From Def Jam to UM

Russell Simmons speaks candidly about life and Def
Russell Simmons talked about love, sex, drugs, God and money on Valentine’s Day as part of Black Awareness Month [BAM], Black Reunion Weekend and the kick-off of the Presidents’ Lecture Series.
“I particularly want to thank the black students for what you have done here, to bring us all together – this is about togetherness; this is about bringing the family together,” James Wyche, vice-provost and dean for Arts and Sciences, said. “What you have to understand is that Russell Simmons bridges the generation gap. I can’t tell you how many times my family has sat down, and I’m talking about the youngest of us to myself, and enjoyed Def Jams.”
Simmons is described as a master visionary who has brought hip hop to every facet of media and pop culture. He is the founder and CEO of Def Jam Records and Def Pictures, the creator of HBO’s Def Comedy Jam, the designer of Phat Farm clothing, and the publisher of One World Magazine.
“There is a Def Jam office in every country that you would ever go to,” Simmons said. “Hip hop is something that we developed in our community, but that speaks to everybody in America. Eighty percent of the people who buy rap records are not African American.”
Simmons held an informal discussion on music piracy, on Ja Rule’s inability to keep his shirt on, and on how a struggling MC can get into the business. Simmons says his favorite MCs are Public Enemy, Run DMC, Jay Z and 50 Cent.
“All of my friends who are smarter than me, and most of you who are smarter than me, will move around. You’ll start digging a hole, then hit a rock, then you’ll start digging another hole, and another hole and before you know it you’ll have a bunch of tiny little holes and somebody less resourceful, not nearly as smart, without the experiences or education, will be a success where you started because you quit – most everybody quits.”
“Not one murder record came out on Murder Records that any of you ever bought; you only buy the love records from Murder Records,” Simmons said.
He was quick to clarify his statement to President Shalala.
“Murder is a company,” he said.
“I know, I know,” Shalala said with a smile.
He also discussed the impact of hip hop in the schools.
“What we have here today is really a movement. If you go into a city high school and ask the kids how many of you write poems, 60 to 80 percent of kids will raise their hands,” Simmons said. “If you asked them five years ago, how many of you write poems, they’d deny it.”
Simmons went on to say that Jay-Z is much more well-liked and well known across the world than Colin Powell, and Puffy is much more well-liked and well-known than George Bush.
For those who download music, Simmons reminds you that there is a $25,000 fine per song that you download or trade.
“A lot more music is traded than you could ever imagine even in your wildest dreams being able to sell,” Simmons said. “You won’t all get arrested, but if two of your neighbors get arrested, then you’ll stop downloading music.”
Students appreciated his comments.
“It was cool to hear him talk about piracy while realizing the importance of it. I like that he is looking for a compromise,” Keith Roberts, freshman, said. “He made a lot of good points about life in general, lots of advice about how to get into the business.”
Simmons says he seeks to fight everything that causes poverty and ignorance. One way he does that is by donating all of the money he makes from his speeches to charitable organizations.
Simmons also considers himself a highly spiritual individual and has changed many aspects of his life in order to fulfill that need.
“Muhammad was never a Muslim, Buddha was never a Buddhist, Jesus was never a Christian, Abraham was never a Jew,” Simmons said. “They were all looking for the same thing; they all wanted to achieve a certain relationship with God, which I have found with my yoga practice.”
“I was surprised that he was so into yoga and being a vegan; that seems more hippie than hip hop,” Tasha St. John, sophomore, said. “It’s cool though, because he’s living his life for himself.”
Many students say they enjoyed and learned from the presentation.
“He gave some good advice about getting into the business,” Rodney Johnson, freshman, said. “I never realized the importance of the people as opposed to the importance of the business. I always thought that I had to get a recording contract before I could do anything else, but now I know to get the buzz out about myself and the record companies will come to me.”
“The only thing that would have made the night better would have been if Ja Rule or LL Cool J had come – without their shirts, of course,” St. John said.

Leigha Taber can be contacted at