Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons

Co-founder of Def Jam Records, Russell Simmons was the force behind the hip-hop revolution, promoting stars like the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and LL Cool J.


Born in New York City on October 4, 1957, Russell Simmons began promoting New York City musicians in his early 20s. He partnered with Rick Rubin to create Def Jam Records, and signed artists like the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy and Run-D.M.C. He later sold his stake in Def Jam to Universal Music Group for $100 million. In addition to his music career, Simmons is an enormously successful entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Coming Up

Russell Wendell Simmons was born in Queens, New York, on October 4, 1957. The second of three brothers, he was raised in the middle-class neighborhood of Hollis. He began his entrepreneurial career in his youth, but on the wrong side of the law, selling marijuana to make money while an active member of a local gang. Despite having been arrested twice for his misdeeds, in 1975 Simmons graduated from high school and briefly attended the City College of New York.

However, lured away from academics by his love of music, Simmons left school and founded Rush Management to promote local rap acts, including Kurtis Blow and Run-D.M.C., one of whose members was his younger brother, Joseph "Run" Simmons. As rap music continued to gain popularity, in 1984 Simmons teamed up with Rick Rubin to found the label Def Jam Recordings, paving the way for the hip-hop revolution. 

Def Jam

With meager funding to launch their endeavor, Simmons and Rubin quickly set about filling Def Jam's stable with an impressive collection of artists, including Run-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J. When those hip-hop pioneers achieved superstardom, the label further expanded its roster, signing acts as diverse as Public Enemy, Oran "Juice" Jones and the thrash metal band Slayer.

Going a step further to bring hip-hop to the mainstream, in 1985 Simmons produced the hit film Krush Groove as a means of promoting Def Jam and its artists to the masses. During this period, he would also produce the Run-D.M.C. film Tougher Than Leather (1988), as well as the Def Comedy Jam cable series, which ran on HBO from 1992 to 2008.

Phat Farm and Fortune

An ambitious entrepreneur, Russell Simmons saw Def Jam as just part of his hip-hop empire. In 1992 he launched the clothing line Phat Farm, which became a massive success and was later expanded to include the women's line Baby Phat, the more conservative Def Jam University and the sports apparel line Run Athletics. 

Wielding his Midas touch in other arenas, Simmons also established the management company SLBG Entertainment, several publishing ventures, a beverage company and the advertising agency Rush Media. Continuing his work in television and film he has produced the Eddie Murphy film The Nutty Professor, the MTV reality series Run's House and HBO's Tony Award-winning Def Poetry Jam, among many others. 

In 1999, Simmons cashed in big on Def Jam Recordings when he sold a majority share to the Universal Music Group for $100 million. Five years later, he sold Phat Farm for $140 million.


A strict vegan and yoga enthusiast, Simmons is also an active philanthropist. He helped found the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, the Rush Philanthropic Organization and the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. He actively supports PETA and has been involved with various charities aimed at fighting war, poverty and HIV/AIDS. Simmons has also been an outspoken supporter of gay rights and is the author of the motivational book Do You! 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success (2007).

Simmons was married to model Kimora Lee from 1998 to 2008. They have two daughters, Ming and Aoki.

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