provocative, insightful agit-pop/rap. The classics began to pile up.
Lorenzo 1992 introduced the timeless joy of "Ragazzo Fortunato" and the lovely "Chissà Se Stai Dormendo," while the blockbuster Lorenzo 1994 brought "Penso Positivo," "Piove," and, most of all, the stunning encapsulation of modern romance of "Serenata Rap." The song deservedly became a monster hit in Italy, and its accompanying video became one of the year's most played by MTV Latin America and MTV Europe, giving Jovanotti his first taste of significant international exposure. Accordingly, his tours grew bigger and more prestigious, and he also began to command the respect of his peers, as demonstrated by a 1992 joint Italian tour with Luca Carboni, a 1993 collaboration with Gianna Nannini for her hit single "Radio Baccano," and a 1994 European tour with Pino Daniele and Eros Ramazzotti. Lorenzo 1994 was also the first album released through Jovanotti's own label, Soleluna, which soon morphed into a multimedia outlet for all Jovanotti and friends-related artistic or humanitarian endeavors. The superb compilation Lorenzo 1990-1995 (revealingly omitting any tracks from his first two albums) closed the book on this second phase of Jovanotti's career, and in its two new tracks, "L'Ombelico del Mondo" and "Marco Polo," pointed at more changes to come.
Partly recorded in South Africa, Lorenzo 1997: L'Albero unequivocally signaled Jovanotti's conversion into a global citizen. After spending most of the past two years traveling all over the world, and in particular Cuba, South America, Africa, the Middle East, and India, Jovanotti attempted to put his experiences into use and give his sound and ideas a world music makeover. The album's standout single, "Bella," a singalong to end all singalongs and a serious contender for best Jovanotti song ever, also showed that, for all of the new influences, his pop instincts remained as flawless as usual. A book recounting his travels, Il Grande Boh!, met with favorable reviews and excellent sales. More concise than the ambitious sprawl of L'Albero, Lorenzo 1999: Capo Horn contained the strongest set of pop songs of any Jovanotti album, including three unassailable singles: the to-die-for lullaby for his first baby girl "Per Te," the gorgeous "Stella Cometa," and the blissfully effervescent "Un Raggio di Sole."
Perhaps his sunniest, most joyful work, Capo Horn became another phenomenal success, but it was also the last record to feature Michele Centonze, whose instrumental, and specially compositional, input would be undeniably missed in the future. Also in 1999, Jovanotti joined rock stars Ligabue and Piero Pelù for the antiwar charity single "Il Mio Nome è Mai Più," with all profits going to the Italian ONG Emergency. Boasting a video directed by Oscar winner Gabriele Salvatores, it became the biggest-selling single of the year. Jovanotti continued his increasingly high-profile political activism with the controversial singles "Cancella il Debito," presented at Sanremo, and "Salvami," the leading track from Lorenzo 2002: Il Quinto Mondo. The album showcased Jovanotti's affinity for Latin American music, and also expanded his sound to incorporate a 17-member small orchestra.
After 2002, Jovanotti's musical career relented somewhat, busy as he was with a growing number of disparate interests, which included more books, painting, some film roles, Soleluna projects, humanitarian work, and, most of all, his new family. Firmly established as one of the biggest Italian stars of his time, his input as author, contributor, or guest was much sought after by just about every charity cause, journalist, or hit-seeking colleague from across the musical spectrum (Adriano Celentano, Gianni Morandi, Claudio Baglioni, Giorgia, J-Ax, Cesare Cremonini, 883, Jarabe de Palo, Ron, Pino Daniele, Planet Funk, Laura Pausini, Zucchero, Negramaro). His albums -- no longer preceded by "Lorenzo" -- became more few and far between, often alternating with live CD and DVD releases and all sorts of special editions, and were eminently polished affairs rather than new adventures, but his popularity never suffered. In fact, 2008's Safari, led by the title track (winner of the prestigious Mogol songwriting award) and the piano ballad "Per Te," and featuring international guests Ben Harper, Sly & Robbie, Sergio Mendes, and Michael Franti, became one of his biggest sellers, and was even chosen as Best Italian Album of the 2000s in a 2011 poll conducted by Rockol and Fnac.
The 2009 U.S.-only live release Oyeah, documenting a few New York gigs, seemed to reinvigorate his creative drive, in stellar form on the 2010 single "Baciami Ancora" for the Gabriele Muccino film of the same name, and on the sparkling, electronica-tinged Ora (2011). A 2012 compilation especially designed for the U.S. market with producer Ian Brennan offered intriguing reworkings of his recent material. Perhaps even more significantly, it presented the ever restless Jovanotti with a new challenge at last, to make it on the world stage. The truth is, from circa 2000 onward, there was precious little left for Jovanotti to accomplish in Italy, either in artistic or commercial terms. ~ Mariano Prunes