People who wanted to know about how to break into the music industry were in good company when hip-hop pioneer and entrepreneur Russell Simmons spoke at Ohio State’s Mershon Auditorium Thursday.
The event, which was postponed Nov. 20 because of logistical issues, drew a significant crowd to hear Simmons speak of his experience in the entertainment business. Lee Shadle, an OSU graduate, moderated the event.
Simmons said he got the inspiration for all his ideas by seeing a void in the community.
“I noticed that there was not enough representation of groups like Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys,” Simmons said.
“When I saw that gap musically, I seized the opportunity to make something happen and create a new thing,” he said.
Simmons co-founded Def Jam Recordings in 1984 and signed acts such as LL Cool J, Kurtis Blow, and his brother’s group Run-DMC. He started the Phat Farm clothing company, produced television shows such as Def Comedy Jam and has recently released the RushCard, a pre-paid debit card aimed to help low-income individuals with their credit.
Simmons said he has been able to stay in the music business for so long because of his vision.
“I saw no limitations with hip-hop and am thankful that I have been able to grow up with it and not out of it,” he said.
Simmons spoke of his challenges growing up in a drug-infested neighborhood in Queens, N.Y. Some students were excited that Simmons shared his business insight and struggles.
“I was honored that the busy Russell Simmons was able to come to Ohio State and talk about his life and contributions,” said Paul Douglas, a sophomore in criminology.
Simmons said although his schedule is different each day, he makes an effort to meditate for an hour in the morning.
“I think everyone should try to have some quiet time before their day begins because that peace can help minimize the stress of the day,” he said.
In regard to the Imus controversy and the blame that was placed on hip-hop, Simmons said people should not try to change rap but strive to change society.
“The lyrics in hip-hop a lot of times are a reflection of the world these rappers live in so their words are real for them,” he said.
Simmons said many artists are depressed because they come into the business with a get-rich-quick mentality.
“I have a nice gas-guzzler but a modest apartment now because you find that no matter how many chairs you have you can only sit your butt down in one at a time, and the bigger the house, the more confusing,” he said.
He encouraged students to study what they love because only that passion can give them true happiness in life.
Simmons said he is focusing on his new jewelry line called Diamond Empowerment Fund, which raises money for schools in Africa.
Some students disliked how many bombarded Simmons with questions at the program’s conclusion.
Simmons told entertainment aspirants they have to work hard enough to become indispensable and the company cannot do without them.
“To get noticed you have to make whatever you do so hot that one opportunity leads to another, and your career takes off,” he said.
Heather Hope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.