Russell Simmons
The Turnaround

russellsimmons1.jpg

Russell Simmons has finally stopped talking. Sitting on the floor in a steamy, crowded room in downtown Manhattan, the notoriously motormouthed mogul known for monopolizing conversations with unfocused tangents, interrupting talk show hosts and constantly juggling calls on his ever-present cell phone is, at last, quiet. Save for some deep breathing and an occasional chuckle, Russell is completely focused on the task at hand—contorting his body like a pretzel in his beloved yoga class. Yoga is the one constant in his life right now, and his entire day is planned around it. Wherever he is—be it Dubai for a store opening or L.A. for a book signing—Russell goes to yoga.

On this particularly humid day in New York City, the co-founder of Def Jam and founder of Phat Farm has just completed a typically whirlwind day of meetings, interviews, photo shoots and an appointment with his podiatrist. “I can’t miss this doctor’s appointment,” he’d barked at his assistant earlier. “I can’t go to yoga if my foot hurts.”

Even as the doctor plunged a needle into his toe, he continued this interview, pecked manically on his Blackberry and took calls. And while most of us would hobble home after toenail surgery, Russell headed off, bandaged extremity and all, to class. “You’re coming, aren’t you?” he said as his Maybach neared the yoga studio, more of an announcement than a question. “Come on, it’ll be fun. I’ll buy you an outfit.” When I told him there’s no way I could keep up with him—he’s been a devotee of the practice for 15 years—he was encouraging. “Just smile and breathe,” he said, his tanned face beaming. “And if it hurts, fuck it, take a nap.”

Known by a number of monikers, from the deferential (“Godfather of Hip-Hop”) to the familial (“Uncle Russ”) to, probably, the most descriptive (“Rush”), Russell has been doling out fatherly advice to rappers for decades now. His ever-diversifying business plan (the label, the management company, the clothing line, the TV and movie deals, the philanthropy) has become a regularly copied blueprint for moguls in the making. His “aspirational” lifestyle (the house in the Hamptons, the photogenic girlfriend, the exotic vacations) has come to define the ultimate in success for the hip-hop generation. And now, his new book, Do You!—a yoga-inspired, feel-good advice tome on achieving goals by getting in touch with your inner voice—is a New York Times bestseller.

But, lately, there are those who have grown skeptical of Uncle Russ’ advice. People are wondering if the man who built the most successful label in hip-hop is losing touch with the form. In the wake of the Don Imus scandal and the misdirected blame pinned on hip-hop lyrics, Russell—who has always been a staunch defender of rappers (or “poets,” as he likes to call them) and their right to free speech—seemed to cave in to conservative pressure. He appeared on talk shows, zenlike and docile, agreeing with some of hip-hop’s harshest critics, like Oprah and Bill O’Reilly, that, yes, something needed to be done. He announced that his Hip-Hop Summit Action Network would hold a closed-door meeting with label execs, media bigwigs, radio folks and artists to discuss the situation. When they couldn’t come to a consensus, what followed was a statement released by Russell on behalf of the HSAN—recommending that mainstream media outlets bleep the words “nigger,” “hoe” and “bitch” from rap tracks.

It was a call that landed with a resounding thud. Free-speech advocates cried foul, as did top artists like Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent and T.I. “Hip-hop is a reflection of the environment that we grew up in,” said 50 when the topic came up during a BET press conference. “It’s the harsh realities that end up in the music. If I ask you to paint a picture of the American flag and not use the color red, you’re gonna have a difficult time.” T.I., also at the press conference, put it like this: “I don’t know if you know it or not, people, but there are bitches, niggas and hoes who live in America. And as long as that fact exists, I think rappers deserve the right to talk about it.”

russellsimmons2.jpgBefore his doctor’s appointment, sitting behind his massive desk in his penthouse office in Midtown, Russell downplays the controversy. He defends his statement as common sense earned through experience. “What they don’t realize,” he says, “is my recommendations are just that: recommendations. People can do what the hell they want to do.” (A number of radio stations, including New York’s Hot 97, pledged to go along with the suggestion.) He gets up and retrieves a sugar-free Red Bull from the minifridge hidden behind the office’s wood-paneled bookcases. “You know, I was the first one to beep a rap record. I beeped [Run-DMC’s] ‘Here We Go.’ Remember that?” He shrugs. “I’m not saying I’m not out of touch. I’m saying they’re out of touch if they think they were playin’ ‘bitches’ and ‘hoes’ on the radio five years ago, even 10 years ago, ’cause it’s not true. They already beep these words 75, 80 percent of the time. My recommendation is for them to do it a hundred percent.”

