More than three decades ago, Simmons created one of the most iconic record labels, Def Jam, along with friend and producer Rick Rubin. He ran circles around corporate America, while managing the legendary hip hop group, Run DMC.
He started the urban streetwear brand, Phat Farm, and subsequently gave entrepreneur, supermodel and then-wife Kimora Lee Simmons the platform to pioneer ghetto fabulous fashion with Baby Phat.
Then Simmons went on to diversify his brand from hip hop to health by sharing his yoga and transcendental meditation journeys and businesses - which you can buy into using your RushCard (which Simmons founded).
Simmons will be touching on these aspects of his life and more at The Liberty Vuka Knowledge Summit, which will be held at the Sandton Convention Centre on November 1 and 2. He is appearing alongside the likes of Nobel Prize recipient Wole Soyinka, digital entrepreneur Anette Muller, youth activist Vivian Onano, and Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant.
The theme for this event is “Awaken Your Curiosity” - something Simmons thrives on. “I have gone through a lot of reincarnations of ‘who is Russell Simmons’ and I’ve realised that my mind and body’s experience is not me,” he tells me.
“I am the watcher of those things and the more I embrace these unbreakable truths I’ve been studying, the more free I am from constraints.
“So, awakening your curiosity means that when you’re free from the bonds and expectations for the future, you are able - more often - to be innovative. You don’t have to do the same s*** over and over again. People do that because they are taught they are their past experience and have to continue to build on that.”
While he is telling me about this, I struggle to hear him and Simmons says: “Okay, I’m home now so let me go inside where there’s better reception.” He walks and I wait and hear him exclaim: “What’s up Rabbi?! I’m on the phone with South Africa.” He laughs. As chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, he hosts meetings at his home.
“What we do,” Simmons begins to explain his involvement with the foundation, “is we create dialogue between imams and rabbis around the world to fight Islamophobia and other things.”
In the past, spirituality and success wasn’t seen as in the same WhatsApp group. But in recent years, people like Starbucks’ Howard Schultz and even Arianna Huffington have come out to talk about the value of consciousness in the corporate world.
“We are spiritual beings with physical bodies and awareness happens when you are creative or doing your best work while fully awake and present,” says Simmons. “People are born totally enlightened and all of us are moving back to that, whether we embrace that or not. It’s not new, but they are now talking about it because it’s in style.”
Part of Simmons’s music legacy includes scoring a $1 million endorsement deal with Adidas for Run DMC. At the time, that was the biggest deal in hip hop history. “We were focused and doing our jobs and that turned into the deal it became,” Simmons shares.
“I think that’s being present, working hard and having high expectations but having no real attachment to the results. We enjoyed the work itself and weren’t writing songs to get those deals. That’s how the best deals are made - when they come from an honest place.”
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Certain guided meditation often makes use of mantras - sentences that one chants out loud or in your head, over and over.
So you know I couldn’t be talking to a hip hop industry architect who is big on meditation and not ask him: if he could pick a rap lyric to turn into a mantra, what would it be. Simmons takes a moment to think about this and then says: “I like the chorus ‘Fight The Power.’ ” Of course.
* The Liberty Vuka Knowledge Summit is at the Sandton Convention Centre on November 1 and 2. Tickets are available at ticketpro.co.za