Hip-hop titan shows lighter side of success

Brian Benton | Contributing Reporter
Brian Benton | Student Life

Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jams Recordings, speaks in Graham Chapel on Oct. 25.

Wearing his usual Yankees hat and V-neck sweater, businessman and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons took the stage in Graham Chapel.

Midway through the Congress of the South 40’s initial introduction of the Def Jam cofounder and Phat Farm creator, Simmons ignored his cue and just walked onto the stage. As the audience cheered, Simmons chuckled to himself before taking his seat.

Simmons has a lot to boast about, but he was not at Washington University to showboat. He might be worth about $340 million, but on Oct. 25, he just wanted to talk about his love of yoga and why it is important to be happy.

Simmons spoke to a relatively small crowd of about 150, which filled about half of Graham Chapel’s main floor. Sophomore Victoria Marie Hulsing, CS40 director of services, interviewed him before audience members were invited to the microphone to ask questions.

“I would have liked to see more Wash. U. students taking advantage of the talk,” freshman Arivan Thillaikumaran said. “I think a lot of people didn’t really know what [Simmons] was going to talk about and didn’t go for that reason, but I thought some of what he said was really interesting.”

Simmons used many of Hulsing’s questions as platforms to share his politics and social views, often moving off topic to points he considered important.

Many of the questions dealt with how students can succeed in business. Simmons’ best advice was essentially to just keep working and to stay happy.

“It’s up to you to pursue happiness,” he said. “Stay around people who inspire you.”

He also addressed everything from capitalism and political exploitation to inner-city crime and drugs.

“I took every drug and found out that sobriety is better,” he said.

When addressing a question about the healthiness of veganism, Simmons responded that it works fine for him.

“I’m 55 and can put my feet behind my head,” he said.

Throughout the event, Simmons mixed lighthearted humor with practical advice. When he asked who in the audience wanted to go into the music business and a student raised both hands, Simmons laughed.

“You’re still one person,” Simmons said. “Two hands up don’t make you two people.”

Upon opening up to audience questions, a number of Simmons’ admirers rushed to the microphone.

Freshman Sam Blumkin asked about the lack of creativity in much of today’s music and why we should pay $15 to hear “Rick Ross talk about how many Maybachs he has.” Simmons used this as a way to share his thoughts on song lyrics in general.

“I’m not offended [by music] as long as it’s honest,” Simmons said. “It has to be your poetry, from your heart.”

Freshman Akeda Hosten asked how aspiring musicians can differentiate themselves in the increasingly competitive field of hip-hop. Simmons’ response was simple.

“You just make a hot record,” he said.

Answering questions well past the allotted time for the presentation, Simmons suggested that people interested in pursuing music not only find mentors, but be willing to give away their music—or whatever their product may be—for free.

“Give it away until they can’t live without it,” he said.