Becoming 'Super Rich,' According To Russell Simmons

He's been called the godfather of hip-hop and is considered one of the most successful African-American entrepreneurs in America today. Russell Simmons helped launch rap stars such as Run DMC and 50 Cent and created a host of high-flying enterprises, from fashion lines to hit TV shows. Host Michel Martin speaks with Simmons about his new book, Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All, and the role that yoga has played in his success.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Now it's time for our Wisdom Watch conversation. That's the part of the program where we hear from those who've made a difference through their work. Today, a man who's been called the Godfather of Hip-Hop. Through his pioneering music label, Def Jam Recordings, he's launched artists like Public Enemy, LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, Jay-Z and Ludacris.

He's also had a hand in a number of business ventures, including the fashion lines Phat Farm and American Classics. Television shows like Def Comedy Jam and philanthropic organizations like the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network.

J: A Guide to Having It All." He's with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

MARTIN: Thank you.

MARTIN: Now, a lot of people who are familiar with your work in music and entrepreneurship know about that side. But they may not know that you're also a devout yogi, a devout vegan. You don't smoke, you don't drink, you practice transcendental meditation, all of which you talk about in the book. That's not how you grew up. And for some people that might be a pretty long journey. So if you could just tell us, how did you get from the fast-paced lifestyle that people associate with hip-hop to where you are now?

MARTIN: Well, my lifestyle is pretty fast-paced today. I mean, I run many businesses. I run five philanthropic endeavors. I'm involved in lots of social and political causes. And the idea of this book is about consciousness. And when I talk about yoga, operating from a calm space does not mean you're not operating. And it's very important I say that because this book, "Super Rich," is about consciousness and a state of needing nothing is how I define "Super Rich."

That, incidentally, is the same definition some people would use for yoga - the state of yoga is a state of needing nothing or the state of Christ consciousness, you could say, or nirvana. This place where you operate from abundance. And the book is about that. It's about looking inside for answers and not being moved around by what happens on the outside.

MARTIN: Now, you point out in the book that there are a lot of people who have life circumstances very different from yours at this particular moment who might have a really hard time with your message. You know, you talk about this several times in the book, where you might say, look, you're having trouble paying your electric bill. You might have a hard time understanding why you need to operate from a place of abundance and stillness and giving your gifts away. Would you talk a little bit about that for a minute?

MARTIN: Well, I didn't always have the money to pay the electric bill and neither did any of the people whose stories that I use as examples of how we can create a change in our lives or to empower ourselves. So this is just a roadmap that is, you know, given you over and over again.

But I will acknowledge that there are people who are anxiety-filled and have, you know, bills to pay and think that my circumstance is so dramatically different from theirs and that my message in that case is, you know, not as valuable.

And also, the state of consciousness that I'm referring to is where you're awake at work. We want people to be focused on the work. We don't want the anxiety or the things that separate them from their best self to get in the way. And we want to move towards the space where we can be good givers. So I think that's what the book's about and it's really the purpose to empower people.

MARTIN: A number of the stories that you tell in the book might not be a surprise to people who know you personally, but they will certainly be a surprise for people who have a particular image, particularly of what a hip-hop mogul is and is all about.

There's one story I wanted to mention. You use the word sweetness a lot in the book. You talk about the importance of approaching the world with sweetness. And you talk about a particular episode where you were with one of your daughters in the Hamptons, where you were having a conversation and a man cursed you out in front of your daughter and you rushed over to him and you were about to curse him out, but then you stopped yourself.

Could you talk a little bit about that story and what you learned from that and what you want other people to learn from that.

MARTIN: Well, there's a simple chapter on meditation. I am a practitioner of transcendental meditation. That means if you can watch your thoughts, then you can make choices. We want to be able to step back and in the beginning of any meditation there's a little noise and you get to take inventory and you get to see your thoughts for what they are. In some cases, that can weigh heavy on your nervous system and make you have responses.

But if you can watch your thoughts a little better, then you can make more informed choices. So that was one example. But there are so many examples every day, where we want to operate from a calm space. And, again, it doesn't mean, you know, not to operate. Because if you are calm, you can accomplish more. And I think that's very important that people recognize that.

I used to think that the anxiety that gave me insomnia or made me rethink my choices over and over again was part of what drove me. But I found that the stillness and the place of calmness is where I found every creative idea and was - anytime I did a good job on execution for those ideas, it was because I was calm and awake.

MARTIN: Well, talk to me, though, about mastering your temper in that moment. One of the things you wrote about in the book is you were embarrassed by your behavior in front of your daughter, even though, you know, a lot of people would have reacted as you did.

MARTIN: You know, that was a rare time. You know, I'm not suggesting that I'm enlightened. But I see that the road to enlightenment is paved with all kinds of struggle and teachable moments. And that was one I thought I'd share because it was a moment that I was surprised at myself, disappointed in myself that I almost reacted in a really bad way. I did react in - not the kind of way I would, given that same opportunity. Probably I wouldn't do the same thing.

