Starting out as a promoter, American entrepreneur Russell Simmons, the older brother of rapper and hip hop pioneer Joseph Simmons of Run-D.M.C. fame, first came to prominence as the cofounder of the label Def Jam Recordings in 1984, along with Rick Rubin. By the time he sold Def Jam in 1999, the label had produced successful records for such artists as Public Enemy, LL Cool J, ONYX and EPMD. He also founded the label Russell Simmons Music Group. Currently, Simmons is the CEO of Rush Communications Inc., which includes the Phat Farm clothing line, a management company, a movie production house, a TV production company, a magazine, and an advertising agency. Through Russell Simmons Televisions, Simmons scored a popular TV show with “Def Comedy Jam” (HBO, 1992-1997, 2006, 2008). He also executive produced the TV shows “Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry” (HBO, 2002-2007), “Russell Simmons Presents Brave New Voices” (HBO, 2009), “Run's House” (MTV, 2005-2009) and “Daddy's Girls” (MTV, 2009). Movies produced by Simmons include “Krush Groove” (1985), “Tougher Than Leather” (1988), “The Nutty Professor” (1996), “How to Be a Player” (1997) and “Waist Deep” (2006).
In 2007, Simmons released “Do You! 12 Laws To Access The Power In You To Achieve Happiness And Success,” a self help book that he co-wrote with Chris Morrow. Donald Trump contributed to the book’s introduction.
An active philanthropist, Simmons has participated in various charitable activities. Along with many other top executives in the clothing and home fashion industry, he established Fashion Delivers Charitable Foundation, Inc. He is also the co-founder of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, the Rush Philanthropic Organization and the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and has supported the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. He has also supported the animal rights organization PETA. In May 2009, Simmons was named Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Slavery Memorial at the United Nations.
“My little girls are the most beautiful women in the world. I am a lucky, lucky man. I will spend every day making sure that they know this.” Russell Simmons
Simmons was married to supermodel turned fashion partner Kimora Lee Simmons from December 1998 to January 2009. After the couple became estranged in 2006, he reportedly dated actress Porschla Coleman, who is 28 years his junior.
Childhood and Family:
Russell Wendell Simmons was born on October 4, 1957, in Queens, New York, to Daniel Simmons Sr., who taught at Pace University, and Evelyn Simmons, a New York City park administrator. He has two brothers, Daniel 'Danny' Simmons Jr. (older), an artist, and Joseph Simmons (younger), who is popular as Rev Run of the hip hop group Run-D.M.C. Growing up in the Hollis area of Queens, Russell, whose nickname is Rush, became a street hustler and was involved with street gangs. It was not until he found talented artists that he decided to clean up his life and turn his attention elsewhere. He attended City College of New York to study sociology, but dropped out to start promoting local rap musical acts.
On December 20, 1998, Rush married model/actress Kimora Lee (born on May 4, 1975), whom he met at New York's fashion week in November 1992. They welcomed a baby girl named Ming Lee Simmons on January 21, 2000. The couple's second daughter, Aoki Lee Simmons, was born on August 16, 2002.
In March 2006, Rush and his wife announced their separation and he filed for divorce from his wife on March 25, 2008. The divorce was finalized in January 2009. The two would go on to work together on Phat Farm and Baby Phat clothing lines.
Rush is a vegan. In 2002, he was named “Sexiest Vegetarian in the World” by PETA. He practices Tai Chi, Yoga and meditation.
21 year old Russell Simmons began spending his spare time promoting hip hop block parties and club shows around Harlem and Queens. About the same period, he managed the career of his friend, rapper Kurtis Blow. In 1979, he helped write a single for him called “Christmas Rappin'.” By the time Russ quit school, he had decided to professionally pursue an artist management career and founded Rush Productions.
In 1982, Simmons recruited his brother's group and named them Run-D.M.C. Over the next few years, he helped them rise to stardom. He also encountered electronic music pioneer Bruce Haack and they worked together on the recording of “Party Machine.” Although the song failed to see daylight, it is currently regarded as a “blueprint” of electro/rap music and is one of first recordings of Simmons before he launched a hip hop career.
It was also during 1982 that Simmons was introduced to Rick Rubin by DJ Jazzy Jay. The two joined forces to set up the Def Jam record label two years later. Def Jam Recordings subsequently released LL Cool J's debut single “I Need a Beat” and the Beastie Boys' “Rock Hard” (both 1984). Def Jam then scored a distributing deal with CBS Records' Columbia Records in 1985 and went on to become one of the most successful labels in hip hop history by releasing recordings by LL Cool, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, 3rd Bass, Onyx, EPMD, Slick Rick, Method Man and Foxy Brown, to name a few.
