Russell Simmons revolutionized both rap music and hip-hop fashion by growing them from marginal street fads to mainstream must-haves, starting with the record label he co-founded (Def Jam) and his clothing line (Phat Farm). Now 50 and pretty much retired from both worlds, hip-hop's original businessman is focused on charities and empowerment causes. Simmons spoke with Time.com about his politics, his recent book Do You!: 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success, his fortune and his little princesses.
TIME: Recently BMG record label pushed famed music executive Clive Davis into a lower position. Are music industry business models changing too fast for the older execs?
RUSSELL SIMMONS: You need progressive young thinkers, but Clive always is good at finding them. If you need people to find new ways to monetize music, they're likely to stumble into Clive's office as much as they are anyone else's [for] his vision. He's open minded enough to find whoever that is. It's not going to be the top executive who figures out the next creative way to monetize music, I promise. It's going to be a person that he's in touch with. Clive's always in touch with young, creative people. I love Clive, he's a very talented guy. I'm sure he'll find more opportunity, he always does. He always surprises everyone with new talent and success. He's a great inspiration to me. He's liable to come up with a hit that may not change the industry, but certainly change the economic circumstances of those who are close to him. He does that all the time.
What decisions have you regretted, younger or nowadays?
There's this idea that's written in all scripture that every piece of pain is a learning experience and that everything is in perfect order. If you start telling yourself that enough times, you stop worrying about mistakes you made because they start to not be mistakes. You gotta learn to let go of that, your pain body is something that you gotta learn how to control and work with... But I always say I lost the Beastie Boys. But I don't know, what did I lose? I didn't lose s---, y'know. I broke my foot because I got up at six o'clock in the morning, first time I ever broke anything, and it was dark and I didn't know where I was. I was looking for the [yoga] mat and I just fell down the steps and broke my foot. And that's okay though because I learned to practice [yoga] six weeks with a broken foot.
But you hadn't always thought this way. What had you previously seen as a mistake?
Well I'm my biggest critic. Just because I say this stuff that we all know in our heart, and because I've read it and I repeat doesn't mean that I practice it all the time. It's a practice, all of it's a practice. So I didn't always have it, but I tell myself enough times not to think too much about spilled milk. I really can't tell you the biggest, stupidest thing I've done... I wish I hadn't gotten out of the energy drink business. Recently I just saw that Crunk drink is real hot and they're making a lot of money. The only thing I ever quit that I had invested a lot in and I could've made a lot of money at [was] the energy drink Def Con 3. It was supposed to be a healthy drink and all and I let go of it; there were too many things going on. I wish I hadn't quit, but if I hadn't, I probably wouldn't have done other stuff. Everything is in perfect order, really, you gotta believe that. You can't carry around too much of that weight.
If you somehow lost your fortune, how would you earn it back?
[Laughs] I think that my fortune is my ability to feed so many people's support systems and help people realize their dreams. That's how I make money I make money by making other people money. But I don't know, I might go to India and study under Patabi Joyce before he dies, he's 100 years old almost. I don't know what I would do, I mean my fortune is my ability to sit still in the morning and also to move out of stillness sometimes. How happy I am is my fortune. I have a cycle of giving that I'm in. As I get, I give. What I'm given, I gotta give back and use it the best way I can, so that my celebrity is worthwhile. I can drum up support for things that matter because of my celebrity. My celebrity is useful.
Speaking of celebrity, does it ever get to be too much? Have you had to speak up to quell rumors?
Yeah I guess so but I don't really have any bad rumors or anything. I answer questions. I'm very open with the media when they ask me if there's something going on, I tell them. "No comment" is very seldom. I try my best to stay out of other people's stuff. If I say something about somebody who's not me, you probably get just a positive response.