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Interview: Russell Simmons

Michael Patrick Welch talks to the entrepreneur about his new book

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Russell Simmons' new book is about hip-hop business ... and yoga.
  • Russell Simmons' new book is about hip-hop business ... and yoga.

Def Jam Recordings co-founder, one of the Godfathers of hip-hop, and 54-year-old multi-millionaire Russell Simmons is sometimes called the male Oprah Winfrey. He recently released Super Rich: A Guide To Having It All (Gotham), an advice book emanating not from his career in hip-hop, but yoga.

  Simmons — who also penned the best-selling advice book Do You! — has practiced and studied yoga for 20 years. He was introduced to it by hip, music-focused monk Steve Ross: "A very dedicated yogi, who gave me the book The Power of Now, which I gave to Oprah," Simmons said in an interview with Gambit.

  "Super Rich means 'needing nothing,'" explains Simmons, who reportedly used to discard each new pair of sneakers after just a couple of strolls. "It's a state where your connection to your higher self is so strong ... there's no difference between being broke and being a millionaire."

  Alongside former partner, super-producer Rick Rubin, Simmons served as chairman of Island/Def Jam Recordings (a division of Universal) from 1984 to 1999, when he sold his stake in Def Jam for a reported $100 million. He later unloaded his Phat Farm clothing line. His Russell Simmons Music Group (established in 2005) hasn't had much success promoting the career of his brother, Reverend Run of Run DMC, or a handful of obscure artists. Simmons seems more in tune with businesses like his RushCard prepaid debit card system, designed to help people who have troubles getting credit or establishing bank accounts.

  And yoga helped him do all of this. Simmons says early in Super Rich, "I sincerely hope that everyone reading can employ these principles to attract every toy that I've had the good pleasure to play with."

  In a phone interview, Simmons says yoga can help "remove all the noise in people's heads that separates us from ourselves. In order to succeed we must reduce the noise." Coincidentally, he's in a loud room and has to relocate several times. "These experiences with no noise," he continues, "these moments are short lived; but they are when you can laugh, or have a spark of creativity."

  Def Jam under Simmons' rule (Run DMC, Public Enemy, LL Cool J) boasted a pretty good track record of avoiding the negativity that came to stigmatize some rap. Despite listening to "whatever's hot and commercial on the radio," he still believes today's artists are not simply money-grubbers. "It's the [record] executives who got noise in their heads," he says. "The poets have honesty in their hearts. Plenty of people think they can be rappers, but the focus on the music and not the money is what makes them great."

  Simmons' hip-hop roots also show in the Super Rich chapter, "Give It Away (Until They Can't Live Without It)," wherein he suggests giving away "your gifts" for free and expecting nothing in return. Simmons (whose aforementioned barely worn tennis shoes were always donated to charity) recently wrote a letter to President Barack Obama encouraging the government to tax him and his fellow millionaires. It seems to lend credence to his claim, "The practice of giving is the most rewarding thing in life." He follows that advice with a lesson about rapper 50 Cent's famous free mixtapes, which flooded the streets and won 50 a record deal. Simmons then compares him to himself back in his early career, when he gave away the 45 rpm record featuring Kurtis Blow's "Christmas Rappin" to every New York DJ and radio station.

  "If you're not giving away your gift, then you are not in the game," Simmons reiterates. "And if you are not in the game, you can't win."

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