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Simmons, Russell

Simmons, Russell

October 4, 1957 New York New York

Business executive

Russell Simmons heads an empire built by rap music. As cofounder of the pioneering record label Def Jam in the 1980s, he helped launch the careers of a number of important artists, such as Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys. His empire includes a clothing line and even an energy drink, but it is his social activism that has caused some to say he might one day make an ideal mayor of New York City. Simmons is often described as the man who made black urban culture a part of the mainstream, but Newsweek 's Johnnie L. Roberts noted that "in the view of many, he is now emerging as potentially the most credible and effective leader of the post-civilrights generation."

Neighborhood was on borderline of rough

Russell Simmons was born in 1957 in Jamaica, a part of Queens in outer New York City. He was the second of three sons in his family, and both his parents were graduates of Howard University in Washington, D.C. His father was a teacher who eventually became a professor of black history at Pace University, and his mother worked for the New York City Parks Department as a recreation director.

The Simmons family moved to the Hollis neighborhood of Queens when Simmons was eight years old. Their home was near a corner that was a known meeting place for drug users and their dealers. His older brother, Danny, was pulled in by the scene and became a heroin addict. Russell seemed headed down a similarly sad road. He began selling marijuana while still in middle school, and for a time was a member of a local gang called the Seven Immortals. When he was sixteen, he shot at someone who tried to rob him. He was arrested twice on other charges and received a term of probation. Danny, however, wound up serving a stint in jail for drug use.

"Black culture or urban culture is for all people who buy into it and not just for black people. Whether it's film or TV or records or advertising or clothing, I don't accept the box that they put me in."

In 1975, when he was eighteen, Simmons began taking classes at Manhattan City College. He found a job at an Orange Julius outlet in Greenwich Village, but at some point he also financed his club-going lifestyle by selling fake cocaine. If he was caught by the police, he reasoned, he was not doing anything illegal, but Simmons of course faced a bigger threat from angry customers. During these years he hung out at the dance clubs of New York's outer boroughs, where the music was predominantly disco. But then a new movement filtered in, one that had come out of the roughest Bronx and Harlem neighborhoods: performers sang their own rhymes over a classic track, such as "Flashlight" from George Clinton (1941). Simmons was at one such club in 1977 when he saw how wild the crowd went over one song from an early rapper and DJ named Eddie Cheeba, and he decided that this was the sound of the future.

His future, in particular. Simmons quit the fake drug business, and eventually left City College just a few credits short of a degree in sociology. He began promoting concerts, and then formed his own management company for artists, which he called Rush Management, after his childhood nickname. Some of the first rap songs ever played on radio were from his acts, including "Christmas Rappin'" from Kurtis Blow (1959). He also managed Whodini, but it was the group that his teenaged brother, Joey (1964), joined back in Hollis that put Simmons and his company on the map.

Krush Groove

The 1985 film Krush Groove was loosely based on Russell Simmons's life up until that point. It featured an array of top music acts from the era, from Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys to LL Cool J and a young Bobby Brown when he was still a member of New Edition. It was directed by Michael Schultz (1938), who made two earlier cinematic classics of African American urban life, Cooley High and Car Wash. Simmons was one of the film's producers.

Two decades after its release, Krush Groove has become a cult classic, a snapshot of the early days of rap music when cultural critics and record company executives predicted the style was simply a fad. A then-unknown actor named Blair Underwood (1964) was cast in the role of New York City music promoter Russell Walker, owner of the label Krush Groove. One of his acts has a surefire hit, but Walker does not have the funds to press the records, and enters into a dangerous financial arrangement with local drug dealers and loan sharks. He also battles with one of his stars over another artist, Sheila E. (1957), whom both want to date. The plot of the movie, however, was beside the point: Simmons wanted to showcase the array of young talent emerging from New York's black music scene, and depict its vibrancy, too.

Launched rap's first serious label

Joey was the "Run" in Run-D.M.C., which had a spare, hardcore style of rapping that was also full of clever humor and incisive social commentary. The group's first single, "It's Like That," was released in 1983 and set the tone for the rest of the decade. Simmons helped make his brother's group immensely successful, especially after he teamed with a white college student from Long Island, Rick Rubin (1963), to launch Def Jam Records in 1985. With their first office located in Rubin's dormitory room at New York University, they emerged as the first big players on the rap music scene. The label's first single was from LL Cool J (1968), "I Need A Beat," and helped bring Simmons and Rubin a distribution deal with CBS Records.

During the mid-1980s Simmons became known for his sharp ear and ability to predict the next big thing in music. He helped bring the Beastie Boys to a wider audience, and even revived the careers of the fading rock act Aerosmith, when Run-D.M.C. covered their 1975 hit "Walk This Way." The two groups even made a video together, which became a classic of MTV's first decade on the air. As Fast Company writer Jennifer Reingold explained, by 2003 "the marriage of hard rock and rap seems natural, two strands of the same teenage angst and anger. But in the mid-1980s, the idea that black street kids and white suburbanites could like the same music was shocking."

Simmons went on to shepherd such performers as Will Smith (1968), when he was still the rapper known as "Fresh Prince," as well as Public Enemy, to mainstream success. When asked by model/writer Veronica Webb in an article in Interview whether he had "invented" the rap genre, he said no. "I didn't invent it," he explained, "but I was the first to believe that the artist was bigger than the song. Other labels believed that artists only live record to record. I didn't have that disco mentality that you threw the artists away after the song hit." He and Rubin dissolved their business partnership in the late 1980s, but Simmons moved on to conquer audiences elsewhere. He launched Def Comedy Jam, which introduced comedians like Martin Lawrence (1965) and Bernie Mac (1958) in the early 1990s, and it became one of the top-rated shows on HBO. In 1992 Simmons founded Phat Fashions, a clothing line, which began growing at a rate of about thirty percent annually over the next decade.

Expanded empire to serve community

Rush Communications became the umbrella group for all of Simmons's ventures. At one point early in the 2000s, these included an energy soda called DefCon3, a wireless phone he designed for Motorola that sold for $549, a joint venture with a top Manhattan advertising agency, a sneaker company with his brother, and the Rush Card, a prepaid Visa debit card aimed at the forty-five million Americans who do not have checking account or access to credit cards.

Simmons said the idea for the debit card came after someone suggested the idea of a prepaid phone card. While the pitch he heard sounded profitable, it was also a rip-off for the users. "I will turn away a deal.... Because people have dollar signs in their eyes," he told Business Week Online writer David Liss. "Making money is a pedestrian activity. The challenge is in creating a product or service that the world really needs."

