Career Highlights

  • Owner & Founder of Def Jam Records
  • Simmons began career by organizing concerts and managing inner-city artists until helping form Run-DMC.
  • Began careers of unknowns like LL Cool J and Public Enemy famous.
  • Turned Hip-Hop from a race-based culture to a youth-based one by signing white rappers Beastie Boys and pairing Run-DMC with Aerosmith.
  • Founded and built PHAT FARM, a $140 million clothing business based on the idea that fashion designers co-opted Hip-Hop styles.

Career Overview

    Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons was born in Queens, New York in 1957. As a teenager Simmons fell into trouble selling marijuana, and for a short time he was a member of a gang called the Seven Immortals. At 18, Simmons took classes at Manhattan City College, but dropped out of school to promote local rap music artists including Kurtis Blow and Run DMC. In 1984, Simmons founded Def Jams Records with business partner Rick Rubin, and signed the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J and Public Enemy amongst other artists.

    Simmons went on to produce two films Krush Groove, highlighting his own life story, and Tougher Than Leather. In 1992 Simmons joined efforts to launch the hit HBO series "Def Comedy Jam," featuring comedians Chris Rock, Bernie Mac and Martin Lawrence. The show brought talented but controversial black comedians into the mainstream of American culture. During that same year, Simmons founded his clothing company Phat Fashions, LLC. While the company failed to make profits within its first six years, it went on to make $263 million in revenue in 2002, and was later sold to the Kellwood Group for a reported $140 million. In 1996 Simmons returned to movies producing the hit film The Nutty Professor, starring Eddie Murphy, and entered the magazine business publishing One World, a music and culture magazine. In 1999, Simmons sold the remainder of his shares to Def Jam, staying on as a nominal chairman. While he continued to take on other business ventures Simmons retuned to HBO in 2001 with the show "Poetry Jam" hosted by Most Def.

    Since May 2005 Simmons has been a contributing blogger at The Huffington Post, and in January 2009 he was named Editor-In-Chief of The World According To Hip-Hop. Simmons has also taken on the title of philanthropist. He has recently devoted ample time to the Hip- Hop Summit Action Network, a non-profit dedicated to the responsible directions in image and marketing for hip-hop to take in the future.


    Russell Simmons sits down with ThinkTalk host Janell Snowden to discuss his career as a hip-hop mogul, and tells us why he created Def Jam Records, "Def Comedy Jam" and other projects. He also discusses his role in promoting more positive messages in the hip-hop community. Simmons answers questions from Howard University students Steve and Kdist. Steve asks what next step he should take in starting his own record label after establishing himself as a label and taking on a few artists. Kdist asks how Simmons plans to change the image of black women in the media.

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