The Legacy of an Icon: Russell Simmons is the true King of Hip-Hop
BY: Ameer Walton
On 10/10/15, while waiting for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, I sat in the VIP section at the 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March. I was surrounded by some of the world’s greatest leaders of modern times: Diddy, Snoop Dogg, Big Boy, Jeezy and many others. As I sat and glanced around my seating area with excitement, I couldn’t believe my eyes I felt like my jaw was about to hit the floor. Sitting next to me was my favorite Hip Hop icon of all-time, Mr.Russell Simmons. I couldn’t believe that I was sitting next to the man that was one of the pioneers of creating modern day Hip-Hop. We greeted each other with a hand shake and the words “What’s up brotha?” We spoke about how great the speeches were, some of the new slang in Hip-Hop, and his respect for Minister Ismael Muhammad. It was as if we had known each other for years. From the moment I met him, I could tell he took great pride in his connection with the people. Everyone who spoke to him was greeted with love and a smile. I wish everyone throughout humanity would replicate this trait.
As I reflect deep into the history of Hip-Hop, I notice how many people thought Hip-Hop would eventually faze out and become looked at as Disco music – a fad unable to stand the test of time. Mainstream society viewed Hip-Hop as simply the music of the inner city. Few outside the communities Hip-Hop originated from believed Hip-Hop would have a positive and powerful impact throughout the world. Hip-Hop was the music of the forgotten generations who after the civil rights movement, thought there would be real change in the Black community. But instead, our communities were overrun with drugs, police brutality, and a lack of opportunities. This was the reality for inner cities in the U.S. and our stories weren’t being told. So, we began to express ourselves through Hip-Hop-mainly through music, graffiti, and dance. Our struggle helped bring about a new creative energy that could change the world. People around the world were dealing with the same issues as the Black community in the U.S. Thus, there were plenty of people who could identify with the Hip-Hop movement. We just needed a true leader to push our talent to the world. That leader was Russell Simmons. If it wasn’t for the vision of Russell Simmons, Hip-Hop would not have influenced the world the way it has today.
Back in 1983, Mr. Simmons became a founder of Def Jam Records and a driving force behind Hip-Hop. Mr. Simmons has helped debut some of the greatest and highest selling artist in Hip-Hop history such as LL Cool J, The Beastie Boys, EPMD, Warren G, and Foxy Brown. One of the most important artists/groups at Def Jam Records was Public Enemy. With their hit song “Fight The Power”, it was evident that this group’s purpose was to educate and talk about oppressive systems around the world- unapologetically. Def Jam was the perfect label to house Public Enemy because of the leadership of Russell Simmons. Public Enemy went on to become arguably the best group in the history of Hip-Hop. With acts like this, it’s no wonder Def Jam became the face of Hip-Hop. Mr. Simmons has taken the culture of Hip-Hop and his Def Jam brand and pushed Hip-Hop to the world through fashion with Phat Farm, poetry with Def Poetry Jam, comedy with Def Comedy Jam, and news through Global Grind. Around the world, you currently see different cultures rapping the lyrics to your favorite songs, break dancing and doing graffiti . Mr. Simmons transformed Hip-Hop from neighborhood fun to a global phenomenon. A bulk of the credit has to be given to Mr. Simmons and his ability to discover talent and having the vision to see what many could not imagine: A world influenced by Hip-Hop.
Mr. Simmons has always encouraged us to be entrepreneurs, but he’s also encouraged all of us to use our voices fearlessly. Whether it’s through voting or movements like Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter, Mr. Simmons has been on the front lines. That’s why Mr. Simmons is so important. He is one of the founders of the language of fortitude and that language is Hip-Hop. For Black men, Mr. Simmons has showed us how to be men and what that’s really about. In a lot of ways, Mr. Simmons and Minister Farrakhan are one in the same: Men of Morals.
So, when Mr. Simmons was sitting in the VIP section for the 20th Anniversary of MMM, I shouldn’t have been surprised. It only made sense that one of the major figures that has gotten us to this point in Hip-Hop ,would once again be on the front lines fighting for what he believes in. When B.E.T. wanted to air the Hip-Hop awards the same day as the Million Man March, the man who made the phone call to get BET to change the date was none other than Mr. Simmons. There are too many of us today that have the drum major instinct Martin Luther King Jr. talked about, but we lack the work ethic. The desire to lead the parade without putting in the work is not enough. Great leaders don’t ask to be in front, they naturally come into the position. Humbly sharing this space with Mr. Simmons brought me great joy because his presence was a call to action for everyone. It says to all of us, especially our children, you can get money and have morals, respect and honor. You can be a Hip-Hop legend and have the fortitude to use the voice God has given to change the experience of oppressed peoples. Mr. Simmons showed us first hand there are no excuses-“Be Powerful, Be Heard”. I don’t know if Mr. Simmons knows how much his presence meant. I can say 32 years after Def Jam, he’s still leaving a mark on Hip-Hop history like he’s done since he first stepped on the scene. Most importantly he’s inspiring the younger generations, like myself, to be men and use our voice for good.