Businessman, author, meditation practitioner, and activist RUSSELL SIMMONS runs an empire founded on hip-hop that includes everything from clothing to television to jewelry. But he’s finding that his greatest accomplishment is in giving back.
Visionary trend-and tastemaker Russell Simmons has his finger on the pulse long before the public knows they need it. That’s how he grew his first business, Rush Communications, and the many others that followed. But Simmons credits his extraordinary success to two basic principles — the power of philanthropy and the practice of meditation. His credo is a simple one: “Give what you want to receive,” as he notes, “It’s impossible to receive any sort of lasting success from the world without giving.” In this season of giving, we wanted to know more.
First, a primer for the uninitiated. The term hip-hop can loosely be defined as a progressive modern culture that is translated into music, fashion, media, and attitude as well as colorful additions to the American vernacular. (Think graffiti, beatboxing, rapping, and breakdancing as the movement’s main elements.) Simmons first caught a glimpse of the global force that would change the urban landscape in the mid-’70s while at Harlem’s City College of New York. Growing up in the mean streets of Hollis, Queens, a young Simmons was caught in a familiar trap facing youth in urban America: drugs and gangs. Fortunately, he found a more worthwhile calling as a promoter of local area music groups. Forming Rush Communications (Rush being his nickname) in 1979, one of his biggest acts hit close to home with his brother Joseph “Run” Simmons’ group Run-DMC. As frontrunners of hip-hop, the group was largely regarded as one of the most influential of the genre.
Later, a fateful 1984 nightclub meeting with Rick Rubin, a New York University student who was running a music label called Def Jam out of his dorm room, proved to be another pivotal moment. Simmons was enlisted to help get the label off the ground, and a legendary career was launched.
Def Jam Recordings launched other careers as well, introducing the world to the stylized rhythms of Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, and LL Cool J, just to name a few. Taking the musical expression and artistic culture of the African-American community, Simmons captured both its energy and economic power, eventually developing a global business that today transcends race and cultures.
Capitalizing on his love of fashion, Simmons started a clothing company known as Phat Fashions in 1992, where urban street looks meet Ivy League preppy culture. With a goal of delivering a “universal message that breaks stereotypes and ethnic boundaries,” the line is known for its signature style of argyle sweaters and baseball caps that can often be seen on Simmons himself. Soon, offshoot clothing collections such as Baby Phat, Argyleculture, Pastry footwear, Run Athletics, and American Classics followed.