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Russell Simmons: “Do You!”

September 29, 2007

Happiness, Success, Hip Hop

By Kwan Booth (May 28, 2007-Oakland Post)

Last Tuesday in a scene that resembled a southern baptist revival, Russell Simmons, the hip hop entrepreneur behind Def Jam Records, Def Comedy Jam and Phat Farm Clothing, shared the secrets of his success with over 200 people as they skimmed copies of his new book “Do You! 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success.”

The discussion and book signing, which took place in the tent behind Scott’s Restaurant in Jack London Square, drew a wide range of attendees, from mothers and community activists to rappers and moguls in training, eager to soak up the experience Simmons has gained from his more than 25 years in the entertainment industry.

In the wake of the Don Imus controversy, the founder of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network called on radio and television stations to ban the words “bitch,” “ho,” and “nigger” and much of Tuesday’s conversation revolved around this, as well as hip hop’s place in larger cultural discussions.

While calling to have the words removed from the radio, Simmons said he was against censuring the “urban poets” who made the music. “Rappers are addressing the contradictions that we ignore” he explained, using NWA’s 1988 album as an example. “Dialogue about police brutality didn’t exist before ‘F- the Police’.”

Simmons has repeatedly stated that lyrics of hip hop performers are demonstrative of larger problems in society and that “killing the messenger” wouldn’t make the issues of misogyny, racism and violence disappear.

“Just because they speak sweet doesn’t mean that the communities they come from will automatically change” Simmons told Sandra Varner, the event moderator.

While against censuring artists, the longtime vegan and yoga practitioner says he’s fully in favor of positive thinking and spiritual practice as ways to overcome adversity. “The world is a sweet, happy, beautiful place if you think it is,” the clean shaven Buddhist told the crowd, seemingly channeling his inner yogi.

“Do You!” is a motivational/self help book for the hip hop generation. In the vein of “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne or Deepak Chopra’s “The 7 Spiritual Laws of Success” (which Simmons says is required reading for all his employees), the book combines eastern philosophy, new age spirituality and metaphysics with a hip hop sensibility. The book isn’t a “get rich quick” guide for entrepreneurs. Rather, Simmons says it’s about each individuals “ability to make a difference.”

Many in the hip hop activist community have questioned Simmons’ ability to make a difference, accusing him, until recently, of ignoring the call for responsible lyrics in the music. Some feel that his ideas, while inspirational, often lack real world applications.

While Simmons’ powers as a problem solver may be in question, his skills as a public figure were evident. After the reading, the crowd stretched out the door and back to the waterfront as people lined up for an autograph. One woman, two young children clutching her legs, summed it up. “I just want an autograph, I’ll get the book later,” she admitted. “I just love Russell Simmons.”

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