September 26th, 2012
03:00 PM ET
Jovanotti may be the biggest name in Italian music that you've never heard of - until now.
The star, whose real name is Lorenzo Cherubini, is bringing his unique blend of orchestral pop and hip-hop to the United States for the first time in his 25-year career. His newest work, "Italia 1988-2012," is his first official U.S. album release.
The album represents a longtime love affair with New York. He moved there recently, and his newest track is called “New York for Life."
“New York is a special town…there is so much energy," Jovanotti tells CNN. "In the morning I take my daughter to school, and this town wakes up and it’s like a monster waking up. It’s incredible. It’s true what Frank Sinatra says, 'If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.'"
It comes as no surprise, then, that Jovanotti’s first hip-hop experience came from a New York-based group: “The Beastie Boys really changed my life. Before them, I was just a listener of music. Before them, I didn’t think to be a musical artist. I listened to them and said, 'Oh yeah, this is what I want to do.'"
Jovanotti took that thought and ran with it, becoming the first big hip-hop star in Italy in the '80s, when most Italians had never even heard of the genre. “I was doing rap when people in Italy didn’t know what I was doing ... it was a music bomb. Because it was so different, all the young people went crazy. Italian artists usually talk about love. I was talking about the beat.”
Since then, he’s achieved full-blown rock star status in much of Europe. His 2011 album, "Ora," debuted at No. 1 in Italy and went on to become the best-selling album of the year. He sold out concerts at more than 50 arenas and stadiums, and he’s been on the cover of the Italian versions of Rolling Stone, GQ and Vanity Fair.
In a sense, Jovanotti is starting from scratch in the U.S. Even though he’s sold more than a dozen No. 1 albums, he’s still somewhat unknown in the States, but that doesn’t bother him.
“Here I am, Mr. Nobody," he joked with CNN. "And that’s cool, that’s fun .. when I play in a football stadium, I am not taller. I am not bigger when I play in a bigger place ... If I play to 100 people, I am always me. If I play to 100,000 people, I am always me.”
And to that end, Jovanotti is more than a musician - he’s also an activist. He just performed at a benefit concert for victims of a recent earthquake in Northern Italy, and he partnered with U2’s Bono on a debt relief campaign for various countries in Africa. He chose this campaign, in part, because of the influence African music has had on him.
“My music would not exist without African culture. Western culture would not exist without the African influence, and we didn’t give back anything for the rhythm that we stole," Jovanotti said.
When asked about the experience of helping those in Africa, he added that the "debt campaign brought big achievements. There are more children going to school in several countries. There are less people in extreme poverty."
Jovanotti believes that music can also bring about great change in the world. “A good song is the best thing for helping the world. The best thing for an artist is to be a good artist. If you are not a good artist, you can say whatever you want, and no one will listen.”
Jovanotti is currently touring the U.S., and plans to release a new album later this year.
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