Meanwhile, in 1985, Simmons ventured to the big screen when he served as a co-producer on the drama “Krush Groove,” based on the early days of Def Jam Recordings, with Blair Underwood starring as up and coming manager Russell Walker (the fictionalized character of Simmons). Directed by Michael Schultz and written by Ralph Farquhar with Simmons serving as story consultant, the film received negative reviews from critics but was a success among hip hop fans. The film featured Rick Rubin and Run-D.M.C., in addition to Def Jam artists Beastie Boys and LL Cool J. Simmons also appeared in the film as a club owner named Crocket. In 1988, under Def Pictures, Simmons produced the independent film “Tougher Than Leather,” which was directed by Rick Rubin and starred Run-D.M.C. Like its predecessor, the film was also panned by critics. Around the same period, Rubin left Def Jam Recordings following a power battle against the company's eventual president, Lyor Cohen. After Rubin's departure, Simmons became the only head of the company.
By the early 1990s, Simmons had branched out to television with the creation of “Def Comedy Jam,” which served as a media for African American standup comedians. The show debuted on HBO on July 1, 1992, and continued to run until January 1, 1997. Some comic talents that appeared during the show's run are Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx, Chris Rock, Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mac, Steve Harvey, Chris Tucker, Mike Epps, and D.L. Hughley.
Simmons went on to widen his business ventures by launching a clothing line called Phat Farm. He later helped create Baby Phat, which was handled by Kimora Lee. The company also added a line of fragrances, eyeglasses and children's clothing to the line.
After executive producing the HBO special “Def Comedy Jam: Primetime” (1994), Simmons returned to feature films by executive producing “The Addiction” (1995), a horror film directed by Abel Ferrara and starring Christopher Walken, Lili Taylor and Annabella Sciorra. The film was nominated for a Golden Berlin Bear at the 1995 Berlin International Film Festival and Independent Spirit Awards for Best Feature and Best Female Lead (Taylor). The same year, he appeared in the hip hop documentary “The Show,” which was directed by Brian Robbins. Simmons next produced the Eddie Murphy comedy “The Nutty Professor” (1996), the drama “The Funeral” (1996), a second partnership with director Abel Ferrara, the comedy “Gridlock'd” (1997), directed and written by Vondie Curtis-Hall and starring Tupac Shakur, Tim Roth, Thandie Newton and Charles Fleischer, and “Def Jam's 'How to be a Player'” (1998), for director Lionel C. Martin and star Bill Bellamy. Around 1996, Simmons also launched the hip hop magazine “One World,” which later spawned a syndicated TV series called “One World Music Beat” (1998-2001), hosted by Kimora Lee.
In 1999, Simmons sold Def Jam to Universal Music Group for a reported $100 million. He continued to focus his energies on building his clothing company and later, on the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN).
In the early millennium, Simmons executive produced the TV game show “Are You Hip-Hop's Biggest Fan” (2000) and the award winning TV documentary “It's Black Entertainment” (2002), which was helmed by Stan Lathan. He, however, did not return to series TV until he produced the documentary show “Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry” (2002-2007), hosted by Mos Def. Debuting on HBO in June 2002, the show won the 2003 Peabody Award for Outstanding Variety - Series or Special.
2002 also saw “Russell Simmons' 'Def Poetry Jam,’” which debuted on Broadway in November and ran until May 2003. It won a 2003 Tony for Best Special Theatrical Event. After its success on Broadway, the show toured nationally and internationally. Poets featured on the show included Jessica Care Moore, Beau Sia, Suheir Hammad, Staceyann Chin, Lemon, Mayda del Valle, Georgia Me, Black Ice, Poetri and Steve Coleman.
In 2004, Simmons sold Phat Farm to the Kellwood Company for $140 million. Shortly thereafter, Kellwood promoted wife Kimona as President and Creative Director of Phat Fashions. The promotion has been reported as the cause of Simmons divorce from his wife.
Simmons next lent his producing talents for the failed TV series “Russell Simmons Presents: Hip Hop Justice” (2004), the TV miniseries “And You Don't Stop: 30 Years of Hip-Hop” (2004), the direct to video documentaries “The Industry” (2004) and “The History Makers” (2005), and the motion picture “Waist Deep” (2006), which was directed by Vondie Curtis-Hall and starred Tyrese Gibson (all as executive producer). In September 2006, “Def Comedy Jam” returned to HBO for 11 episodes until November 2006. The following season it was broadcasted from January to March 2008.
From 2008 to 2009, Simmons served as an executive producer on the MTV reality TV series “Run's House.” In 2009, he executive produced HBO's “Russell Simmons Presents Brave New Voices” and the MTV reality series “Daddy's Girls.” “Daddy's Girls” ran from January to September 2009. Still in 2009, Simmons also executive produced the reality show “American Mogul: Russell Simmons,” for A&E TV Network.
Image: Vanguard Award, 2009