American music mogul and entrepreneur Russell Simmons took the hip-hop community by storm, and has shaped music, fashion, film and philanthropy with his pioneering vision. VH1 declared Simmons the most important businessman in the history of rap music.
He co-founded Def Jam Records, which has helped bring hip-hop into mainstream American culture. Def Jam artists include LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy. He built Def Jam into the “largest black-owned enterprise in the industry” and helped manage his brother’s hip-hop trio, RUN DMC’s, to stardom.
Russell grew up in the Hollis neighborhood of Queens, and his family’s home was near a corner known for drug users and dealers. It seemed that Russell was on the same path as his heroine-addict brother Danny, but he took control of his future and started taking classes at Manhattan City College and getting involved in the music scene.
Later he said, “black culture or urban culture is for all peple who buy into it and not just for black people. Whether it’s film or records or advertising or clothing, I don’t accept the box that they put me in.”
Ever since, Russell has been shaping the hip-hop community and pushing the boundaries of what is accepted as normal.
Since selling Def Jam for $100 million in 1999, he’s branched out into other ventures, like his clothing lines Phat Farm and Baby Phat, hip hop documentaries, and events like Russell Simmon’s Def Poetry Jam.
Recently, he’s focusing his energy on the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, a non-profit that deals with the image of hip-hop in the new millennium.
Check out Russell talking about what gave him the courage to become a hip-hop innovator.