As committed as he is to building an empire that keeps him at the top of the lists of black-owned entertainment companies in America, Simmons is also interested in moving forward on several new fronts. He launched the Def Poetry Jam, which was also carried by HBO and even became a Tony-Award-winning Broadway show in 2003, and he serves as board chair of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. The summits are held in various American cities, and mayors regularly appear along with special guests like Snoop Dogg (1972). They aim to raise political awareness among young Americans, and also serve as a voter registration event. The political power that Simmons was suddenly holding brought all the major presidential hopefuls of the Democratic Partyfrom John Kerry (1943) to Al Sharpton (1954)to his summit to discuss issues late in 2003.

Devotee of yoga and Deepak Chopra

Simmons sold his remaining stake in Def Jam in 1999 for $120 million. Four years later, his empire was estimated to be bringing in sales of $530 million annually. Much of that came from his clothing line, which he expanded with his wife, former model Kimora Lee Simmons (1975), to include Baby Phat and Phat Farm Kids. They sold a stake in their company in early 2004 for $140 million, in an attempt to bring it into more department and specialty stores. "When I started," he told New York writer Vanessa Grigoriadis in 1998, "they wanted to put me in the ethnic part of the department store. But Phat Farm's best-selling item is a pink golf sweaterit's not a grass skirt or a dashiki." Since then, Simmons has made Phat Farm competitive with such clothing lines as Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger.

In his 2002 autobiography, Life and Def: Sex, Drugs, Money and God, Simmons recounts his business successes and the personal philosophies that keep him grounded. A vegan, he practices yoga daily and makes all his employees read The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra (1946) and then submit a report on the book. Some of his top executives began as interns at the company long ago. "I surround myself with people that share the same spirituality that I believe in," he told Liss. "People who are focused on living better and not just on being out for themselves. I want to be around people who aren't just money-oriented but are focused on how they can give back to the community."

Simmons enjoys a lifestyle that mirrors that of the most successful of his music legends, but it is also one that puts him in the same categories as corporate New York's biggest players. He has an office on the forty-third floor of a midtown Manhattan skyscraper, spends summer vacations in the Hamptons, and lives with his wife and two young daughters in a 35,000-square-foot mansion in Saddle River, New Jersey. He and his wife hosted a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton (1947) during her successful bid for a New York State Senate seat in 2002, and he has also worked to overturn the harsh New York State statutes known as the Rockefeller drug laws. These date back to 1973 and the term of Governor Nelson Rockefeller (19081979), and force courts to give even first-time drug users long jail terms. Simmons has met with New York Governor George E. Pataki (1945), and has traveled often to the state capital in Albany to convince legislators to replace these laws with more balanced sentencing guidelines.

Governor Pataki is just one of many high-profile New Yorkers who respect Simmons. According to Newsweek 's Roberts, fellow rap mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs (1971) said that "Russell is raising the bar for us with our power to be responsible, not just for ourselves but for our people." Real estate mogul Donald Trump (1946) told Reingold that "I consider him one of the great entrepreneurs out there today. He's a fabulous guy with a tremendous understanding of business."

Simmons is sometimes mentioned as a future New York mayoral candidate, but he claims to have no political ambitionsother than using his platform to raise awareness about timely issues. These range from the war in Iraq to the New York City school budget. "I'm not telling people anything that's a shock," he said in an Inc. interview with Rod Kurtz. "Maybe I'm telling them things they've already heard before. But maybe because of my luck and success, they believe me."

For More Information

Periodicals

Berfield, Susan. "The CEO of Hip Hop; Impresario Russell Simmons Has Brought Urban Style to Mainstream AmericaAnd Helped Other Big Marketers Do The Same. An Inside Look at His Growing Influence." Business Week (October 27, 2003): p. 90.

Espinoza, Galina. "Phat Cats: Russell and Kimora Simmons Are a Volatile DuoBut They're Coolly Confident about Phat Fashions, Their Hot Hip-Hop Clothing Empire." People (July 1, 2002): p. 97.

Greenberg, Julee. "Keeping It Real." WWD (April 10, 2003): p. 6.

Grigoriadis, Vanessa. "Russell Simmons: Hip-Hop Honcho." New York (April 6, 1998). This article can also be found online at http://www.newyorkmetro.com.

Kurtz, Rod. "Russell Simmons." Inc. (April 1, 2004).

Lewis, Miles Marshall. "Russell Simmons's Rap." Nation (January 13, 2003): p. 21.

Liss, David. "Tapping the Spirit of Success; Entrepreneur Russell Simmons Thanks Yoga's Philosophy for Giving Him the Principles to Operate His Ever-Growing Hip-Hop Empire." Business Week Online (January 13, 2004).

Reingold, Jennifer. "Rush Hour." Fast Company (November 2003): p. 76.

Reynolds, J. R. "Rapping with Russell: A Q&A with the CEO." Billboard (November 4, 1995): p. 32.

Roberts, Johnnie L. "Beyond Definition: Through His Def Jam Record Label, Russell Simmons Made Hip-Hop into an Unstoppable Cultural Force. Now He's Turning up the Volume in Politics and Business." Newsweek (July 28, 2003): p. 40.

Roberts, Johnnie L. "Mr. Rap Goes to Washington: Russell Simmons Helped Take Hip-Hop Mainstream. Can He Make Politics Cool?" Newsweek (September 4, 2000): p. 22.

Schlosser, Julie. "Russell Simmons Wants YouTo Vote." Fortune (May 17, 2004): p. 41.

Webb, Veronica. "Happy Birthday to 'Huge Hefner.'" Interview (November 1995): p. 72.

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"Simmons, Russell." UXL Newsmakers. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. 29 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Simmons, Russell 1957–

Russell Simmons
1957

Founder, president, and chief executive officer, Rush Communications of NYC; founder, chairman, and chief executive officer, Phat Fashions; chairman, Def Jam/Def Soul division, Universal Music Group; vice chairman, BET Interactive; director, Brilliant Digital Entertainment

Nationality: American.

Born: October 4, 1957, in New York, New York.

Education: Attended City University of New York, 19751979.

Family: Son of Daniel Simmons (public-school attendance supervisor), and Evelyn (maiden name unknown; recreation director); married Kimora Lee (fashion model); children: two.

Career: Rush Productions/Rush Artist Management, 19771991, president; Def Jam Recordings, 19841999, president; Rush Communications of NYC, 1991, president and chief executive officer; Phat Fashions, 19922004, chief executive officer; 2004, chairman and chief executive officer; Def Jam/Def Soul division, Universal Music Group, 1999, chairman; BET Interactive, 2001, vice chairman; Brilliant Digital Entertainment, 2001, director.

Publications: With Nelson George, Life and Def, 2001.

Address: Rush Communications of NYC, 512 Seventh Avenue, No. 4345, New York, New York 10018.

Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam Recordings and Rush Communications, two highly influential African Americanowned entertainment businesses, was instrumental in bringing rap music into the American mainstream in the 1980s. Simmons's efforts encompassed record labels, artist management, film and television production, advertising, publishing, clothing labels, and other projects. Notable successes include the hit series Def Comedy Jam for HBO, films such as The Nutty Professor, the Phat Farm clothing line, and the discovery and promotion of rap artists such as LL Cool J, Run-DMC, Public Enemy, and Ludacris.