Since selling the last of his shares of Def Jam in 1999 and settling down to start a family, Russell has consumed himself with activism. He has hosted fundraisers for political candidates, like Hilary Clinton, and sponsors a number of charities and groups, including the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, PETA, his own Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation and his newest, the Diamond Empowerment Fund. There were even whispers that he was setting his sights on running for office, perhaps another reason to play the middle. But Russell says he isn’t interested in being a politician (“I took too many drugs when I was younger”) and that he made the recommendation about lyrics for rappers’ own protection.

“I know a lot more about what’s going on in Congress and the Senate than they do right now,” he says, leaning in conspiratorially. “All of ’em. And I think that they are a little bit at risk. I really believe that there are bills being introduced and there are people who are really after them. I know the [government’s] capabilities. They’ll try to attach the lyrics to hate crimes. ‘Bitches’ and ‘hoes’ could be part of a hate crime. Then their business will shrink.” He shakes his head and sighs like a father talking about a bunch of teenagers. “I don’t know,” he says, seemingly bored of the topic. “It’s their jobs, their careers. If you’re a gangster, then maybe you don’t need radio.”

——- Read the rest of our Russell Simmons feature in XXL’s August 2007 issue (#94)
  • LAMBORGHINI123

    his ex kimora lee is fine ass hell i want to fuck the shit out of her

  • Purple Hulk

    1ST

  • jacquez
  • afiya

    i bought his book “do you” i read half of it and then i got bored. he’s just talking about the same thing (yogu, meditation and buda) all of again and again.

  • fireforreal

    Russel gets older and wiser.But rappers are getting dumber as they get older(Snoop dogg,Busta rhymes,Foxy brown,Cam’ron) LOL

  • http://XXL $INCERE

    He is making a good point when he talks about the government getting involve. Hip-Hop is dominated by blacks and hispanics. They don’t like to see our race dominant anything. We have to stand together if we don’t want Hip-Hop to die like Rock-N-Roll.

  • 1,21,2…anditdon’tstop81

    MAN FUCK THIS NIGGA RUSSELL MAN, HE DONE MADE HIS MONEY OFF BITCH,NIGGA AND HOE AND NOW WHEN THEY CALL’EM ON HIS SHIT HE TOSS RAPPERS AND HIP-HOP UNDER A BUS, I DON’T GIVE A SHIT WHAT HE SAY HE SHOULD OF TOLD THEM LAME ASS’S AND OPRAH (THE WHITE WOMAN SPOKESMODEL) AND ALL DEM TO SHOVE A DICK IN THEY MOUTH BECUZ’ LORD KNOWS THEY KNOW WHATS GOIN ON IN THESE HOODS! YOU CANNOT CENSOR THE MUSIC WE MAKE, YOU HAVE TO CHANGE THE GODDAMN ENVIROMENT! YOU WANT ME TO RAP ABOUT DAISY’S AND WHITE PICKET FENCES THEN DO SOMETHING TO CHANGE THIS HELL I’M LIVIN IN AND STOP BLAMING THE MUSIC! IT HAS TO START AT THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM NOT SOME SMALL ISSUE SUCH AS WORDS OVER A BEAT.FUCK THIS SHIT I WAS DONE BEING MAD ABOUT THIS SITUATION UNTIL UNCLE TOM..OOPS UNCLE RUSS DECIDED HE GAVE A DAMN ABOUT THIS CULTURE AGAIN!

  • http://www.myspace.com/larrybrite Larry Brite

    “censored albums in hip-hop (minus radio play) sell less – People want creative music no matter what, but if you limit that creativity off the bat – your product becomes predictable and increasingly bland” – me
    -
    If people don’t like it – They Don’t have to support it
    -
    I can think of more discusting things in the world than just THREE WORD’s.

