Hailed as the ‘hip-hop pioneer’ and one of the ‘Top 25 Most Influential People of the Past 25 Years’, Russell Simmons has played a pivotal role in bringing hip-hop music to the forefront. He is the co-founder of the record label, ‘Def Jam’, which successfully acted as a launch pad for ‘Beastie Boys’, Jay Z, Foxy Brown and Ludacris, among many other stars in the music industry. He has been an influential figure in the genre of hip-hop music and passionately brought marginalised voices to mass audiences. Growing up in the streets of New York City, Simmons was a street hustler during his teenage years and while he was still in college he began to promote many hip-hop artists. A film producer, record producer, entrepreneur and successful businessman, Simmons dons many hats and apart from his music empire he also owns a successful clothing line, ‘Phat Farm’. He is also the owner of the clothing lines, ‘Argyleculture’ and ‘American Classics’. He regularly contributes to the ‘Huffington Post’ and is a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Slavery Memorial. An environmentalist at heart, he practises veganism and Ahimsa and was presented with the PETA Humanitarian Award in 2001.
Childhood & Early Life
Russell Simmons was born on October 4, 1957, in Queens, New York to Daniel Simmons, Sr. and Evelyn Simmons. His father was a public school administrator and his mother worked as a park administrator.
In 1975, he attended the City College of New York for a brief period of time, after which he dropped out and went on to promote local musicians like Run-D.M.C and Kurtis Blow.
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In 1983, he joined hands with Rick Rubin and founded the record label; ‘Def Jam’ which soon began releasing hip-hop singles of several artists.
In 1984, ‘Def Jam’ released American rapper LL Cool J's hip-hop single ‘I Need a Beat’ and American hip-hop band ‘Beastie Boys’ single ‘Rock Hard’.
He produced the feature film, ‘Krush Groove’ in 1985, which was directed by Michael Schultz. The plot of the film was centred on the early days of the record label ‘Def Jam’.
By 1986, ‘Def Jam’ was discovering new talents and they began to venture into the mainstream. They topped the music charts with releases like ‘Licensed to Ill’, and ‘Raising Hell’.
In 1988, he worked with more new talents, which made the ‘Def Jam’ label one of the most successful hip-hop labels of that time. That year, Rick Rubin left the company.
Branching out to other ventures, he founded ‘Phat Farm’ in 1992. It was a line of clothing for men that catered to the needs of contemporary demands. The label also launched a children’s clothing line, ‘Baby Phat’.
In 1996, he produced the comedy film, ‘The Nutty Professor’, which starred Eddie Murphy. The film was a blockbuster hit and received positive reviews from the critics.
In 1999, the Universal Music Group purchased a share of ‘Def Jam’ for the price of $100 million. After the deal, Universal Music Group merged with Island Records to become The Island Def Jam Music Group.
Later in the year 1999, he began to work on many projects for his Rush Communications company. The company ventured into film production, sportswear and advertising.
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In 2002, he produced the HBO television series, ‘Def Poetry’, which featured performances by well-known poets. The show also gave a platform to young talents in the field of poetry.
In 2011, he published his book titled, ‘Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All’, which was written as a guide to achieve much abundance and wealth. The book is a blend of spiritual wisdom and street-smartness.
He is the founder of the clothing line, ‘Phat Farm’, which initially began as a small showroom in New York. The clothing line expanded and turned into a multibillion dollar business.
He was the co-founder of the record label, ‘Def Jam’, which was an immensely successful record label that helped launch the careers of many hip-hop artists in the industry.
Awards & Achievements
In 2001, he was the recipient of the PETA Humanitarian Award.
The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made him the Goodwill Ambassador to the UN Slavery Memorial in 2009.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1992, he met his future wife, Kimora Lee at the New York Fashion week, after which the two began dating and were in a relationship for several years.
He got married to Kimora Lee on the Saint Barthélemy Island, located in France in 1998. They have two daughters but their marriage ended in divorce in 2009.
He is a vegan and believes in the principle of Ahimsa. He is also an animal rights activist and supports ‘Farm Sanctuary’, an animal rights protection organisation.
In 2002, he penned his biography, ‘Life and Def: Sex, Drugs, Money and God’, which delved into his personal life, his journey and the evolution of ‘Def Jam’ and his personal philosophies.