Simmons based his success on introducing trends started among African American youth to a broader audience, and prided himself on retaining this ability even as a middle-aged business leader. He tended to delegate day-to-day management and executive tasks to a handful of trusted advisors, focusing instead on creative and entrepreneurial aspects of his operations. Among the hip-hop community he was regarded as a pioneeran architect of the entire movementand he spawned many imitators.

THE HIP-HOP ENTREPRENEUR

Russell Simmons was born in the Jamaica section of Queens, New York, in 1957 and grew up in the middle-class Hollis neighborhood. Simmons spent part of his youth dabbling in a street gang and dealing marijuana and imitation cocainehis first business. In the late 1970s, intrigued by the new phenomenon of rap music, Simmons formed Rush Productions ("Rush" being a childhood nickname) to promote concerts featuring rap artists in and around New York City.

In 1975 Simmons enrolled at the City College of New York, but he dropped out just shy of graduation as concert promotion grew more lucrative for him. By this time he had formed Rush Artist Management to manage the careers of some of the artists he worked with. The company's roster eventually included many important artists in rap's first wave, including Kurtis Blow, LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, and Run-DMC (featuring Simmons's brother Joey). In 1986 Simmons scored a major coup when Run-DMC released "My Adidas," a single extolling the virtues of the group's favored footwear. Simmons negotiated a multimillion-dollar endorsement deal for Run-DMC with Adidas, the first of many synergies between hip-hop culture and mass-market branding he would engineer.

In 1984 Simmons joined with New York University student Rick Rubin to found Def Jam Recordings, a record label initially run out of Rubin's dorm room. Simmons and Rubin combined their tastes for raw, hard rap music with a strong sense of "street" style, and the duo made Def Jam the first label to successfully introduce hardcore rap into the American mainstream. In 1985 CBS signed a distribution deal with the label, giving Def Jam a national retail profile. This arrangement allowed the label to flourish in 1986 when the Beastie Boys' first album, Licensed To Ill, became the first rap album to top the national pop charts. Between 1985 and 1990, Def Jam grew into the biggest and most influential rap label in the music business.

In 1987 Rubin departed Def Jam, and Simmons promoted longtime employee Lyor Cohen to replace him. Simmons and Cohen quickly parlayed Def Jam's continued success into a lucrative joint-venture deal with Sony that would become the template for many future hip-hop label entrepreneurs. A series of fallow years followed, but Def Jam returned to prominence in the late 1990s with hits by artists such as DMX and Ludacris. In 1999 Simmons sold his remaining stake in Def Jam to Universal Music Group for $100 million, staying on as chairman of Def Jam/Def Soul, now a part of the Island/Def Jam label group. Thanks to a string of successful projects and profitable distribution deals, such as with influential rap labels Roc-A-Fella and The Inc., Island/Def Jam ended 2002 as the second-largest record label in the United States.

SIMMONS DIVERSIFIES

Between 1985 and 1987 Simmons oversaw the production of two films, Krush Groove, adapted from his own life story, and Tougher Than Leather, both featuring the music of Def Jam and Rush Artist Management artists. Though neither film was a hit, the experience laid the groundwork for future ventures.

Two rare setbacks occurred in 19891990. The first came when Simmons lost out on a bid to produce the 1991 John Singleton film Boyz 'N the Hood because Columbia Pictures president Frank Price balked at doing business with a man in a track suit and sneakers, Simmons's preferred business uniform. In the same period, Will "The Fresh Prince" Smith, then a popular rap star and a Rush Artist Management client, left the company's roster, claiming Simmons was too busy with other projects. Under new management, Smith soon signed on to the successful sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, eventually becoming one of the biggest stars of the 1990s.

In 1991 Simmons formed Rush Communications to coordinate his various nonDef Jam projects. Success was not long in coming. In 1992 Simmons teamed with veteran producer Simon Lathan and the Brillstein/Gray Company to launch the hit HBO series Def Comedy Jam, featuring the comedy of African American comedians such as Chris Rock, Bernie Mac, and Martin Lawrence. Much as he had done with Def Jam Recordings, Simmons invested in Def Comedy Jam to bring talented but controversial black comedians into the mainstream of American culture. The success of the show boosted Rush's revenues from $31 million in 1993 to $65 million in 1994.

Renewed success came in 1996 when Rush produced the hit film The Nutty Professor, starring Eddie Murphy. Also in 1996 Simmons entered the publishing world with One World, a music and culture magazine that aimed to compete with hiphop publications such as Vibe and the Source. An accompanying syndicated television show was short-lived.

BUILDING BRANDS

In 1992 Simmons founded the clothing company Phat Fashions LLC and its flagship brand, Phat Farm, with the hopes of creating the Def Jam of fashiona bridge between "street" style and popular culture. As Def Jam's day-to-day operations demanded less of his time, Simmons focused on Phat Farm as an outlet for his energies, overseeing design and marketing and introducing Baby Phat, a women's line featuring designs by his wife, Kimora. Although Phat Fashions failed to make a profit for the first six years of its existence, the company eventually won over consumers and ended 2002 with revenues of $263 million. In 2004 Simmons sold the company to clothing giant Kellwood Group for a reported $140 million. As with Def Jam, Simmons's success blazed a trail for other hiphop entrepreneurs to follow, notably Sean "P-Diddy" Combs's Sean John clothing line and Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter's Roca-Wear.

In 1996 Rush Communications added advertising to its list of services, producing television commercials for Coca-Cola and ESPN, and partnering in 2000 with advertising giant Deutsch to form dRush. In 2001 Rush Communications entered the dot-com arena, launching 360HipHop.com. Intended to be a one-stop source of music, culture, and information for hip-hop fans, the site never gained an audience and was soon sold to Black Entertainment Television's online operation BET.com, of which Simmons was named vice chairman. In the same year Simmons joined the board of Brilliant Digital Entertainment, partnering with the company to produce online video content featuring Def Jam recording artists.

In 2001 Simmons returned to the spirit of Def Comedy Jam with Def Poetry Jam, a showcase for young urban poets. The show ultimately ran on Broadway to good reviews but poor receipts, and won a Tony award in 2002.

Rush Communications finished 2002 with earnings of $500 million, and in 2003 and 2004 Simmons used this success to fund various projects based on extending established brands. He teamed with Motorola to market the i90 and i95 cellular phones featuring the Phat Farm and Baby Phat logos, respectively, and entered a collaboration with jewelry merchants M. Fabrikant & Sons to create jewelry featuring the Phat Farm, Baby Phat, Def Jam, and Russell Simmons brand names. At the same time, Simmons was taking Rush into the financial-services industry, introducing the Rush Visa, a pre-paid debit card intended for people without bank accounts, and founding UniRush in association with Jackson Hewitt to provide low-cost tax-preparation services to the same consumers. Simmons also began a foray into the specialty beverage market, selling DefCon3 soda exclusively through 7-Eleven stores.