  • livefromthe225

    seems a little fishy that ol basset hound face Russ knows “more about what’s goin on in Congress than they do”…capitalist ass negro could be in on the plan to sell the genre out….

    or maybe i’m just reaching

  • Weezalin Deboker

    1,2, stfu nobody likes you

  • BklynBandette

    This whole situation is so hypocritical. When Rap Music cheated on HipHop with the Industry, freedom of speech went right along with it. The Industry is about The Benjamins. And everyone knows that today, violence and ignorance sells. The Industry has robbed us of our creativity at least 10 years ago. When the big companies narrowed down the subject matter that an MC was allowed to talk about, That was your Censorship right there. Many MC’s can’t get deals ’cause they wont sell out to the establishment. By exploiting what ails our communities, you are providing entertainment and amusement to white males who are the leading consumers of the Millinnium Minstrel Show. Financially, why doesn’t Common see what Jay sees? Why isn’t he revered like Jay or 50 is? Mos Def ain’t getting shine either, why is that? I’ll tell you why: because we, The abandoned children of Rap have been force fed garbage for so long now, we started to accept it. We ask for it. Now we crave it. What was once considered poison, we suck down like Cocktails. And we do that because there IS no alternative. Those people in Africa drink muddy poluted water ’cause they have no choice. The Industry IS NOT providing a balance and we’re too damn blind and ignorant to demand it. We can fight for the right to call each other everything but a child of God, and invite others to do it to us as well; but no one is asking for creative equillibrium. I’ve seen Russell do commercials about animal rights and the ASPCA. I’ve also seen him do a commercial, with other celebs, proclaiming themselves as JEWS. But never has he spoken out about the disgust and distrust we display toward one another in our communities. He says that your average MC comes from extreme poverty and ignorance, and they don’t know any better. So why aren’t you teaching them? Can poor ignorant people not be taught? Y’all better check the fine print on this one. We are fighting for all the wrong things. And only we do this (Black Folks). You don’t see Latinos fighting for the right to be called ‘Spics, Whites demanding to be called Cracker, and it ain’t even cool to call a Jewish person a “Jew” anymore. There is nothing positive in any of those words where you can just flip the spelling and make it all good. If so, other ethnic groups would have followed our lead. They follow every damn thing else we do.

    Common & Mos Def haven’t succumbed and we gotta respect their Gangsta, ’cause that’s REAL Gangsta. No Matter how much money they throw at me I’m not gonna sell my people out.
    Now as for the rest of these clowns, they are playing us. T.I. is right: There are Niggas, Bitches, and Hoes in the ‘Hood. But y’all know as well as I do that most of these Rappers no longer live in the ‘Hood, and haven’t done so in many years. So don’t try to tell me this is all you know. Niggas, Bitches, and Hoes also reside in Suburbia and in NYC Penthouses. But they’re not addressed because those particular Niggas, Bitches, and Hoes look like the people who sign their checks. They ain’t trying to step on White Toes.

    And everybody is mad at Oprah. What the Hell for? She never spoke out about this situation. For fear of being called a sell-Out, she avoided this topic like the plague. But when Ass- Wipe Imus reared his ugly Racist head, she only provided an open forum for folks to come speak freely. If not her, who? The Clowns at BET? They profit from this madness too.

    Damn, I’m sorry Y’all. I ain’t intend for my response to be this long. And I definitely don’t want it to appear as though I’m going off on a tangent. However, I want y’all to see the bigger picture that’s in front of us. Rap Music is NOT the poison of society. All of our problems existed long before Rap. However, we can’t continue to allow Rap Music to perpetuate and glorify our plight either. Either way, this matter will be resolved. The question is, by who- Them or us. All I know is I just want HipHop & Rap Music to reconcile. And once that happens, I think we’ll all get to be a Family again.

    Just A Woman’s Perspective.
    Holla If Ya Hear Me …

    P.S.- Once again, I’m sorry for being long winded. I Just want Rap to leave the Industry and come back home to HipHop.

  • joe

    BKLYNBANDETTE

    You’ve written a earful, and I enjoyed agreeing with you line after line.

    You are being real and I’m glad to read about someone else other than myself who try and see things for what they are.

    Keep it up.

    HOLLA

  • mackbone

    bitch nigga hoe

  • Caine

    BklynBandette Says:

    July 12th, 2007 at 10:54 pm

    ^^ I hear u babe…

  • randy r.stokeling

    it is time 4 us to band together. by us i mean people of the struggle,black white or whatever,to demand that we have representation in this art form that we created.i’m not talking about the hustlas gangbangers and killas,the are getting 95% of the light anyway.if you read any of these sights hiphopdx,sohh,or allhiphop,from the bloggers to the comments most of the shit that is said is ignorant. the comments are so bad it,i would be ashamed for malcom or martin to see how we carried the torch of upliftment and respect. i love the movement but hip hop has gone to white teen gangbangers and other wannabees.on disrespect but our leaders and our music was supposed to be greater. i swear to god istill love the music when its done right,but i hate the state of music right now most of them are out for self.i say if a motherfucker cant think of one thing postive or selfless dont buy there shit. yayo get your head out of that mans ass where your pride as a man. dont you got nieces and nephews oh yeah you been sold that ass. big shout to saigon deadprez nas common blackstar tupac p.e. run dmc lupe fiasco and tru life. “organize centalize come as 1″

  • brebre

    this dude can do better.

