He’s known as the godfather of hip hop, but media mogul Russell Simmons is so much more. For this Black History Month profile, we take an in-depth look at how a kid from Queens became one of the most influential men of our time.
“I was very lucky that I found a passion,” said Simmons.
That passion helped him become one of the wealthiest men in America and allowed him to shape the face of music, fashion, business and philanthropy.
As a kid growing up in Queens, Simmons faced the same challenges so many young people do today. He was a hustler and even got caught up in gangs. However, in the late 1970’s, he discovered a unique musical sound that we all know as hip hop.
Early on his brother, Reverend Run of Run DMC, proved he had the sound, and Simmons clearly had the savvy to take hip hop to the next level. He started throwing block parties and promoting rappers like pioneer Kurtis Blow, proving to record labels that hip hop was not a fad. It was a cultural revolution.
In 1984, he and Rick Rubin started Def Jam Records. The label launched hip hop legends like LL Cool J, The Beastie Boys and Jay-Z.
Simmons didn’t stop there. He launched Rush Communications, which spawned clothing lines like Phat Farm, an extremely successful TV and movie production company and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. His empire is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Today, he’s devoting a lot of his time to giving back through various charities and educational programs. Simmons also wants to teach the rest of us the principles that have made him so successful. He sat down with me inside the FOX 2 studios for a candid conversation about his latest labor of love.
“The work itself in terms of changing people’s mind about how they go about their life daily is a very special job, and I take it very seriously,” said Simmons.
His latest book is called “Super Rich”. The title doesn’t mean what you think.
“I define super rich as the state of needing nothing,” Simmons said. “We naturally wake up in the morning and decide on what we’re going to give as opposed to what we’re going to get.”
Did he always operate from a space of giving? From the very beginning, did he know that was why he was doing what he did?
“You’re not conscious of these natural instincts, and so you may not have as much faith in them or you may not operate as much from them, but those are your natural inclinations,” he replied.
So many people are focused on the bling. How do you get them to adopt this?
“I think it’s written in such a way it should ring a bell. People, they know it instinctively. They know what they enjoy doing. The poet likes to write poetry. He gets a call, he drives around a car and then he parks it. Certainly any rapper who’s successful and continues to have success, the trappings of that success have not taken him from his art. There’s a moment where some success stories, you think you worked for things. You get those things and for a moment you get sad because those things don’t matter,” Simmons said.
Simmons points to his spirituality as a key reason for his success. He’s Buddhist, practices yoga and follows a strict vegan diet. He wants to inspire us to follow his lead and tap into our true potential.
“This process is one that people don’t learn. They feel sometimes entitled and they also feel attached to the results when the actual prayer is the work,” he said.
Simmons said good givers are even better getters, and he’s living proof.
“Find something that you think will uplift the world and make that your job,” he said.
And what does he want his legacy to be?
“A good legacy would be my two beautiful daughters, that they would grow up and be good givers,” said Simmons.
He said all the proceeds from “Super Rich” will go to philanthropic causes.
Click on the video in the player above to watch the interview in its entirety.