POLITICAL ACTIVISM

Simmons was politically active and started several charitable organizations. The Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation donated money to arts programs in predominantly black public schools, and the Simmons Brothers Arts Scholarship gave scholarships to young black men who had served time for drug offenses in New York State. In 2001 Simmons founded the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HHSAN) to sponsor voting initiatives among young African Americans. In its first three years, HHSAN registered one-half million new voters. A portion of the profits from DefCon3 soda and Phat Farm sneakers funded slavery-reparations efforts and the HHSAN, and Simmons spent part of 2003 campaigning against New York State's "three-strikes" drug laws. In 2004 Simmons was investigated by the state of New York for possible violation of lobbying laws after failing to secure a permit for a HHSAN fundraiser.

MANAGEMENT STYLE

Throughout his career, Simmons capitalized on his ability to anticipate and guide emerging trends, believing that street culture was the source of his inspiration and success. In a Miami Herald interview he asserted that "in the cultural business you must build a movement before you get capital" (November 24, 2003). Always alert to the connection between hip-hop and fashion, he worked to ensure that the brands he managed stayed relevant to the tastes of hip-hop consumers. Believing that he was his own strongest brand, Simmons never surrendered his designer track suits and white sneakers for traditional business wear.

Simmons took a hands-on approach to the creative and interpersonal sides of his businesses, delegating day-to-day tasks to a handful of longtime partners. As he put it in the Miami Herald interview, "I wouldn't be here if I didn't count on everybody around me being smarter than me." For instance, longtime associate Lyor Cohen handled Def Jam's operations from 1987 on, freeing Simmons to work closely with the label's artists and to develop the brand. Veteran producer Stan Lathan worked with Simmons in a partnership called Simmons-Lathan Media Group, which handled Simmons's film and television ventures, and when Simmons started Phat Farm he asked fashion-industry veteran Ruby Azrak to manage the operation.

Simmons encouraged entrepreneurship among his employees and willingly promoted talented newcomers to positions of responsibility, believing that the closer his companies remained to the street and to youth culture, the better their prospects. One lead designer for Phat Farm, Kevin Leong, was only 25 when given the job. Simmons's impact can be seen in the many imitators he and Def Jam spawned, many of whom worked for him at some point, including Damon Dash and Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter of Roc-A-Fella Records and Sean "P-Diddy" Combs of Bad Boy Entertainment.

See also entries on Phat Fashions and Rush Communications in International Directory of Company Histories.

sources for further information

Berfield, Susan, "The CEO of Hip-Hop," BusinessWeek, October 27, 2003, p. 90.

Leger, D. E., "Entrepreneur of Cool Shares His Start-up Secret," Miami Herald, November 24, 2003.

Ogg, Alex, The Men Behind Def Jam: The Radical Rise of Russell Simmons And Rick Rubin, London: Omnibus Press, 2002.

Siegal, Nina, "Rapping at Capitalism's Door," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 26, 2003.

Simmons, Russell, and Nelson George, Life and Def, New York: Crown, 2001.

Vaughn, Christopher, "Simmons' Rush for Profits," Black Enterprise, December 1992, p. 67.

John Owen

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Owen, John. "Simmons, Russell 1957–." International Directory of Business Biographies. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. 29 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Owen, John. "Simmons, Russell 1957–." International Directory of Business Biographies. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. (June 29, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3448500537.html

Owen, John. "Simmons, Russell 1957–." International Directory of Business Biographies. 2005. Retrieved June 29, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3448500537.html

Simmons, Russell

Simmons, Russell

Record company executive, producer

The explosive entry of rap music onto the national music scene in the late 1980s was greatly due to the efforts and vision of rap producer and artist manager Russell Simmons. As co-owner and founder of the rap label Def Jam Records and as head of Rush Artist Management, Simmons, according to Nelson George in Essence, took "rap music, an often misunderstood expression of inner-city youth, and established it as one of the most influential forms of Black music." Dubbed by the media as the "impresario" and "mogul" of rap, Simmons began his career as a fledgling promoter of a new breed of street music, and worked his way up to the helm of a multimillion-dollar entertainment companycomplete with its own film and television division, as well as several clothing and accessory lines.

Simmons grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens. As a youth he became involved with a street gang. In the mid-1970s Simmons enrolled at the Harlem branch of City College of New York, where he studied sociology. It was during this time that he became aware of rap music. He saw rappers as they converged in parks and on street corners, taking turns performing rap songs for gathering crowds. These crowds, as Maura Sheehy noted in Manhattan, Inc., found "their power in dancing and dressing styles of the moment; in mimicking the swaggering, tougher-than-leather attitude; and by worshiping their street 'poets.'"

Simmons saw in rap enthusiasts a vast audience that the recording industry had not yet tapped. He thereafter left college and began tirelessly promoting local rap artists, producing recordings on shoestring budgets and organizing "rap nights" at dance clubs in Queens and Harlem. In 1984 he teamed with another aspiring rap producer, Rick Rubin, to form Def Jam Records. The company produced music by new rap groups including Simmons's brother, Joseph's group, rap pioneers Run-D.M.C. CBS Records agreed to distribute Def Jam's records and within three years, Def Jam staples such as the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill, LL Cool J's Bigger and Deffer, and Run-D.M.C.'s Raising Hell dominated the black music charts.

Simmons has been described as the "Berry Gordy of his time," comparing him to the man who brought the crossover black Motown sound to pop America in the 1960s. Yet Simmons took a fundamentally different approach. According to Sheehy in Manhattan, Inc., "Like Gordy, Simmons is building a large, diverse organization into a black entertainment company, only Simmons's motivating impulse is to make his characters as 'black' as possible." Simmons was insistent on presenting rap images that are true to the tough urban streets from which rap arose. As a result, his groups donned such recognizable street garb as black leather clothes, high-top sneakers, hats, and gold chains. "In black America, your neighbor is much more likely to be someone like LL Cool J or Oran 'Juice' Jones than Bill Cosby," Simmons explained in the New York Times. "...A lot of the black stars being developed by record companies have images that are so untouchable that kids just don't relate to them. Our acts are people with strong, colorful images that urban kids already know, because they live next door to them."

As the manager for all Def Jam acts Simmons has made the authenticity of Def Jam artists a top priority. "Our artists are people you can relate to," he told Interview. "Michael Jackson is great for what he isbut you don't know anybody like that. The closest Run-D. M.C. comes to a costume is a black leather outfit.... It's important to look like your audience. If it's real, don't change it."