  • T.R.E.Y.

    “Financially, why doesn’t Common see what Jay sees?”

    because he doesn’t know how to make a hit record?

  • snyper48

    @ BklynBandett

    I feel you sister,we need more people with a pragmatic way of thought as you,mad love from Angola,Africa.

    PS-We should be ashamed of being called gangsters and not of being conscious or too inteligent.

  • BklynBandette

    Greetings Bretheren:

    Wow, when I posted my response I got mad scared. Not scared as in re-tracting my words, but scared that you fellas wouldn’t get it. I know this Spot is predominantly Males and a lot of y’all don’t like to hear what women have to say. I Overstand that can be for a variety of reasons. Maybe women you encounter don’t have much to say about the matter. Or, they’re telling y’all the wrong things. Eitherway, I love y’all too much to keep up the charade and not make y’all privy to the truth. Because if y’all remember, it was us Women who helped form and build HipHop back in it’s inception. I see mad ethnic groups trying to hop on the HipHop Band Wagon to get credit, and they get it. But no one acknowledges The Sisters who fought alongside y’all to get things recognized. Whether it was Sha-Rock, Pebbly Poo, Blondie aka Debbie Harry, D.J. Jazzy Joyce, or CoCo Chanel,- we were there and made substantial contributions to the advancement of the HipHop Movement; and for that, RESPECT IS DUE.
    Having said that, I’m Declaring, when the revolution begins we MUST be on the trenches helping y’all. HipHop belongs to us as much as you and we- Women- gotta take accountability and responsibilty for it’s abandonment as well. As much as we helped in the development, we also contributed to it’s fall. When y’all left HipHop for Pimp-Hop, we followed suit by trading Hip-Hoppin’ for HOE-Hoppin’. I never got down like that, but I did very little to buck that system. I thought, with all the money involved the Ends would justify the means and All would be good. I was never so wrong in my life and I am Sooooooo Sorry! I’m A Woman and I can own up to my short comings.
    HipHop needs that from y’all as well. And I think that’s what everyone needs to be Hot about. Let’s not be mad with Oprah, let’s be mad with what happened on Oprah. Or should I say what DIDN’T happen on Oprah. Simmons, Liles, and Chavers didn’t seem to want to acknowledge there was a problem. And once they did, it was as though they did so just to shut folks up. Not Sincere at all. But by NO means did they admit or own up to the fact that they’ve contributed to the problem by signing “Poets” who spew this non-sense jargon. Too much dough to lose I guess.

    I don’t want to be on a Soap Box. As an African-American I will not front like I’ve never used terms such as “Bitch, Hoe, Nigga”. I’m Human and FULL of Fallacies; therefore, I can’t promise I wont ever do it again. Point Is, I’ve never spoken that way all day everyday in mixed company or at the work place. I can definitely form a sentence, into a paragraph, into a page, into a chapter, into books, into volumes without using The BNH Combination. But for those who can’t we need to try to help, instead of watching them wallow in buffonery. And that’s what I try to do everyday.

    Ain’t trying to dis John Mayer, but I’m Not Waiting on The World to change.. I’m trying to do it my DAMN self. Who’s with me?

    Just A Woman’s Perspective.
    Holla If Ya Hear Me …

  • alter negro

    so hiphop is the problem now huh russ? they must pay yah good money for that shit

  • http://youtube.com/lovexxpeacexxjoy phurdrick

    ¡NO PUEDES CENSURAR LA MÚSICA QUE HACEMOS, TÚ TIENES QUE CAMBIAR EL GODDAMN ENVIROMENT! ¡ME DESEAS AL RAP SOBRE LA MARGARITA’ S Y LAS CERCAS del PIQUETE del BLANCO DESPUÉS HACEN ALGO CAMBIAR ESTE INFIERNO que soy LIVIN ADENTRO Y PARAN el CULPAR DE LA MÚSICA! TIENE QUE EMPIEZA LA RAÍZ DEL PROBLEMA UNA NO CIERTA EDICIÓN PEQUEÑA TAL COMO PALABRAS SOBRE UN BEAT.FUCK ESTA MIERDA QUE ME HICIERON SIENDO ENOJADO SOBRE ESTA SITUACIÓN HASTA EL TÍO TOM.

