Russell Simmons is a kingpin in the hip-hop world. Known as a mogul, Simmons rose to prominence alongside Run-DMC. Not an official member of the group, Simmons was an affiliate, record producer and businessman before anything else and helped the group obtain the stardom they did with his business acumen.
Born and raised in the Hollis neighbourhood of Queens, New York, Russell Simmons is the older brother of Joseph Simmons, one of the founding members of Run-DMC. Alongside Darryl McDaniels under the moniker DMC, and Jason Mizell, known to most as Jam Master Jay, the trio would have a seismic impact on hip-hop culture. However, as previously highlighted, Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin (the group’s affiliates) were an integral part of the group’s success.
Arguably, Simmons and Rubin have had a far more significant impact on hip-hop over the years than any of the Run-DMC members. While Run-DMC was shaking up the music industry, Rubin and Simmons built something that still exists to this day, the legendary records label Def Jam Recordings. A famed producer, Rick Rubin was just a master of music with a talent that knew no limits. Akin to renowned producer Larry Smith, he was highly involved with Run-DMC. However, Rubin was affiliated to such an extent that he founded Def Jam Records alongside Russell Simmons.
The legendary DJ Jazzy Jay of the Zulu Nation taught Rubin the ropes of rap music production. However, with his NYU education, he took things to an entirely new level . Crossing paths with Simmons while at NYU, the two created hip-hop history when they founded Def Jam to release ‘It’s Yours’ by T La Rock and Jazzy Jay. From there, it continued to grow, but Simmons grew to become an unstoppable music executive. In this article, we’re going to dissect the various ways in which Simmons became a music mogul with a net worth of over $340 million dollars.
How Russell Simmons became a top executive:
Def Jam Recordings
Beginning with the obvious, the formation of Def Jam recordings is akin to the creation of Roc-A-Fella. Def Jam started as a small record label with only a handful of acts. However, one of the acts (Run-DMC) was so influential that it began to become a powerhouse itself. Before its creation, Simmons was already one of only a few knowledgeable and successful African-American music managers in the US.
Having already managed artists such as Kurtis Blow, Run DMC, Whodini, and Jimmy Spicer, he was primed to start his label when he met Rubin. With a mega-producer at his side, he knew they could produce and promote any good emcee together. Following the success of Run-DMC and Kurtis Blow, by the mid-’80s, Universal Music Group (UMG) had offered Simmons and Rubin a label deal. This led to Def Jam becoming a subsidiary of UMG. With larger funds, better recording amenities, and further reaching distribution, the pair had the tools they needed to keep on churning out quality music and cultivate phenomenal talent.
Keeping his ear to the streets, Simmons signed a vast array of incredible acts, including Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Jay Z, DMX, and Kanye West. Def Jam even co-opted Roc-A-Fella records. In 1996, wanting to focus more on music production as opposed to management, Rick Rubin sold his share of the company for $120 million to Universal Music Group. However, Simmons retained his which allowed him to acquire greater amounts of wealth. Although it was founded and grew predominantly in the ’80s and ’90s, Def Jam continued to prosper and is still operating today. Artists still on the label include the likes of DJ Khaled, Pusha T and 2 Chainz.
Def Comedy Jam
Akin to many music moguls, after establishing a solid foundation in music, Simmons branched out into the world of television. In 1997, Simmons penned a deal with HBO to produce a stand-up comedy show, and it turned out to be a hit. Presented by Martin Lawrence the programme featured a different line-up for each show. With a running time of half an hour, it became one of the US’s most popular stand-up comedy shows. A year prior to its creation, Simmons had helped produce The Nutty professor, a smash-hit comedy film starring Eddie Murphy. Def Comedy Jam ran for five years until 2002. It was then relaunched in 2006 but to little success.
In 1992, Simmons launched a streetwear clothing line called Phat Fashion. Comprised of Phat Farm and Baby Phat, the brand was created as a high-end hip-hop clothing brand. Operating out of a flagship store in Manhattan’s SoHo district, well-known rappers promoted the brand. However, with the creation of Roca Wear and with G-Unit getting their own Reebok deal, the hip-hop fashion market soon began to get extremely competitive, and Phat Fashion wasn’t faring well. As a result, in 2004, Simmons sold Phat Fashion and Baby Phat to the Kellwood Company for $140 million.
Russell Simmons made a venture involving the Metaverse, and in 2021, the multi-millionaire released an NFT collection named ‘Masterminds of hip-hop’. Curated by West Coast legend Snoop Dogg, who also has made endeavours with regard to the Metaverse, the NFT collection featured never-before-released Def Jam-owned recordings. With unreleased audio from the likes of Doug E Fresh and run-DMC, it was aimed at taking fans back to the roots of the culture.