Some critics found the image of rappers disturbing. "It is the look of many rap artistshard, belligerent, unassimilated, one they share with their core audiencethat puts many folks on edge," noted George. While some objected to Public Enemy's logo of a black teen in the scope of a police gun, Simmons explained to George that the logo was representative of how many black teenagers feellike "targets that are looked down upon." Simmons added, "Rush Management identifies with them [black teenagers]. That's why we don't have one group that doesn't look like its audience."

The lyrics and antics of some male rap artists have also infuriated women's groups, who found misogynistic messages in many songs and stage acts. Also, public officials have occasionally brought charges of lewdness against some rappers in concert. Despite the controversial nature of many rap lyrics, Simmons refused to censor the content of his rap groups' songs. He told George, "rap is an expression of the attitudes of the performers and their audience."

When critics charged that rap artists were not positive role models for many black youths, Simmons countered these attacks, explaining that many of their listeners are growing up in the same environments the artists spoke about. "If you take a look at the pop cultural landscape or the black political landscape now, there aren't a lot of heroes," he told the New York Times. "If you're a 15-year-old black male in high school and look around, you wonder what you can do with your life. (Rappers) opened up a whole new avenue of ambition. You can grow up to be like (them). It's possible."

With the success of his record label and everextending reach into the youth and urban culture markets, in 1990 Simmons launched Rush Communications with the intention of putting his wide range of business ventures under one umbrella. In 1991, he produced the Def Comedy series for HBO, which for seven years introduced a mainstream audience to such 'Def' comics as Martin Lawrence and Jamie Fox. In 1992 he created his own very successful men's clothing line, Phat Farm, which later expanded to include a women's line (known as Baby Phat), a children's line, sneakers, and accessories.

Despite his great success in translating urban culture to the masses, Simmons has remained committed to contributing, both socially and economically, to the community in which he was raised. In 1995, Simmons and his brothers, Daniel and Joseph, founded The Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, a non profit geared at helping inner city youth. The Foundation funds several initiatives, most notable of which is Rush Arts, a program designed to expose inner city children to the fine and performing arts.

For the Record . . .

Born on October 4, c. 1957; raised in Hollis, Queens, NY; son of Daniel Simmons (a public school attendance supervisor); married Kimora Lee, 1998; children: Ming Lee, Aoki Lee. Education: Attended the City College of New York.

Co-founder and owner of Def Jam Records and Rush Productions, 1985; owner of Rush Artist Management; founded Rush Communications, 1990; launched Phat Fashions, 1992; started producing Def Comedy Jam for HBO, 1991; founded Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, 1995; founded Def Pictures with producer Stan Lathan, 1995; director of music videos; published autobiography, Life and Def: Sex, Drugs, Money and God, Crown, 2001; organized Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, 2002; launched Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam on HBO and on Broadway, 2002.

Awards: Peabody Award for Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam, 2002; Tony Award, Best Theatrical Event for Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam, 2003.

Addresses: Record company Island Def Jam, World wide Plaza, 825 8th Ave., New York, NY 10019. Publicist Rubenstein Communications, Inc., 1345 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10105.

In 1996 Simmons launched One World magazine which he later transformed into a syndicated television series, Oneworld's Music Beat with Russell Simmons in 1998. The magazine-style program served as a showcase and information bed for hip-hop culture as a whole. "Black culture is universal," he told Billboard. "This show won't be targeted just to blacks. I want this show to be inclusive; it will be for everyone who embraces young black culture." With these new endeavors, Simmons brought hip-hop culture to a wider audience. The same year Simmons wed Kimora Lee, longtime girlfriend and host of Oneworld's Music Beat. The couple went on to have two daughters, Ming Lee and Aoki Lee.

In 2000 Universal Music Group purchased Simmons's share of Def Jam. He continued to work at Def Jam (now called Island Def Jam), but in a different capacity. Simmons continued to act as a voice of the community. In June of 2001 he organized the historic Hip-Hop Summit. The summit attracted various controversial political and religious leaders including Maxine Waters and Minister Louis Farrakhan. It also flashed major star power with high profile appearances by Sean "Puffy" Combs, Jay-Z, and Mariah Carey. Those in attendance discussed such issues as conflict resolution for artists and greater efforts at accountability for hip-hop's social, political, and economic impact.

Following the Summit, Simmons founded the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN). The aim of the HSAN is to take the relevance and impact of hip-hop and use it as a catalyst for education reform and other societal concerns affecting high-risk youth. Over the following years, Simmons remained committed to HSAN, working with New York politicians in an attempt to reform the controversial Rockafeller drug laws, raising money for the state's education budget, and instilling in young people the need to exercise their right to vote.

Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam followed in the footsteps of Simmon's former comedy show on the HBO cable network, this time giving a forum to a lauded collective of slam-style poets. The show was granted a prestigious Peabody award in 2002. In November of the same year Def Poetry Jam opened on Broadway to critical acclaim, eventually winning a Tony Award for Best Theatrical Special Event.

In 2004 Simmons continued to stretch his unique ability to deliver hip-hop culture, causes, and business ventures to a mass audience, most notably by taking the Hip-Hop Summit on the road to cities around the United States, including Detroit, Philadelphia, and New Orleans, reaching a much larger audience than he was able to in New York. As he explained to Billboard magazine, "Hip-hop represents the greatest union of young people with the most diversityall races and religionsthat people have felt in America."

Selected discography

As producer

(Run-D.M.C.) Run-D.M.C., Profile, 1984.

(Run-D.M.C.) King of Rock, Profile, 1985.

(Run-D.M.C.) Raising Hell, Profile, 1986.

(LL Cool J) Bigger and Deffer, Def Jam, 1987.

(Run-D.M.C.) Tougher than Leather, Profile, 1988.

(Alyson Williams) Raw, Def Jam, 1989.

(Slick Rick) The Rulers Back, Def Jam, 1991.

(Boss) Born Gangstaz, Def Jam, 1992.

(Afrika Bambaataa) Presents Eastside, Obsessive, 2003.

Sources

Books

George, Nelson, The Death of Rhythm and Blues, Pantheon, 1988.

Periodicals

Billboard, November 4, 1995; January 31, 1998; August 19, 2000; June 17, 2000; June 16, 2001; February 10, 2001.

Brandweek, May 8, 2000.

Business Week, October 27, 2003.

Daily News Record, June 5, 2000.

Electronic Media, November 20, 2000.

Ebony, January 2001.

Essence, March 1988.

Fast Company, November 2003.

Hollywood Reporter, August 17, 1999.

Interview, September 1987.

Jet, May 28, 1990.

Manhattan, Inc., February 1990.

Newsweek, July 28, 2003

New York Times, August 1987; February 20, 1991.

People, July 5, 1999, pp. 25.

Michael E. Mueller and Nicole Elyse

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Mueller, Michael E.; Elyse, Nicole. "Simmons, Russell." Contemporary Musicians. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. 29 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Mueller, Michael E.; Elyse, Nicole. "Simmons, Russell." Contemporary Musicians. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (June 29, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3430000064.html

Mueller, Michael E.; Elyse, Nicole. "Simmons, Russell." Contemporary Musicians. 2004. Retrieved June 29, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3430000064.html

Simmons, Russell 1957(?)–

Russell Simmons 1957(?)