So, you know, you learn as you go, you know. And the book is not about me being enlightened, but about having faith in all the scripture that there is a potential, you know, to move towards an enlightened place. And, also, the road to enlightenment is not only paved with happiness and all these things, it's paved with gold. So I do have to talk about there's a prosperity component in the book and I think it's worth sharing.

MARTIN: I'm speaking with entrepreneur, hip-hop pioneer Russell Simmons, about his new book "Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All." It's his second book. His first was a bestseller. It's called "Do You!"

Who do you hope will buy this book? Who do you want to pick up this book?

MARTIN: I want everybody to pick it up. I think, you know, people on Wall Street need it. But I really, I think, also, I want people in prison to read the book. I want them to have freedom, even though they're behind bars. I want everyone - because people, it seems to me, no matter how much worldly success they have, they still suffer that neediness.

MARTIN: I want to read a passage from the book.

MARTIN: Fantastic.

MARTIN: (Reading) Before yoga and marriage, back in the Krush Groove days, I was fat and high on coke, but I was still known to have the baddest girls from all over the world.

MARTIN: Ugh.

MARTIN: (Reading) Now I'm rich, vegan, sober and in much better shape. Can't you guys just accept that my game is tight?

Who are you talking to?

MARTIN: It's just kind of a funny little thing. I thought it was funny. We looked at it over and over again. I kept talking to Chris, should we leave this in there? It's pretty funny.

MARTIN: Chris, your co-author, Chris Morrow.

MARTIN: Yeah, Chris Morrow. What do you think? We went over and over it. He goes, yeah, leave it in there.

MARTIN: You know, you've talked to Terry Gross at FRESH AIR, you've actually talked to her many times, and I want to ask you what she calls the bitches and hos question.

MARTIN: Do you want to ask that question?

MARTIN: And I do. I want to ask the bitches and hos question because even now, this kind of, like, gender hostility in the genre, you know, you know what I'm saying?

MARTIN: I think that rappers are far less sexist than their parents. I think they're far less homophobic than their parents. They're far less racist, certainly. And they're less gangster than their government. I don't know what you want the poets to say, you know. They don't have to use language - semantics is not a question for me. It's intention. I don't believe that Jay-Z is anything but a gentleman.

MARTIN: No, I'm not talking about in real life. I'm talking about in the music over time and it seems as though it's like, in fact, some of these - that's what's fascinating to a lot of people...

MARTIN: Jay-Z is less sexist of just about every preacher you know. So how about that?

MARTIN: OK.

MARTIN: You can digest that. That's a fact.

MARTIN: OK. What's next for you?

MARTIN: Well, I really want this book to get into the hands of a lot of kids who don't read. I'm speaking a language, I want young people to feel it. And, you know, I have a relationship with them that, you know, is different from most adults, you know. And I want to be able to move them in a certain direction without - and gently, you know, and I want to love them, respect them. I think you have to love people, you know, to change them.

And, you know, I just want to be a person that serves, you know, I'd rather speak in a prison than at Harvard. That's who I am.

MARTIN: You have some guidance for people who do come from schools like Harvard, too, in the book, I note. You talk in the book about how disappointed you are to find that there are young people who've had these opportunities to go to places like Harvard and Yale and they still segregate themselves and how they need to not do that.

MARTIN: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I'm integrationalist. Integration destroyed the economics of the black community. When it was a beautiful little black community with a beautiful little black dock and beautiful black - it was one thing. But when they moved in, they destroyed the black community's economics.

And so now it's our choice, you know, as individuals is to educate our kids and give our kids every opportunity. I don't want the black group of four or five executives in the corner by themselves. They won't advance. They won't.

And I think diversity is critical for every business that wants to make, you know, I don't have a black website. You know, I like putting Jay-Z next to Miley Cyrus. I just like it, you know. And my Global Grind. And I believe in the poor people's movement. And I believe in people who believe in those kind of revolutions, supporting it. And so I have my globalgrind.com. It's a big investment and it gives a chance for African American ideas, all black ideas or whatever you call them, ideas, into the mainstream.

So I'm an integrationalist. We need more groups in our black community that's not integrating, like the nation of Islam. And I believe a lot of things that are just not common to, you know, a lot of other black - I'm not black leadership anyway, right? I'm just a mogul and an author. But I have opinions and I am an activist in many instances.

MARTIN: Russell Simmons is a hip-hop pioneer, entrepreneur, philanthropist. He is out with a new book called "Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All." It's his second book. His first, "Do You!" was a bestseller. And he was kind enough to join us in our studios.

MARTIN: This one will make the chart this week.

MARTIN: He was kind enough to join us in our studios in Washington, D.C. Russell Simmons, thank you for joining us.

MARTIN: Thank you so much.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.