On my next-to-last day in L.A., I was excited to see hip hop icon and mogul “Uncle Rush,” a.k.a. Russell Simmons, 53, up close and personal. He and author/Executive Director of the GRAMMY Museum Robert Santelli (who interviewed Motown godfather and mogul Berry Gordy the day before) sat in director chairs on the stage and talked in a small theatre-style room at the GRAMMY Museum at L.A. Live. Simmons drove himself to the venue on that rainy evening and talked about his new book, Super Rich, coming up in the hip hop game, race, and relationships (in music and in life). My notes are choppy but here’s what I can recall, although he said much more than this:
To Santelli’s accolades, Simmons said, “Who me? I don’t do s–t.” Then he retracted and talked about a typical day, but that in the end, “you give and then you get.” He said that he was bound to become rich because he has a lifestyle of giving. However, he lost LOTS of money with all of his businesses before they ever became successful. In his words, he said it “f—ing sucked.”
He wrote Super Rich in two months, but took 10 months to rewrite the first chapter so that people could understand his definition of the word “rich.” He said “rich” is the absence of need.
To Santelli’s comparison to Berry Gordy, Simmons said he didn’t really listen to Motown music. He listened to alternative, “rebellious” music. “Motown was supposed to be a sound for America. But we’re (hip hop music is) like, “f— America.”
The song Welcome to the Terrordome (by Public Enemy) is great because of the feeling it gives you, not the sound. There’s nothing particularly melodic or commercial about the sound of the song, but that’s not what it’s about.
It’s very important to maintain authenticity in artist development. The public has to know that an artist is being himself/herself and not the concoction of someone else’s vision.
Likes poets, because poets tell the truth, and are not afraid to say what people are thinking. He likes it when “the poor people got the mic.”
Responses to Audience Q&A
Simmons said he regards Louis Farrakhan as his second father; talked about a post-racial America and said he lives in it but not everyone does.
He would like to spread yoga, compassion, and veganism. “I’m very healthy, I’m not sick, I don’t eat animals.” He said 15 billion farm animals are born to suffer. Oprah had a show about veganism where she showed the process of cows’ last days before being slaughtered, but because the rep said they lived their last 200 days with dignity, that makes it ok? Simmons said he was mad at Oprah when she let that go. The cow lived 14 years fine– where was the dignity at the end?
Quiet time in school (aka meditation) results in better-behaved children and better learning.
To be successful in business, “find a white space and give people what they need.” Don’t think everything has been done, because it hasn’t. Be conscious, find the need, and you can be successful.
In deciding which philanthropic efforts to support, consider “where you can have an effect. Is it an easy way to give and get more done?”
Simmons said the RUSH Card’s fees were misrepresented. [Didn’t catch the name] took all three of their fees and combined them. There are three kinds of fees, and a person chooses the kind of [card?] they want; it’s meant to give people access to credit and so forth that otherwise wouldn’t. (I wish I could have caught his entire explanation here, but he was talking fast. What he said made sense to me though.)
“Yeah I’ll get married again. I have so much energy I’d like to have more kids. I’m sure I’ll be someone’s bitch again someday.” He briefly mentioned a few relationships he’s had (since divorcing Kimora Lee Simmons-Hounsou), but “they were young.” If you’ve seen his show, Running Russell Simmons, then you know why I chuckled at this comment.
(I wish I had thought to ask him about the intern “competition” on his reality show, Running Russell Simmons. I wouldn’t have had the patience with those two!)
And finally, the perfect parting words:
“I know I’m resilient. [I believe] you can’t fail until you quit.”