Record company executive, producer, music promoter

At a Glance

Sources

The explosive entry of rap music onto the national music scene in the late 1980s was greatly due to the efforts and vision of rap producer and artist manager Russell Simmons. As co-owner and founder of the rap label Def Jam Records and as head of Rush Artist Management.

Simmons grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens. As a youth he became involved with a street gang. In the mid-1970s Simmons enrolled at the Harlem branch of City College of New York, where he studied sociology. It was during this time that he became aware of rap music. He saw rappers as they converged in parks and on street corners, taking turns singing rap songs to gathering crowds. These crowds, as Maura Sheehy noted in Manhattan, Inc, found their power in dancing and dressing styles of the moment; in mimicking the swaggering, tougher-than-leather attitude; and by worshiping their street poets.

Simmons saw in rap enthusiasts a vast audience that the recording industry had not tapped into. So he left his college studies and began tirelessly promoting local rap artists, producing recordings on shoestring budgets and conducting rap nights at dance clubs in Queens and Harlem. In 1984 he teamed up with another aspiring rap producer, Rick Rubin, to form Def Jam Records. The company produced music by new rap groups including L.L. Cool J and the Beastie Boys. CBS Records agreed to distribute Def Jams records and within three years, Def Jam albums such as the Beastie Boys Licensed to III, and L. L. Cool J.s Bigger and Deffer, dominated the black music charts. He also started Rush Management, his first client was RUN-DMC, his brother Joseph, aka Run, was a member.

Simmons has been described as the Berry Gordy of his time, comparing him to the man who brought the cross-over black Motown sound to pop America in the 1960s. Yet Simmons took a fundamentally different approach. According to Sheehy in Manhattan, Inc., Like Gordy, Simmons is building a large, diverse organization into a black entertainment company, only Simmonss motivating impulse is to make his characters as black as possible. Simmons was insistent on presenting rap images that are true to the tough urban streets from which rap arose. As a result, his groups donned such recognizable street garb as black leather clothes, high-top sneakers, hats, and gold chains. In black America, your neighbor is much more likely to be

At a Glance

Born c., 1957; raised in Hollis, Queens, New York City; son of Daniel Simmons (a public school attendance supervisor); married Kimora Lee, 1998; children: Min. Education: City College of New York, attended.

Career: Co-founder and owner of Def Jam Records and Rush Productions, 1985-; owner of Rush Artist Management; production associate of films: Krush Groove, 1985; Tougher Than Leather, 1988; director of music videos; published autobiography, Life and Def, 2001.

Addresses: Home New York, NY. Office Def Jam Records, 298 Elizabeth St., New York, NY.

someone like L. L. Cool J or Oran Juice Jones than Bill Cosby, Simmons explained in the New York Times. A lot of the black stars being developed by record companies have images that are so untouchable that kids just dont relate to them. Our acts are people with strong, colorful images that urban kids already know, because they live next door to them.

As the manager for all Def Jam acts Simmons has made the authenticity of Def Jam artists a top priority. Our artists are people you can relate to, he told Interview. Michael Jackson is great for what he isbut you dont know anybody like that. The closest Run-DMC comes to a costume is a black leather outfit. Its important to look like your audience. If its real, dont change it.

Some critics have found the image of rappers disturbing. It is the look of many rap artistshard, belligerent, unassimilated, one they share with their core audiencethat puts many folks on edge, noted George. While some objected to Public Enemys logo of a black teen in the scope of a police gun, Simmons explained in George that the logo was representative of how many black teenagers feellike targets that are looked down upon. Simmons added, Rush Management identifies with them [black teenagers]. Thats why we dont have one group that doesnt look like its audience.

The lyrics and antics of some male rap artists have also infuriated womens groups, who found misogynistic messages in many songs and stage acts. Also, public officials have occasionally brought charges of lewdness against some rappers in concert. Despite the controversial nature of many rap lyrics, Simmons refused to censor the content of his rap groups songs. He told George, rap is an expression of the attitudes of the performers and their audience.

When critics charged that rap artists were not positive role models for many black youths, Simmons countered these attacks, explaining that many of their listeners are growing up in the same environments the artists spoke about. If you take a look at the pop cultural landscape or the black political landscape now, there arent a lot of heroes, he told the New York Times. If youre a 15-year-old black male in high school and look around, you wonder what you can do with your life. (Rappers) opened up a whole new avenue of ambition. You can grow up to be like (them). Its possible.

With the success of his record label Simmons decided to expand his business interests. He created his own clothing line, entitled Phat Pharm, He also started the Def Comedy Jam series on HBO, and launched the Def Comedy Jam tours as well as the Def Poetry Jam tours. In 1998 he began production of a syndicated television series, Oneworlds Music Beat with Russell Simmons. The magazine-style program served as a showcase and information bed for hip-hop culture as a whole. Black culture is universal, he told Billboard. This show wont be targeted just to blacks. I want this show to be inclusive; it will be fore everyone who embraces young black culture. With these new endeavors, Simmons brought hip-hop culture to a wider audience.

In 2000 Universal Music Group purchased Simmonss share of Def Jam for more than $100 million. That same year, Simmons launched a hip-hop website, 360hiphop.com, a venture intended to fill some of the void in urban radio. Theres no community voice that says what [and who] supports the community now that we have [top 40/rhythm-crossover radio], he told Billboard. However, Simmons sold the site to BET.com by the end of the year.

Although divested from 360hiphop.com, Simmons still acted as a voice of the community. In 2000 he organized a Hip-Hop Summit. The summit attracted many political and religious leaders including Maxine Waters and Minister Louis Farrakhan. Those in attendance at the summit discussed such issues as conflict resolution for artists and greater efforts at accountability for hip-hops social, political, and economic impact. Simmons has also spoken before Congress on the affect of the hip-hop community upon the nations youth.

Simmons wed Kimora Lee, longtime girlfriend and host of Oneworlds Music Beat, in 1998. The couple had a daughter, Min. Simmonss autobiography, Life and Def, was slated for release in late 2001. Both family and literary endeavors further broadened Simmons list of duties, but Simmons has always embraced diverse people and projects as not only the spice of life, but the very definition of hip-hop. He told Billboard, Hip-hop represents the greatest union of young people with the most diversity all races and religionsthat people have felt in America.

Sources

Books

George, Nelson, The Death of Rhythm and Blues, Pantheon, 1988.

Periodicals

Billboard, November 4, 1995, p. 32; January 31, 1998, p. 88; August 19, 2000, p. 24; June 17, 2000, p. 14; June 16, 2001, p. 25; February 10, 2001, p. 36.

Brandweek, May 8, 2000, p. 18.

