Russell Simmons remains a dominant force in the world of hip-hop and business, having recognized the rise of the culture and played a major role in packaging and distributing it to the masses before most even knew what rap was.
Years later, he’s considered the “uncle” of the genre, helping direct young artists, defend its many nuances and define what it is. The co-founder of pioneering music label Def Jam said he’s able to remain relevant, in part, because he doesn’t live in the past.
“Nothing ever happens in the past or future,” the yogi recently said. “I look to be present and be of service and give now.”
Now in his late 50s, it would be easy for Simmons to wax poetic about the past. He admits he has lots of friends who fondly reminisce about days gone by.
“They look at their old gold records,” said Simmons whose empire has spanned decades. While some might argue he’s lost some relevance since the days of Def Jam, Simmons prefers to leave the past where it is, look ahead and appreciate today. That’s one secret to his longevity and success.
“Giving now will provide more experiences that you can relish. I’m excited about the project that is in front of me now. I try to stay versed in what’s new,” said Simmons who, as a pioneer of hip hop, could criticize how the genre has changed.
Throughout the years, old and new-school rappers have beefed—on wax and off—over what hip-hop is and what it is not. Ice T has exchanged words with Soulja Boy. Lil Kim has taken issue with Nicki Minaj. Rah Digga is one of many questioning Iggy Azaela’s credibility. However, Simmons said he opts to appreciate how the New York-bred musical expression has evolved. “You should be part of this ongoing process, not stuck in the past.”
Though he’s achieved a lot in his decades-long career, Simmons warns against being results-oriented.
It’s not uncommon to hear artists, producers and labels of today express how money is their main motivation. There are some who are about the artistry and expression, but others who see the genre as a means to an end.
Simmons suggests that will not lead to lasting success of fulfillment. “You cannot be focused on the result; derive your happiness from the work itself. That’s the prayer…not the result,” said the self-described yogi.
“You get up everyday and you have to give without expectation. Work your prayer and what comes back, comes back.”