A Minute with Russell Simmons

The Harbus: Obviously you are very successful, but you have taken a non-traditional approach to your path to success. What advantages do you think you have had in your path compared to a person that has taken the traditional path of pursuing a MBA?

RS: I don’t think I got an advantage from not being educated. But I think that sometimes people they miss opportunities because they have been taught something, or something else, and it gives them a rigid point of view. But we can all get that from any where, it doesn’t have to come from education, that’s for sure.

The Harbus: How do you reconcile ownership and activism at the same time?

RS: I think the only way you can get back is by giving anyway. If there is an important lesson that I can give these kids, it’s [that it’s] only about service. So it goes hand and hand.

The Harbus: What single group do you think has had the biggest impact on Def Jam.

RS: Most influential in what space? They all do different things. They all have a different kind of influence. I want to hear the truth always so hearing the truth is important. I might wake up one morning and just because [a group] said “[explicative] the police” they are the best group I have ever had. The next day, [I might] think Public Enemy because they fall out of the civil rights initiative including when they [had] a really big effect on the Martin Luther King’s birthday [issue, and] made it a holiday in the state [New York], and that was positive. They all have had inputs. And positive inputs have come from different artists.

The Harbus: Do you think that hip hop is sustainable as a business model, if so how will it change over the next ten years?

RS: I’ve been in hip hop for 25 years, and the same artists are still making records from then. It’s pretty sustainable, I think. [Going forward] it’s only going to do what our society does, it’s a reflection of our truth and our times. When the economy gets bad, they start talking about those issues. [Hip Hop artists] say what the people want to hear most always because they are connected [to the people], at least the successful ones are. So it’s going to depend on how this country [and the world] evolve.

March 10, 2003
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