Broadcasting & Cable, July 30, 2001, p. 24.

Daily News Record, June 5, 2000, p. la.

Electronic Media, November 20, 2000, p. 16.

Ebony, Jan 2001, p. 116.

Essence, March 1988.

Hollywood Reporter, August 17, 1999, p. 21.

Interview, September 1987.

Jet, May 28, 1990.

Manhattan, Inc., February 1990.

New York Times, August, 1987; February 20, 1991.

People Weekly, July 5, 1999, p. 25.

Twice, January 29, 2001, p. 48.

Online

Dei Jam Records Online, www.defjam.com

Michael E. Mueller and Leslie Rochelle

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Mueller, Michael; Rochelle, Leslie. "Simmons, Russell 1957(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. 2002. Encyclopedia.com. 29 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Mueller, Michael; Rochelle, Leslie. "Simmons, Russell 1957(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. 2002. Encyclopedia.com. (June 29, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2873200064.html

Mueller, Michael; Rochelle, Leslie. "Simmons, Russell 1957(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. 2002. Retrieved June 29, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2873200064.html

Simmons, Russell

Russell Simmons

Record company executive, producer, music promoter

The Rapper Next Door

Spotted Huge Untapped Market

Rap an Expression of Attitudes

Sources

The explosive entry of rap music onto the national music scene in the late 1980s was greatly due to the efforts and vision of rap record producer and artist manager Russell Simmons. Co-owner and founder of the rap label Def Jam Records and head of Rush Artist Managementproducer of top-selling rap acts Run-DMC, Public Enemy, and L. L. Cool J, among othersSimmons took rap music, an often misunderstood expression of inner-city youth, and established it as one of the most influential forms of Black music, explained Nelson George in Essence. Often deemed by the media as the impresario and mogul of rap, Simmons began as a fledgling promoter of a new breed of street music, and today, as chairman of New York Citys RUSH Communications, is at the helm of a multimillion-dollar entertainment companycomplete with its own film and television divisionthat is the largest black-owned music business in the United States.

Some have described Simmons as the Berry Gordy of his time, referring to the man who brought the polished, crossover, black Motown sound to mainstream America in the 1960s, yet Simmonss approach is fundamentally different. According to Maura Sheehy in Manhattan, Inc., Like Gordy, Simmons is building a large, diverse organization into a black entertainment company, only Simmonss motivating impulse is to make his characters as black as possible, where Gordy sought to attract white listeners with his relatively colorless Motown Sound. Also commenting on comparisons between Simmons and Gordy, Black Enterprise contended that Simmons is far more aggressive than Gordy. In all, Simmons runs a total of eight record labels, is developing a slew of feature films, and is creating several television programs for cable service Home Box Office and syndicated release.

The Rapper Next Door

Simmons is insistent on presenting rap images that are true to the tough urban streets from which rap arose; as a result, his groups don such recognizable street garb as black leather clothes, expensive high-top sneakers, and gold chains. He explained his objectives to Stephen Holden in the New York Times: In black America, your neighbor is much more likely to be someone like L. L. Cool J or Oran Juice Jones than Bill Cosby. A lot of the black stars being developed by record companies have images that are so untouchable that kids just dont relate to them. Our acts are people with strong, colorful images that urban kids already know, because they live next door to them.

Simmons was born in Hollis and grew up in a middleclass

For the Record

Born c. 1957; raised in Queens, NY; fathers name, Daniel Simmons (a public-school attendance supervisor). Education: Attended City College of New York.

Co-founder, and owner of Def Jam Records, 1985; owner of Rush Artist Management; chairman of RUSH Communications. Production associate for rap films Krush Groove, 1985, and Tougher Than Leather, 1988. Director of music videos.

Addresses: Home New York, NY. Office Def Jam Records, 652 Broadway, New York, NY 10012.

neighborhood, both in the New York City borough of Queens, and as a youth was himself involved with a street gang. It was in the mid-1970s, while enrolled at the Harlem branch of the City College of New Yorkstudying sociologythat Simmons became aware of rap music and its appeal to young inner-city blacks; he saw rappers as they would converge in parks and on street corners, and then take turns singing rap songs to gathering crowds.

Manhattan, Inc.s Sheehy depicted the exchange between rappers and their audience in those beginning days of rap: Rappers, called MCs (emcees) then, told stories and boastedabout street life, tenements, violence, and drugs; about their male prowess, their talents; about sucker MCs; and about women. Their raps romanticized the dangerous, exciting characters of the street, sanctified its lessons into wisdom, made poverty and powerlessness into strength by making rappers superhuman, indomitable. The audience followed, finding their power in dancing and dressing styles of the moment; in mimicking the swaggering, tougher-than-leather attitude; and by worshiping their street poets.

Spotted Huge Untapped Market

Simmons saw in rap enthusiasts a vast audience untapped by the recording industry. He left his college studies and began tirelessly promoting local rap artists, producing recordings on shoestring budgets, and conducting rap nights at dance clubs in Queens and Harlem. In 1984 he joined fellow aspiring rap producer Rick Rubin to form Def Jam Records; Def Jam caught the attention of CBS Records, which agreed to distribute the label. Within three years Def Jam albums like the Beastie Boys Licensed to III, L. L. Cool J.s Bigger and Deffer, and Run-DMCs Raising Hell dominated the black music charts.

Throughout, Simmons has been the manager of all Def Jam acts and has emphasized authenticity with each group. Our artists are people you can relate to, he told Fayette Hickox in Interview. Michael Jackson is great for what he isbut you dont know anybody like that. The closest Run-DMC comes to a costume is a black leather outfit. Its important to look like your audience. If its real, dont change it. Some critics, however, find the authenticity of rappers disturbing. It is the look of many rap artistshard, belligerent, unassimilated, one they share with their core audiencethat puts many folks on edge, noted George in Essence. The group Public Enemy, which represents itself with a logo of a black teen in the scope of a police gun, is representative, as Simmons told George, of how many black teenagers feellike targets that are looked down upon. Simmons added: Rush Management identifies with them. Thats why we dont have one group that doesnt look like its audience.

Rap an Expression of Attitudes

The lyrics and antics of some male rap artists have also infuriated womens groups, who find woman-hating messages in many of their songs and stage acts; public officials have even brought charges of lewdness against rappers in concert. Simmons distances himself from censoring the content of his rap groups songs, telling George that rap is an expression of the attitudes of the performers and their audience. He does, however, ultimately uphold rappers as positive role models for many black youths.

As an example of the affirmative position rappers can take, Simmons commented to Holden that the members of Run-DMC, which include Simmonss younger brother, Joseph, are more than musicians. Theyre from a particular community, and have succeeded on their own terms without any compromise. If you take a look at the pop cultural landscape or the black political landscape now, there arent a lot of heroes. If youre a 15-year-old black male in high school and look around, you wonder what you can do with your life. How do you better yourself? Run-DMC has opened up a whole new avenue of ambition. You can grow up to be like Run-DMC. Its possible.