  • see

    BklynBandette – preach realness; bt nobodies listening, they too focused on they timbalands. Little Brother sed it best. black,white,hispanic – we all family in hip-hop cos i gt friends who ARE NOT black who are tired of hearing the ignorance and nonsense that is making money now.

  • the man

    I agree with Russell, he has taken too many drugs. I he truly believe that they should beep it out…give all your money back. You got rich off of people cursing on Def Comedy Jam and countless records and now you say that new artist should be contained. Aint that some sh*tt.

  • BklynBandette

    @SEE

    I hear you Brother about us all being family. But there is no denying the fact that- whether we want to admit or not- the sickness in the music is a reflection of the sickness in our culture. We demean and disrespect our own as it’s NOTHING. I hear dudes in their rhymes shouting out J-Lo & Lindsey Lohan, but wont give Alicia Keys or Keyshia Coles an honorable mention. ??? See what I mean? We’re always reaching for love and acceptance from others while stepping on our own to get it. There’s nothing wrong with a “We Are The World” view. Rap Music HAS done a lot for racial unification. But what about the Unification of The Genders? There are Sisters on a NY street that can spit fire out of any of these dudes asses. Sisters who can get on the wheels of steel and cut’em to shreds. We’re here delivering the goods but being passed up in order for the Industry to provide the “Multi-Cultural” facade to get those “Multi-Cultural” dollars. Black women were sacrificed in the “Transition”.

    All I’m saying is we need to get our own thing tight before we can try to unite with others. When we bring in others it seems as though we’re incapable without their input or guidance. That’s Not True. We-WOMEN- fought alongside y’all during the civil rights movement. Hell, we kicked it off (Mamie Till, look her up). We held y’all down during the Black Panther movement. Certainly we can do this. And once we’re united and undivided, we can then join in with our White, Hispanic, and Asian Brotheren AND Sistren and fight the powers that be. Feel Me?

    Just A Woman’s Perspective.
    Holla If Ya Hear Me …

    P.S.- I just wanna add that I am both greatful and appreciative that we are having an open dialogue. Y’all are hearing and Overstnading me. And I am DEFINITELY hearing and Overstanding y’all. We can agree to disagree, and no one has gotten disrespectful. Thank You!
    When my MySpace page is complete, you’ll all be invited to my Blog so that we can really get it in on HipHop and Gender related issues. See y’all Brothers soon …

  • Yun

    i can’t believe the hate im hearing towards Russell Simmons, i respectfully disagree with Russ, but to talk shit on the man that’s done so much for hip-hop is ignorant

  • blk talib

    fuck what russ is sayin.we grew up in this shit,experience the shit.we was called niggas,hoes and bitches cos of the color of our skin.he got cake in his crib,while i still bread and sweet water fo breakfast.fuck you russ them whities are intimidated now you in the front line fo their asses.bullshit!you a fucken renegade asshole!

  • Still@IT

    There are choices that we all must make and responsibilities we must all accept. Until we do this we will continue to go round & round. Hip hop will ultimately lose if the individuals who are in the mainstream at this time do not stand up. These individuals have become the leaders of our black and latino youth. If, the message is going to be the same then the result is the same. In the mean time record labels will continue to profit. We must begin to take more responsibility in order to sustain our younger genration.

  • BAHLLZ NIGGA!!!

    When we started to depend on radio to market and sell our music, thats when we sold out. We didnt even realize it. Rap is a form of music thats always going to need something to help it survive and grow, like an adult that lives with his parents cause the nigga to lazy to do him! Hip-Hop only needs the struggle and opression spit it freestlye or record it on tape and thats how we create. You cant censor that!

  • BklynBandette

    Y’all Got It! I’m Glad We Had This Talk Brothers. We Gotta Get It In Like This More Often.

  • Demp

    To words, SELL OUT!!!!!!

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  • Skizzyskezel

    As someone has posted earlier, He (Russell Simmons) made money off of foul language and now he wants to censor it. The governemtn shoudln’t scare anyone in the working class community which includes all working class individuals. They are already killin poor people all over the planet. From the urban ghettos to third world countries. Freedom of speech is the most preciuos resource any society can have. One the law makers censor that, they defeat the purpose of calling the US Empire a democracy. They don’t censor their feature movies which glamorize drug use, homosexuality, mafia lords, and murder. The rich people are about to opress the poor and people of color is ways that will make the civil rights movements of the 50′s and 60′s look like a peace parade. Trust Jesus and always stay true!!!! Skezelgod!