In 1986, a 28 year old, Russell Simmons made an expensive overseas phone call to Adidas World headquarters in Germany....the then manager of Run-DMC and co-founder of Def Jam Records set up a meeting with Adidas executives in regards to royalties for all of the publicity generated in the US for the German shoe manufacture by Run-DMC's historic rap song "My Adidas".
When Rush arrived in Germany, Adidas executives weren't hearing it...there was no way that they wanted their shoe and sportswear empire associated with RAP music. Simmons took the scoff in stride...offered to fly an Adidas exec to New York for a Run-DMC concert...where Rush's brother Run tells the audience at the packed concert to "throw their Adidas in the air!" A sea of thousands of shell-toe sneakers spins the Adidas exec's head around....Russell Simmons, days after inks a million dollar deal with Adidas...one of the easiest US-European sponsorship deals ever done.
Flash forward almost 20 years, Russell Simmons, now media mogul, who has helped shape Hip Hop, it's music, culture and fashion is now ready to take Hip Hop into a new arena...Politics. Currently supporting a nationwide boycott of Pepsi and sponsoring Hip Hop Summits across the US...Mr. Simmons is a man not to be taken lightly.
I had the chance to catch up to Rush during one of his many college speaking engagements.
"I like to see these young artists out here hustling...working to get their particular 'game' out there. Unfortunately this industry that has been created by Hip Hop has become money driven like all forms of successful business and it has resulted in less opportunity for up and coming entertainers and entrepreneurs of color or low income. That's why I'm here...not because UT gave some money to one of my charities...but, because I learned early on, that life is about what you can give...not get."
But, unfortunately according to Rush there are those that would stagnate the development of Hip Hop and hinder the development of a "giving" system within Hip Hop. As we move toward the more intimate setting of the 'green room' provided by the university...Rush becomes more focused on our conversation.
"Right, now you have people in the public eye like Bill O'Reilly...this guy says what he wants and means it. He managed to get Snoop kicked off of the Muppets and now he has gotten Pepsi to drop Ludacris as commercial rep for them...our boycott against Pepsi isn't about Ludacris or Hip Hop music...it's about the ability to be productive in our society...it's about dollars and sense...common sense. I don't let my kids listen to some rap music. But, if you ask me what the most off the chain albums I have heard so far, I'd have to say 50 Cent and Eminem...I know this music has it's place...but, to outright attack based on a bullshit opinion of a TV talking head !?!" (Rush smiles as if he is having an epiphany)"As a matter of fact..both of those rappers do exactly what Bill O'Reilly is doing...creating a fan base with controversy and enforcing that base with controversy...now what type of hypocritical crap is that? O'Reilly boosts his ratings by bashing the named rappers. And it will continue..since rap's inception...it has been bashed as the cause of police shooting, school violence, rape, etc...but, where are the headline about the good rappers do...Artists like Jam Master Jay, unfortunately only make the headlines in their deaths...not for the good they accomplished in life...There's no one following, Snoop, Luda, Jay-Z, 50 or others around looking for their good deeds."
Should Hip Hop have direct involvement in politics?
RUSH: "Hip Hop has always been about politics...it was and is a means to an ends...I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't. But, now it is time for Hip Hop to assert itself...Politics has changed." Simmons states with a non-chalant wave of his hand. "I have given money to the Democrats...I support Sharpton's run...I supported Hillary in New York...but in the end it is all politics, and politicians in the end don't really give a shit...so, why shouldn't we that are in Hip Hop start making a difference with the influence we have. Again, Hip Hop's purpose was to develop a way out...we now have the ability to give youth a way out of poverty. 50 Cent was shot in front of his grandmother's home...but, today he is one of the hottest rappers out there. 50 Cent is a true thug, who managed to make it. I'm not glorifying the lifestyle, hell that's where I came from...what I'm doing is questioning why Hip Hop exists...The end question should be...Why according to O'Reilly does Hip Hop threaten the moral fiber of America? Is it because Hip Hop is enabling the underprivileged to finally have a voice? Hip Hop has enlivened the business sense in urban youth...Hip Hop has presented itself on the world stage as a viable economic entity and it now has the ability to empower the powerless. In the end...I am about defending and developing the art form of Hip Hop. And with this development comes a responsibility...there are other issues that are important to Hip Hop. Rappers don't want to go to war...only poor people die in wars...mine is the goal to organize Hip Hop so that it stays organized in regards to our music, lives, environment, health and financial stability. And I feel that I MUST be responsible...because I have the money and influence to cause change. And change is always good."
Bill O'Reilly aside...Hip Hop has always gotten the bum's rush...will there ever be an acceptance of it.
RUSH: It has been accepted...shit $5 Billion a year is enough acceptance...the powers that be just think they can control it and that's not happening...no matter how much money it makes..has gospel left the church...blues the juke joints...Hip Hop will always find it's inspiration from the streets...whether you're a white kid with braces in Flatbush or a brotha in Iowa...Hip Hop is Hip Hop.
To what do you credit success?
RUSH: (laughs) My wife..my kids...my family. I went through a lot coming up...drugs, all that. I'm not a religious person, I work with a lot of religious people...everyone is looking..Allah, Buddha, Abraham... Jesus....they are all the same...I credit that being for allowing to discover my true purpose....a lot of my friends have died to drugs and violence....Violence is in Rap and Spoken Word..listen to DMX... His shit is mad angry...but, listen to his spoken joints...there he talks of peace...redemption...hope.... That's the paradox...My success is universal..it's there for everyone...some of us just need a hand up."