Sources

Books

George, Nelson, The Death of Rhythm and Blues, Pantheon, 1988.

Periodicals

Black Enterprise, December 1991.

Essence, March 1988.

Interview, September 1987; September 1991.

Jet, May 28, 1990.

Manhattan, Inc., February 1990.

New York Times, August, 1987; February 20, 1991.

Michael E. Mueller

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Mueller, Michael. "Simmons, Russell." Contemporary Musicians. 1992. Encyclopedia.com. 29 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Mueller, Michael. "Simmons, Russell." Contemporary Musicians. 1992. Encyclopedia.com. (June 29, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3492500077.html

Mueller, Michael. "Simmons, Russell." Contemporary Musicians. 1992. Retrieved June 29, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3492500077.html

Simmons, Russell 1957(?)—

Russell Simmons 1957(?)

Record company executive, producer, music promoter

At a Glance

Sources

The explosive entry of rap music onto the national music scene in the late 1980s is greatly due to the efforts and vision of rap record producer and artist manager Russell Simmons. Co-owner and founder of the rap label Def Jam Records and head of Rush Artist Management, which produces such top-selling rap acts as Run-DMC, Public Enemy, L. L. Cool J, and Oran Juice Jones, Simmons took rap music, an often misunderstood expression of inner-city youth, andestablished it as one of the most influential forms of Black music, wrote Nelson George in Essence. Often deemed by the media as the impresario and mogul of rap, Simmons began as a fledgling promoter of a new breed of street music, and today is at the helm of a multimillion-dollar entertainment companycomplete with its own film and television divisionwhich is the largest black-owned music business in the United States.

Some have described Simmons as the Berry Gordy of his time, referring to the man who brought the cross-over black Motown sound to pop America in the 1960s, yet Simmonss approach is fundamentally different. According to Maura Sheehy in Manhattan, Inc., Like Gordy, Simmons is building a large, diverse organization into a black entertainment company, only Simmonss motivating impulse is to make his characters as black as possible.

Simmons is insistent on presenting rap images that are true to the tough urban streets from which rap arose; as a result, his groups don such recognizable street garb as black leather clothes, high-top sneakers, hats, and gold chains. He explained his objectives to Stephen Holden in the New York Times : In black America, your neighbor is much more likely to be someone like L. L. Cool J or Oran Juice Jones than Bill Cosby. A lot of the black stars being developed by record companies have images that are so untouchable that kids just dont relate to them. Our acts are people with strong, colorful images that urban kids already know, because they live next door to them.

Simmons grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens, and as a youth was himself involved with a street gang. It was while he was enrolled in the mid-1970s at the Harlem branch of City College of New York studying sociology that he became aware of rap music and its appeal to young inner-city blacks. He saw rappers as they would converge in parks and on street corners, and then take turns singing rap songs to gathering crowds.

Sheehy depicted the exchange between rappers and their audience in those beginning days of rap: Rappers, called MCs (emcees) then, told stories and boastedabout street life, tenements, violence, and drugs; about their male prowess, their talents; about sucker ; and about women. Their raps romanticized the dangerous, exciting characters of the street, sanctified its lessons into wisdom, made poverty and powerlessness into

At a Glance

Born c., 1957; raised in Hollis, Queens, New York City; fathers name, Daniel Simmons (a public school attendance supervisor). Education: Attended City College of New York.

Co-founder and owner of Def Jam Records and Rush Productions, beginning 1985; owner of Rush Artist Management. Production associate of rap films Krush Groove, 1985, and Tougher Than Leather, 1988. Director of music videos.

Addresses: Home New York, NY. Office Def Jam Records, 298 Elizabeth St., New York, NY.

strength by making rappers superhuman, indomitable. The audience followed, finding their power in dancing and dressing styles of the moment; in mimicking the swaggering, tougher-than-leather attitude; and by worshiping their street poets.

Simmons saw in rap enthusiasts a vast audience that the recording industry had not tapped into. He left his college studies and began tirelessly promoting local rap artists, producing recordings on shoestring budgets and conducting rap nights at dance clubs in Queens and Harlem. In 1984, he teamed up with a fellow aspiring rap producer named Rick Rubin to form Def Jam Records, and caught the attention of CBS Records who agreed to distribute the label. Within three years, Def Jam albums such as the Beastie Boys Licensed to III, L. L. Cool J.s Bigger and Deffer, and Run-DMCs Raising Hell dominated the black music charts.

Throughout, Simmons has been the manager of all Def Jam acts and has emphasized authenticity with each particular group. Our artists are people you can relate to, he told Fayette Hickox in Interview. Michael Jackson is great for what he isbut you dont know anybody like that. The closest Run-DMC comes to a costume is a black leather outfit. Its important to look like your audience. If its real, dont change it.

Some critics find the image of rappers disturbing. It is the look of many rap artistshard, belligerent, unassimilated, one they share with their core audiencethat puts many folks on edge, noted George. The group Public Enemy, which carries the logo of a black teen in the scope of a police gun, is representative, as Simmons told George, of how many black teenagers feel like targets that are looked down upon. Simmons added: Rush Management identifies with them. Thats why we dont have one group that doesnt look like its audience.

The lyrics and antics of some male rap artists have also infuriated womens groups, who find misogynistic messages in the songs and stage acts, while public officials have brought charges of lewdness against some rappers in concert. Simmons distances himself from censoring the content of his rap groups songs, telling George that rap is an expression of the attitudes of the performers and their audience. He does, however, ultimately uphold rappers as positive role models for many black youths.

As an example, Simmons commented to Holden that the members of Run-DMC, which include Simmonss younger brother Joseph, are more than musicians. Theyre from a particular community, and have succeeded on their own terms without any compromise. If you take a look at the pop cultural landscape or the black political landscape now, there arent a lot of heroes. If youre a 15-year-old black male in high school and look around, you wonder what you can do with your life. How do you better yourself? Run-DMC has opened up a whole new avenue of ambition. You can grow up to be like Run-DMC. Its possible.

Sources

Books

George, Nelson, The Death of Rhythm and Blues, Pantheon, 1988.

Periodicals

Essence, March 1988.

Interview, September 1987.

Jet, May 28, 1990.

Manhattan, Inc., February 1990.

New York Times, February 20, 1991.

Michael E. Mueller

Cite this article
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Mueller, Michael. "Simmons, Russell 1957(?)—." Contemporary Black Biography. 1992. Encyclopedia.com. 29 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Mueller, Michael. "Simmons, Russell 1957(?)—." Contemporary Black Biography. 1992. Encyclopedia.com. (June 29, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2870300070.html

Mueller, Michael. "Simmons, Russell 1957(?)—." Contemporary Black Biography. 1992. Retrieved June 29, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2870300070.html

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