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September 2, 2014

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20 Questions: Hip-Hop Impresario Russell Simmons

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In the music business, so many people have titles, but there's only one godfather of hip-hop, and that man is Russell Simmons.

Since building the Def Jam empire, the New York native, who's affectionately known as Uncle Russ, has gone on to launch successful clothing labels -- Phat Farm and Baby Phat -- produce HBO shows 'Def Comedy Jam' and 'Def Poetry Jam' -- and its Tony Award-winning Broadway spin-off. He's also helped tomorrow's leaders through philanthropic efforts, including his Hip Hop Summit Action Network and as his role as a Goodwill Ambassador.

In the midst of keeping up his vegan and yogi lifestyle, the 53-year-old rap mogul found time to debut a new Oxygen reality series, 'Running Russell Simmons' which follows the female assistants who keep Simmons sane and organized.

As someone who's energized about politics and making the world a more peaceful place, the father of two doesn't shy away from weighing in on politics. BlackVoices.com recently caught up with him to chat about last week's election results and what's really going on in his world.

BlackVoices.com: So, you're really into politics. What are your thoughts on the election?
Russell Simmons:
Well, we expected that. We held on to the Senate and maybe there will be negotiations between the Senate and the Congress and we'll be able to make some deals because before we got nothing done. I shouldn't say we got nothing done, but maybe a Congress/Senate relationship might actually be more functional. I'm just telling you the upside because I would much prefer to have all Democrats in office at this moment, because the president's agenda is pretty much my agenda.

BV: Why do you think people are so apathetic about voting?
RS:
It's A.D.D. that we have from television and everything else. People wanted a miracle over night, but they shouldn't. We should be enthusiastic[about voting].

BV: Do you think President Obama will be elected to a second term?
RS:
I wouldn't want to speculate that he wouldn't. I accept that he would. If I'm lucky, Sarah Palin will run. In two years, he has a lot of time to turn things around, but people are fickle. They like to kick a man [when he's down].

BV: What do you think about your friend Donald Trump running for president?
RS:
Donald's my friend, but I think he's a little too conservative for me. That's hilarious. He's not a Republican; he's a Democrat. I am very progressive thinking regarding politics and promotion of freedom for everybody and the promotion of peace instead of war. I look at the investment in education over war. They look like they aren't connected, but they are. I prefer him over any Republican that might run right now, though.

BV: Will you run for political office?
RS:
No. I don't think that's possible. Did you read my first book? My reality is a little scary for a politician. I know it takes skill to be political and you have to stomach a lot of s**t. I have a lot of issues that I believe in that would prohibit [me from holding a political office]. I don't believe in the 10 billion suffering farm animals, and I'd be fighting to pass all kinds of laws to protect animals. I'm pro-gay rights, and I'm a socialist because I think we should lift the poor. People would be mad as hell. I'd be taxing myself all day long and everybody like me with money – taxing them much more.

BV: How's it been doing a reality show?
RS:
[On the show], I've talked about all these issue that I think are important and there is lots of business and fun stuff, but I like watching the girls that worked all these years [for me]. Christina has been there...she makes me say 10-plus years. They don't really like to talk about how long they've been working with me.

BV: In terms of the timing, you're such an innovator with the different business ventures you launch ahead of the curve. Why did it take you so long to do TV?
RS:
I produced my brother [Rev Run]'s show and was on there, and I've done Kimora's show quite a bit. And I've done my nieces' show. There were so many ideas I wanted to promote and so many brands that could use exposure. It's part of my marketing and branding, and there's nothing I'm afraid of or embarrassed by.

BV: You weren't uncomfortable on the first episode when the interns were cleaning your bathroom and you were in the office making out with the model?
RS:
I'm a grown man. I'm still single. I'm human. Maybe the next time, I'll be sitting around with this girl who's a yogi, Buddhist, a sweet person. I date her a lot, but she travels the world...maybe I'll be settled next season, or maybe not.

BV: Are you obsessed with models?
RS:
I live on Seventh Avenue, and like most men, I'm very visual. This girl I was just talking about is an actress, and they get a little crazy. She's on episode three or four. We gravitate toward certain physical types. I wish I could date this chubby yogi who looks enlightened. She always has this glow on her face, but I'm not dating her yet.

BV: Are you really going to date a chubby Yogi?
RS:
I said I wish I could! I wish I had it in me, but maybe this African French actress girl has beauty and heart. You'll see her on the show. She's a sweet girl and has a good heart.

BV: At this point, is that something that's important to you in a significant other? Do you have to be into yoga?
RS:
You don't have to be a yogi. You have people that are opposite of you that you like, but I don't think I want anyone blowing smoke in my face and wearing fur. That would probably bother me.

BV: Do you watch any other reality shows?
RS:
I watched Lala's show because she's another friend. I watched a little bit of Rev's show since I produced it for three years. I watch my kids on Kimora's show sometimes, but I don't watch a lot of television.

BV: How do you and Kimora continue to work so well together?
RS:
We have businesses together and a new cosmetic and skin-care company we are about to announce. We have Simmons Jewelry. But, our biggest business is raising our kids, and we have to keep it good no matter what.

BV: There are some celebrity couples whose relationships end badly. How did you all divorce and not go that route?
RS:
There are some things that shouldn't be acceptable. You have more people hating each other than they did before. I think if you have kids together it shouldn't be socially acceptable [or] normal that people don't get along. If they have kids, that's what you have to do for the kids.

BV: What's up with Baby Phat? There was some fall-out and you two are totally unaffiliated with that anymore, right?
RS:
We sold it seven years ago, and Kimora kept running it and running it, and I said, 'Start something new, I'll start something new.' And, now she's starting something new. I think she's grown, and I certainly grew out of Phat Farm. There's an urban graduate to design for. It's more fun for me to design for people a little closer to my age.

BV: Talk a little about your nephew and budding rap star Diggy. Were you surprised he decided to pursue music like your brother?
RS:
I was surprised about Diggy. I thought it would've been JoJo. JoJo is a great rapper, too.

BV: Have you given him any advice?
RS:
Diggy don't wanna hear nothing from me. He doesn't want any advice from Uncle Russ, that's for sure. He doesn't want to hear any of my advice. That's how young people are.

BV: You're always so busy. What's next for you?
RS:
I'm going to England for the Diamond Empowerment Fund, and we've already raised $700,000 that's in the bank to give to a school in Africa, an African leadership academy. That's what's coming up, but we have five different philanthropic ventures.

BV: Is there any philanthropic effort that you want to do more work with? Is there anything you haven't done yet?
RS:
I want to do more work with the Peacekeepers. We want to figure out the right infrastructure and put more Peacekeepers in the 'hood. We have seven chapters of men all over the country who walk the streets in orange and promote peace and harmony. That's something I want to do. Too much violence even in my own neighborhood. It's a tragedy that kids murder each other and it's not really news.

BV: Final question, Where do you see yourself in five years?
RS:
In an old folks' home (laughs). I don't know. Where am I going to be in five years? Probably right here doing what I'm doing now. As long as I can keep doing my meditation and my breathing exercises, I can still walk and do this yoga, I'll still think I'm young.

Russell Simmons's new Oxygen show 'Running Russell Simmons' airs on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EST.



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