Russell Simmons
Founder & CEO, Rush Communications

Russell Simmons on the Death of Hip-Hop

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Between Jay-Z, LL Cool J and Ice-T, no signs point downwards.

Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons is an entrepreneur, author, activist and philanthropist who has used his boundless creativity and eye for talent to launch superstar careers and groundbreaking enterprises in arenas as varied as music, film, television, fashion, comedy, poetry, digital platforms, Broadway plays and finance. Simmons’ achievements have earned him a spot on a USA Today list of the world’s 25 most influential people of the past 25 years, as well as a fortune that places him among the wealthiest figures in hip-hop history. Underlying all his trend-setting endeavors are a passionate sense of social responsibility and an unshakable belief in justice for all people, regardless of race, class, religion or sexual orientation. After having produced or managed artists such as Kurtis Blow, Run DMC, Whodini, Jimmy Spicer amongst many others, Simmons and producer Rick Rubin joined forces founding Def Jam Recordings. During his tenure as Chairman of the record label beginning in 1984, he helped sign acts from the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, LL Cool J all the way to Jay Z and Kanye West.

Simmons is widely known as a champion of social justice and equality for those who are discriminated against for any reason. A longtime advocate for LGBT rights, he was honored with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Award. Simmons also has worked to foster racial and religious reconciliation through the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which supports interfaith communications between religious and ethnic leaders in 40 countries. He remains a staunch supporter of the Occupy movement, which is dedicated to giving the people a stronger voice than corporations.

Also a devout vegan and strong advocate for animal rights and received the PETA Man of the Year Award in 2011. Simmons’ many charitable endeavors include the Diamond Empowerment Fund, a global organization that supports educational initiatives for disadvantaged people in diamond-producing African nations and Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, which gives young people the opportunity to create and appreciate art. Simmons has written three New York Times best-selling author on happiness and well-being: Do You! 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and SuccessSuper Rich: A Guide to Having It All, and Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple. Simmons grew up in Queens and has two daughters, Ming Lee and Aoki Lee.


Question: Is hip-hop dead?

Russell Simmons:   Hip-hop’s been dying or dead every single year since its inception.  So as long as it’s eight of the top eight downloads last week, I feel it’s not dead.  It still has a tremendous influence in American pop culture; it’s still the greatest brand building community in the world.  They have all kinds of inspiration and influence for American mainstream, they made the President by shifting race dialogue, when Run DMZ got on MTV there were no black people at all except Michael Jackson, and they changed a lot in America and the way people see each other.  Jay-Z’s not dead, as far as I can tell, artists last.  LL Cool J is on a number one show.  Ice-T’s not dead; he’s 45.

I’m 51, I’ve got new businesses that are hip hop-related, and they’re growing.  I don’t feel hip hop is dead.  I don’t feel there are any good signs that would say that.  I guess young people do download quicker than people who might buy a Whitney Houston record or something, but that’s just what they do.  Hip-hop is being consumed as much now as ever and that’s an important statement and it has as much affect on American mainstream culture now as ever, and that’s another good statement.  So, it’s hard to predict the death of a cultural phenomenon that’s transformed America in so many ways.

Recorded on October 27, 2009